David Barby: Antiques expert who became a star of daytime TV
His colleagues nicknamed him 'The Master', in recognition of his broad and deep knowledge
Saturday 08 September 2012
David Barby, who has died of a brain haemorrhage, was one of a small group of antiques experts who have become television personalities by bringing their infectious enthusiasm for the subject to the small screen. On programmes such as Antiques Roadtrip, Flog-It! and Bargain Hunt, Barby and his colleagues have popularised the previously arcane and fusty worlds of the antique dealer and auctioneer, and in turn made themselves unexpected stars of daytime television.
Barby was born in Rugby in 1943. His fascination with antiques began in childhood and he was collecting by the age of 12, scouring local second-hand shops. At the age of 21 he qualified as a member of the Incorporated Society Of Valuers and Auctioneers, which would later become the Royal Society of Chartered Surveyors.
After working initially in his home town, he moved to London in 1974. Four years later he joined Locke & England auctioneers in Leamington Spa, where he was first a manager and later a partner in the company. As an auctioneer his affable manner and clear love of his subject made him a popular figure with bidders. Among his successes there was the sale, in October 2000, of a £1 million collection built up by Irene and Charles Kneller. Barby said of his visits to their former home, Shepherd's Hey, "The place was like a treasure trove. At first we didn't realise what was there but it took three weeks to catalogue everything."
Barby's television career began with the launch of two popular programmes in the early part of the new millennium, which brought the business – and fun – of antique buying and selling to the attention of a wider public. In Bargain Hunt two teams of amateur collectors, named red and blue, have £300 each and one hour to buy antiques, which are then sold at auction. Barby played the role of "expert" and featured in a special 500th episode as one of the team members. He appeared in over 200 episodes of the more-than-900 episodes now broadcast.
The series Flog It!, presented by Paul Martin, sees members of the public bringing objects to be valued and then sold at auction. Barby appeared in the debut episode in 2002 as the auctioneer. Speaking at an early "valuation day" in Coventry, he spoke enthustiastically about his family connection with the town. "It is very exciting. We don't know what people are going to bring along in carrier bags or a suitcase... My great-great-grandfather was a clockmaker in Coventry and I would love to see a Coventry clock or something from the silk industry – or even an antique bicycle. Anything reflecting the history of the city."
BBC producers quickly realised Barby's appeal to television audiences and invited him to become one of the regular presenters. His colleagues nicknamed him "The Master", in recognition of his broad and deep subject knowledge.
In the most recent programme formula, Antiques Roadtrip, experts buy antiques at dealers or fairs then sell them on at auction. The winner is the expert who makes the most profit on their trading.
Barby's colleague on the programme, Charles Hanson, noted how "He built up the great passion the public had for these antiques programmes... Anybody could speak to him and he had time for so many members of the public to share their stories, memories, nostalgia and passion for old things."
In 2003 Barby retired as an auctioneer, focussing on his TV career and working as a valuer and independent consultant to the antiques trade. He had become a favourite on the after-dinner circuit, with talks on his life and work.
Barby's own personal collecting specialities were pre-war Moorcroft Staffordshire pottery, as well as New Hall porcelain and drinking glasses from the 18th century. His work for charity included raising money for the Royal Leamington Spa Rehabilitation Hospital and Leamington Spa Art Gallery.
The BBC presenter for Bargain Hunt, Tim Wonnacott, said: "A lot of us have worked with David over many years and his high standards of professionalism as an expert plus his wicked sense of fun will be much missed. On a personal level I have lost a dear friend and colleague and as a result the world of antiques is a lesser place."
David Barby, antiques expert and television presenter: born Rugby 23 April 1943; died Coventry 25 July 2012.
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