The Auction House

I must admit I’ve never been inside an auction house. The closest I’ve come is watching Flog It and Bargain Hunt from the comfort of my sofa and marvelling at the tat people think will sell for a fortune that ends up making five pounds. So Channel 4’s Auction House is a chance to take a behind the scenes glimpse into this strange world of tacky furniture, moth eaten rugs and tasteless paintings. The auction house in question is Lots Road in Chelsea, situated in one of the most affluent areas of the country and catering to the local rich and eccentric. It’s owned by millionaire Roger Rees, a man with a very individual management style who is, by his own admission, a dictator and a tyrant. His motto is “my way or the highway” and it would seem he has alienated most of his staff. I’m sure viewers are supposed to find him annoying and side with the staff, but I rather liked Roger. Sure he’s eccentric, but most of the time he seems to talk sense and it is his business after all. His directness and lack of political correctness is refreshing in this world of corporate homogony, and it’s a lot of his staff who come across as miserable, stuck in their ways and just a little ungrateful.

One of the staff who seems not to be affected by Rogers management style is valuer Andrew Mackay. Impossibly posh, you can tell he’s born of good stock as his cloths are full of holes and all look second hand, and he rides what seems to be a cross between a BMX and a penny farthing. He’s one of the people who decides what to take into the auction house and how much they should be getting for it. It does all seem a little arbitrary. When someone brings in five pairs of silk curtains he tells the customer the reserve should be £300-£400. The customer tuts disapprovingly and Andrew ups his estimate to £500-£600. It all seems quite arbitrary. For the customer of course it’s a lot more important. With the commission and taxes, Andrew tells us that if you buy something and then sell it for exactly the same price you will actually lose half of what you spent. As one of his regulars tells us, it’s a lot like gambling.

The real stars of the show are the customers. Obviously picking a business in the heart of the richest district in London the producers knew that they were likely to strike gold with some of the clientele, and they did so in style. Sam is a housewife, decorating her newly acquired, stunning Chelsea townhouse. Her days seem to consist of buying items to go in the property, getting them home and deciding they just don’t go, and then going straight back to Lots to resell them. She buys a large rug for £4,500. When she lays it out on the floor at home she realises she has basically bought an oversized dust sheet. Her friend, Trilby (a strange name, but she wears it well) tells her it looks awful so back to the auction house it goes. It sells for more than £1000 less than she paid for it. As hobbies go, this is an expensive one

Michael and Craig are a couple who have been together for 40 years, and live in what seems to be the set from a Dickens novel. Every room crammed to the rafters with antiques of varying quality, there is barely room to move. They buy and sell antiques for a “select” client base. They won’t give names, but claim that Dubai royalty and MP’s are among their roster. Michael is quite obviously in charge, while Craig seems content to potter along behind him, dreaming of making enough money for a new set of teeth. They are a truly eccentric and fascinating couple, who Channel 4 could easily do a stand-alone programme on – The Posh Hoarder Next Door perhaps?

Lots Road looks like a fascinating place; an IKEA for those with questionable taste and more money than sense, populated by eccentric, colourful characters who probably all deserve programmes of their own. Too many documentaries these days fail to engage with the public simply because they lack these basic ingredients. All of which begs the question; why only three episodes of The Auction House? Too many programmes these days run out of interest long before the final episode has aired. If ever a programme deserved a full series it’s this one.

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