Donald MacInnes: Antiques Roadshow shows up transatlantic difference over money


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The Independent Online

Unlike in financially self-conscious Albion, where the words "vulgar" and "money" exist in the same great British Venn diagram, the US has no problem with cash, where it came from or on what it is spent.

There, the only time lucre is ever filthy is if a quarter is dropped into a hog trough. The truth of this is never better illustrated than on the respective countries' versions of the Antiques Roadshow.

I lost an hour to the American show on PBS the other day and two things strike you immediately. First, how Anglophillic it all is. Much of the booty on display has come from the Old Country and the breathy reverence with which both punter and expert discuss the grandeur of British old things – be they Holland & Holland shotguns or Wedgewood tea sets – is noticeable. It's no surprise to learn that the show was revealed to be the favoured viewing of arch Brit wannabes Frasier and Niles Crane in the 1999 episode "A Tsar is Born".

The second difference between trans-atlantic versions is the vastly differing attitudes to appraisal. In the BBC version, each "sit-down" with an expert usually adheres to the following template: picture Cirencester town hall and a very genteel older lady with a frou-frou china figurine. It is currently being inspected by Rupert Connington-Thwake, who has a soul of the purest tweed.

RCT: "Oh, this is quite delightful. Hasn't she got exquisite features? And a quite delicious little bottom! Tell me, how did it come into your possession?"

GOL: "Daddy ran over the pig man in his combine harvester and, although the poor chap lost both arms, he was quite mortified that one of his limbs had fouled up the workings of the vehicle. So, by way of an apology, as soon as he got out of hospital, he presented this figurine to Daddy. Well, I say 'presented'. He nudged it across the table with his nose."

RCT: "What a delightful story. [Visibly steels himself] Now, I suppose we must discuss…"

[Both clear their throats and avoid eye contact]

GOL: "Yes, I suppose we must. Of course, we would never sell it…"

RCT: "Of COURSE not."

GOL: "But for insurance purposes…?

RCT: "I shouldn't insure it for anything less than£2,000. It's really quite delightful."

GOL: [Distractedly] "Yes. I see. £2,000? Well, I suppose if one must… [trails off]."

And that's that. The monetary value of the object is both revealed and swept under the carpet in one motion.

The American experience could not be more different, with both appraiser and punter clearly desperate to get to the valuation. Not only is it then offered and received with glee, but an on-screen graphic pops up with the dollar value, a la The Price Is Right, in case we missed it.

Honestly, these Americans. I doubt they ever feel ashamed or embarrassed. Then again, they did give the world Mike & Molly.

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