Tuesday 22 May 2012

Revisiting The John Soane House just in images from "Elegance & Decadence. The age of Regency" BBC4

Did the elegance outweigh the decadence?’ Lucy Worsley on the series

Here’s a question for you. When was Britain at its most elegant and most decadent, its most stylish and its most radical?

I’d argue that it was the decade of the Regency, between 1811 and 1820. It was one of those rare moments – a bit like the 1960s – when enormous changes in culture and society all came together in a big burst of energy.

The battle of Waterloo was won. London was completely re-designed. Turner and Constable were painting, the waltz was introduced, and Jane Austen and Lord Byron were there to write it all down.

Our new series ‘Elegance and Decadence, The Age of the Regency’ starts with the man at the top, the naughty Prince Regent himself. He grew up at Kew Palace, one of the five royal buildings looked after by Historic Royal Palaces, where I work as Chief Curator.

Drunken, increasingly fat, and pretty incompetent as a ruler, George had an endless procession of matronly mistresses. But nevertheless he had a terrific sense of style – something shared by his most creative and artistic subjects.

Between January and June 2011, I had a wonderful time exploring life during his Regency: learning to waltz, riding in a mail coach, flying in a hot air balloon over the city of Bath, and spending a day living the high life of Regency dandy.

Our series covers George’s royal buildings at Brighton and Windsor Castle, but also the great works of art being produced by Sir Thomas Lawrence and J.M .W. Turner. Waterloo Bridge, the Elgin Marbles, Jane Austen’s house at Chawton and the spa resort of Leamington Spa all get a look-in.

But it’s not just about high society: we also visit the mills of Manchester, the fields of Peterloo where peaceful workers calling for Parliamentary Reform were slaughtered in a massacre as awful as Tiananmem Square, and the cottage where the ‘Peasant Poet’ John Clare provided a voice for the rural dispossessed.

The Regency was an age of exuberance and creativity, but also of excess and deprivation. Did the elegance outweigh the decadence?

You’ll have to watch to make up your own mind!

Warts and All - Portrait of a Prince

Sunday 20 May 2012

Antiques Uncovered. BBC2

 Tune into BBC Two tonight for a new antiques programme starring Roadshow expert Mark Hill and historian Lucy Worsley

Antiques shouldn't just be looked at for their value but for the fascinating stories they can tell - that's the premise of a new show starting on BBC Two at 8pm tonight.
Presented by historian Lucy Worsley and Antiques Roadshow expert Mark Hill,Antiques Uncovered aims to look at antiques in a whole new light and the three episodes, which have travel, entertaining and ceremony as their themes, seek to set the objects in their social historical context.

‘It’s easy to simply put something on a shelf and gasp at its value but we forget that these pieces were made for a reason and designed to be enjoyed,’ says Mark. ‘Some TV shows focus on antiques as commodities but they are more than that. Through them we can gain a snapshot of our history.’

So a Brownie camera, for example, is not just discussed in terms of its worth, but in terms of why it was invented, the fashion it set and who might have bought it at the time. And a Georgian chandelier is revealed to be much more than just a light. ‘Yes, it was designed to illuminate cavernous rooms but it was also a display of wealth, a statement of your success,’ says Mark. ‘It was Georgian bling.’

in Homes & Antiques

Antiques Uncovered’ airs from 8pm-9pm on BBC2 on 2nd, 9th, and 16th May 2012.

by Mark Hill

I’m delighted and excited to announce that I am co-presenting a new BBC TV series on antiques with Dr Lucy Worsley. Called ‘Antiques Uncovered’, it focuses on the social history, collecting, and creation of antiques, rather than viewing antiques purely as financial commodities. Many of you will know and love Lucy from her numerous history series including ‘If Walls Could Talk‘ for BBC4.
When we look at an antique, many of us don’t look much beyond its surface beauty and appearance, apart from perhaps questioning its value. Some started life as practical objects, whilst others were purely for decoration and an expression of wealth. But whether they’re from a stately home or a ‘two-up two-down’, they unlock a fascinating history of the way we lived – then and now.
Lucy is going to uncover the stories behind some of these remarkable objects and how they relate to our lives today. I’ll be looking at why some items have become priceless, while others will become the collectables of tomorrow.
Along the way we’ll meet the historians and curators who preserve these pieces, the highly skilled craftspeople who still make them, and the passionate people who collect them.
These objects tell a potent tale of a bygone era that still resonates today. Once the preserve of the privileged few, many have evolved over centuries into everyday items, shaping not only our environment, but how we behave and who we aspire to be.

What makes the perfect antiques show?Is it the thrill of the big-money find or the enthusiastic experts? Either way it appears Brits can't get enough of watching old artifacts

Julia Raeside guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 May 2012 
Last week BBC2 added yet another programme about antiques to an already groaning portfolio. Which means it's time to turn the popularity of the antiques show upside down and have a look at its bottom. The newcomer, Antiques Uncovered (Weds, BBC2, 8pm), probes beneath the varnished surface of the lovely things to discover where they actually came from and how they were made. Dr Lucy Worsley and antiques expert Mark Hill gad about stately homes, poring over dainty teacups and handsome tables, before finding out what went into producing them. It's wholly satisfying for several reasons including the unbound enthusiasm of Worsley. Her presenting style is very much "member of the Famous Five" and is nothing short of joyous. You half expect her to beckon you over conspiratorially to ask you to look in her pocket because there's aworm in there. But what else makes an appealing antiques show? Let's examine the tell-tale markings.

Avaricious punters
We're not talking about the openly greedy types who sit panting at David Dickinson's baize-covered table, watching as he peels off tenner after tenner and places it inches from their sweating hands. You've seen one, you've seen them all. No, it's the restrained, polite, aspirational ones that go on Antiques Roadshow. Of course most don't care about financial gain. They're just really intrigued to know the story of the 17th-century wine cooler they were left in their auntie's will. They just think it's a beautiful object and wouldn't dream of parting with it. Behind that thin veneer of righteousness beats the heart of a cash-hungry social climber crossing everything that their ugly old oil painting is a lost Richard Dadd. We tune in almost exclusively to see them Britishly trying to conceal their greed. There is no finer spectator sport.

Enthusiastic experts
Every good antiques show needs passionate, and preferably eccentric, specialists. In my youth, the cuddly and befuddly Henry Sandondispensed anecdotes and valuations like a many-chinned grandfather clock on Antiques Roadshow. Cleverer than an encyclopaedia but also madly appealing, he could stir interest in the most unlikely of subjects with his avuncular eye-twinkling. On Channel 4's Four Rooms, the idea seems to be to provide something for everyone. There are a couple of well-rounded port quaffers – Jeffrey Salmon and Gordon Watson – one of whom has an ego of astonishing proportions. There's gimlet-eyed city slicker Andrew Lamberty who'll buy any old tut if he thinks his Square Mile wideboy customers will bite. And finally there's an apparently interchangeable dominatrix lady – Emma Hawkins in series one and Celia Sawyer in series two – whose job it is to bamboozle eager punters with her tight trousers and continual wry smirk. Like an X Factor with antiques instead of singers, it's the judges/experts people tune in for.

Massively expensive things you can't afford
Cash in the Attic and its ilk are all very well but only visiting one attic per week really cuts down their chances of netting that big-money find. The Antiques Roadshow has unearthed a few bobby dazzlers in its time. There was the aforementioned Richard Dadd painting that went for £100,000, and some silver hunting cups not long afterwards that were worth a quarter of a million. But it's the anticipation of these large sums that keeps us coming back week after week. There's a vicarious thrill in seeing a nice person getting the good news that grandma's minging vase is actually Ming dynasty. And obviously, the expression on the face of a smuggo who has just been told his Duchamp is a dud is, to the regular antiques show viewer, truly priceless.

Last Night's Viewing: Lucy Worsley: Antiques Uncovered, BBC2
Metalworks!, BBC4
 in The Independent


Does Lucy Worsley have to be so bloody cheerful all the time? I know the answer to this question already, of course. It's "yes", since it's one of the fixed dogmas of television producers that any line of script is improved by being passed through a broad grin on its way to the audience.

Add in a willingness to caper on camera and you're on to a winner, theoretically at least, since I surely can't be the only viewer who finds all this strenuous jauntiness a little wearing. It's called being "a natural communicator" in some quarters, and it usually involves the exact opposite of natural behaviour, compounded in the case of Antiques Uncovered by the fact that Worsley has been paired up with Mark Hill, an antiques expert of almost equally aggravating perkiness.

What their co-presentation means in practice is a lot of those fake conversations that used to be a staple in Blue Peter, in which one party tells the other party stuff he already knows and then shuts up for a while as the other half returns the compliment. Thus: "What you've got there isn't Chinese at all, is it?" "No, it's not. This is a tea bowl and saucer produced by the Worcester company." It's incumbent on the silent partner, incidentally, to wear a look of animated fascination throughout, a duty Hill doesn't shirk. At one point last night, as Worsley refreshed his memory about lockable tea-caddies, he pantomimed his interest so energetically that he ended up looking like a dandified version of the Churchill insurance dog.

The programme itself doesn't have much more in the way of argumentative spine than the average car boot sale, though it's an upmarket car boot sale, I'll grant you. You get a little disquisition on fine English porcelain, say, before moving briskly on to an account of rococo or Chippendale's pioneering introduction of catalogue shopping to the upper middle classes. Some of these segments will be enlivened with practical demonstrations – as when Hill went off to learn how to make china clay – while others are seasoned by Worsley's distinctively infantile hyperactivity. "Can I boing it?" she asked at the Geffrye Museum, as she leaned over an early example of a sprung settee. She also has a habit of adding little sound effects to her demonstrations: "Bwush, bwush, bwush," she muttered as she pretended to wield an 18th-century corkscrew, pride of one of the private collections that are another regular feature of the show.

It isn't without its pleasures, if you can put up with the charm of the presenters. And you will occasionally learn something. I didn't know, for example, that keeping a chandelier lit for a night cost three-quarters of a ploughboy's yearly wage. But the task of putting up with the charm shouldn't be underestimated. "The first time we hear the word chandelier being used is in 1714 and I think the 18th century is the age of the chandelier, isn't it?" says Lucy to Mark. "Indeed it is," Mark says to Lucy, "and the word chandelier is derived from the French term chandelle, which is tallow candle." Oh, do stop wittering at each other, say I. Just talk to me. And preferably as if I'm older than seven.

Metalworks!, in which Dan Cruickshank covers very similar topics, is much more grown-up, though also coloured by presenter mannerism. Cruickshank's voice, for instance, seems to get softer and more whispery with each passing series. Several pieces to camera last night were so sotto voce, it was almost as if he was afraid that the oiks next door on BBC3 might overhear him and start jeering at his passion for English silverware. If you want historical detail, though, rather than Antiques Uncovered's condescending popularisations, this is where to come. "This is really Georgian bling" was the former's caption for an elaborate centrepiece. In Metalworks!, you actually get to know the maker's name.

'I'm just a historian who wandered into television', The Telegraph, 13 April 2011, by Judith Woods

So, come clean: just how enchanted are you by our latest lovely television historian, Lucy Worsley? You know the one, blonde bob, posh girl’s speech impediment; looks like a mischievous flapper or a pen-and-ink drawing by EH Shepard of Christopher Robin’s bohemian godmother.

Her series If Walls Could Talk: A History of the Home begins tonight on BBC Four, but the trailers of her charmingly laying fires in period costume and peeking coquettishly from the bubbles of an Edwardian bath have already garnered her a sizeable following.

For if wild-haired Neil Oliver is the very embodiment of gallus Scottishness, striding manfully across gusty glens with bare knees, Worsely’s quintessential drawing-room Englishness is the stuff of Austen and Wodehouse.

And indeed it is the quotidian goings-on in the nation’s long-lost drawing rooms - and sculleries and bed chambers - that fascinate her, much to the chagrin of fellow historian David Starkey, who hails from the Gradgrind school of scholarship, and is far more preoccupied with dates and monarchs and geo-political alliances.

It was acid-tongued Starkey who last year famously cast aspersions at his “usually quite pretty” female peers whose works resemble “historical Mills and Boon”, to which sparky bluestocking Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces hotly retorted: “If it wasn’t insulting and degrading to judge historians by their looks, I would point out that Dr Starkey looks like a cross owl in the pictures on his own books.”

What Starkey, who made his name with the 2001 series The Six Wives of Henry VIII on Channel Four, will make of Worsley larking about making Victorian jelly in a mob cap or re-constructing the very first flushing loo (built in 1596 for Queen Elizabeth I, it never caught on until Thomas Crapper redesigned it in 1852) can only be guessed at. But Worsley is blithely unconcerned.

“David Starkey thinks that constitutional history and political history and foreign policy are what’s important, which is true, up to a point. But these lofty matters don’t give any insight into the everyday experience of normal people,” she says.

“I’m fascinated by how people live, which is why I do so much dressing up in the series and hands-on domestic work; it’s a way of immersing yourself in their world and understanding what their priorities were - and why.”

Certainly, the four-episode series promises to be positively addictive viewing. Worsley, 37 - who proudly concedes her main claim to fame thus far was once “being stood up by Johnny Depp” - fizzes with enthusiasm and the camera loves her marvellously impish onscreen presence.

Gamine rather than glamorous, her confident debut will do nothing to assuage the Starkey-esque sniping that the schedules have been colonised by lady historians, presumably at the expense of the middle-aged men who consider it their primogeniture birthright.

“I’m just an historian who has happened to wander into television as an extension of what I do,” says Worsley. “In recent years, the BBC woke up to the fact that they weren’t using women historians and I’m lucky to have been caught in the slipstream of Amanda Vickery, Mary Beard and Bettany Hughes.”

But Worsley doesn’t belong in anyone’s slipstream. Born in Reading, the daughter of a geologist father and a website designer mother, her upper crust vowels belie her early education as she chose to go to a comprehensive “because of my communist beliefs”.

Come again? Most eleven-year-olds are more interested in boybands and sleepover parties than dialectical materialism and the means of production. Were her parents terribly staunch Left-wingers?

“My parents weren’t, but I was,” she says thoughtfully. “I suppose now you come to mention it, an eleven-year-old Marxist does sound odd, but I was terribly passionate about it at the time.”

Having graduated from Oxford with a history degree, she later went on to undertake a PhD, but her father was full of misgivings that she would ever find a job that didn’t involve cleaning lavatories.

“My brother is an engineer so a much more useful member of society,” she chuckles. But Worsley quickly embarked on a career that took her from Milton Manor House, a privately owned stately home in Oxfordshire to The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and English Heritage.

Then, in 2004 she took on her role at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity which runs Kensington Palace State Apartments, Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kew Palace at Kew Gardens and the Banqueting House in Whitehall.

“I love working here,” she beams, all girlish dimples and rosy cheeks. “I like to confound people’s expectations of museum curators. Yes I am interested in constitutional history, political history, the history of foreign affairs, but I think you can get at those subjects through the details of daily life.

“The reason I am interested in what a particular piece of furniture looks like, and how people used it, is not just out of connoisseurship, but because if you can understand their furniture you can understand a different mental world. It gives you a way in.”

As if her day job didn’t keep her busy enough, Worsley has written several well-received books: Courtiers: The Secret History of Kensington Palace, a jaunty take on the colourful lives and loves of the bit-players in the Regency court; and Cavalier: a Tale of Passion, Chivalry and Great Houses.

But it was If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home that has provided her with a stepping stone into television. Her exploration of the history of the bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen - not just the rooms, but precisely what people did in them - from the Normans until the present day, is as enthralling as it is ambitious.

The success of the series rests on Worsley’s natural inclination to get stuck in, whether washing Tudor linen in urine or walking through a busy London street dressed in a Victorian gown. “Someone did shout 'Eff off, Little Bo Peep', but I’ve lost all my sensitivity making this programme,” she reflects, breezily.

“Lots of historians are sniffy about re-enactors. I remember meeting someone very grand while I was making the programme who said: “Oh, I see you are going over to the dark side’,” she says. “I have suffered from that thinking, too, that the documents we should be using are from archives and libraries. But you can learn a lot by recreating stuff.”

Worsley lives by the Thames in south London with her partner, the award-winning architect Mark Hines. She describes herself as having deliberately decided “not to have it all” and is “childless-by-choice” in order to continue pursuing the projects she enjoys. Her home, rather unexpectedly, is a minimalist loft-style flat.

“I need a low-maintenance home,” she says. “I’m not a hoarder; words are more important to me than things, so there are an awful lot of books.”

As for her brush with Johnny Depp, during filming of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie at Hampton Court Palace, the star asked for an after-hours tour, a task that fell to Worsley. “I was supposed to be going to a party with Mark that evening so I phoned him up and told him I was ditching him for Johnny Depp. He said “Go on then, you complete cow” and flung the phone down.’”

So, full of remorse she made her excuses and went to the party?

“Of course not, I waited and waited but Johnny Depp never came because he was apparently too tired. So then I went to the party and claimed I preferred to be with Mark, who was, I think, a bit suspicious that I’d been stood up. Ah Johnny, if only he’d known what he was missing.”

If he tunes into BBC Four tonight, to observe Worsley hosting a candlelit tea party in a Georgian drawing room he might just find out.

* 'If Walls Could Talk' begins tonight on BBC Four at 9pm