They came in their thousands to Tatton Park in Cheshire, a vast array of folk of all ages, clutching plastic bags, trolleys, hold alls, even a wheelbarrow - any receptacle which could easily hold their precious (or otherwise) items. It was a wonderful, warm and sunshiny day and the Antiques Roadshow had come to town.
Knutsford, or Cranford, as Elizabeth Gaskell followers will know, had been full of expectation for weeks. Advertising banners with the delectable Fiona Bruce gazed down at us at our supermarket car park and the local paper encouraged us to empty our attics. We watched the dodgy weather over the previous two weeks but the forecast improved and a dry day was on the cards.
At 9.30am traffic entering the park was nose to tail. Gradually, the eager collectors and antiques lovers formed orderly queues and were quickly pointed in the right direction by the courteous and efficient BBC staff.
People chatted, swapped stories and probably made friends for life, their patience and cheerfulness so typically British. As the day wore on, drinks and ice cream sales must have soared. It was interesting watching the technical stuff, the vast overhead camera which zoomed and swung to give us those great birds-eye shots of the crowd snaking its way around the park.
The gardens of Tatton Park looked particularly beautiful with their towering rhododendrons, while the mansion gave a grand and colourful backdrop. Many people were looking out for their favourite newsreader and presenter, Fiona Bruce, as she calmly wandered among her fans, chatting, signing autographs and posing for a photo when not required for filming.
I didn’t have any family heirlooms for inspection but my own special thrill was being asked by a local internet website to interview Ms Bruce. Our meeting was necessarily brief but she was as charming and relaxed as you would imagine and meeting her made my day.
The afternoon became sultry and yet the crowds still happily waited for their turn. Those items specially selected for filming were drawing big crowds. A flash of silver here, a large piece of furniture there, a wonderful painting, toys, even a sedan chair from the local heritage centre and Knutsford May Queen crowns were being filmed – Fiona could not resist trying one on and looked every bit our media Queen.
The usual variety of experts were stationed at tables under green umbrellas in the Italian garden and, with baited breath, hoping for that special wow moment - the revelation we all sit down to watch on an autumn Sunday evening. Will that item picked up at a car boot sale for 50p really be a masterpiece valued at £5,000? The valuations continued into the early evening. With millions of other viewers, I look forward to the new series of AR to see the result.
Tatton Park has never seen anything quite like it but I am sure Mrs Gaskell would have woven a story around the event.
Val Dawson, Knutsford