There will be a new morning ritual in many households this fall. Before leaving for the office, the VCR will be set on the Discovery Channel, the cable educational and documentary network, to record the "Antiques Roadshow" from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. And those who don't go to the office may be arranging their days to be in front of a TV for that half-hour. The BBC's "Antiques Roadshow" has arrived in America and it is the best show on antiques ever devised.
The Discovery Channel began broadcasting the reruns on Oct. 1, Mondays to Fridays, and it is scheduled to continue with some repeats for 52 weeks.
The show, now in its 13th year, is already part of British folklore. It holds the all-time Sunday afternoon tea-time family viewing record; only the most popular weekday soap operas top it. Since 1977 the British have hurried through Sunday dinner, come in from the cricket crease, the polo field and the bowling green to be in front of the telly when the "Roadshow" begins. Clergymen complain they can't fill their churches until it's over. At last tally, the "Roadshow" is watched regularly by 14.7 million British viewers.
The 45-minute programs are being cut to 30 minutes for the Discovery format. The BBC produces 12 shows each year, which are shown every other Sunday afternoon from April to November, except August, when everyone is on holiday.
As the show goes from town to town, it advertises its planned arrival in the local press and that generally brings at least 3,000 people to queue up, objects in hand, hours before the doors of the rented hall open at 10 a.m. Everyone gets an evaluation from one of the 20 experts chosen from a pool of 60; about two dozen items are chosen for filming and are discussed on camera with an expert. The cameramen complete their work that day.
"It makes for a rather gentle game show where the participants already own the prizes and they're trying to find out what they are worth," said the show's producer, Christopher Lewis, on the phone from Bristol, England, where the show first took form.
It is generally a "good news" program. The best find to date, according to Mr. Lewis, was brought in by a Liverpool woman who had a large teapot identified as a Wheildon punch pot worth at least 5,000 to 6,000 pounds. When she sent it to auction it brought her 14,300 pounds and helped her buy the house she had been renting for the past 35 years.
The valuers (appraisers), who are auction house experts, museum curators, scholars and members of the trade, are specialists in pottery and porcelain, painting, silver, furniture, jewelry, toys, dolls, clocks and watches, books, arms and armor and that broad field of miscellany known as collector's items. They are paid a modest sum for their travel and time; being on the show carries a certain cachet.
It is amazing how much valuable information on history, connoisseurship and conservation they impart as they describe what they are looking at and how they arrived at the identification, date and value. The camera work is very good, showing close-ups of marks and surfaces as well as the reactions of the owners.
It is amusing to see how gently the experts give bad news, how the camera reveals the relationship between the owners and their beloved possessions, and how reticent the British are when receiving good news. In sharp contrast to the exuberant jumping and hugging seen on American game shows, one woman says simply, "Oh really," after being told her painting is worth 10,000 pounds. "You are pulling my leg," said the astonished lady with the punch pot.
Mr. Lewis says he is looking forward to filming two episodes of "Roadshow" in America this spring, which will be shown as part of the regular schedule in Britain next year.
Last month the Roadshow was filmed inside Salisbury Cathedral. "The Cathedral was used as a meeting place and a place of commerce in the Middle Ages; horse sales were held there until Victorian times; it was the only building in town that held a crowd," Mr. Lewis noted, adding, "The Dean came at noon and led two minutes of silent prayer and thoughts; then it was business as usual."
Regular watchers of the "Roadshow" may learn more than they want to know about obscure British painters, but in the process will learn what gives any picture value. Most of the objects valued are in fact similar to ones found in America. Their worth in pounds must be translated into dollars -- roughly multiply by two. Since the shows are reruns, some filmed a decade ago, values may be out of date, but they would have been further from the mark last season than in the current soft market.