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Culture: A glass act featuring Antiques Roadshow's Andy McConnell




Andy McConnell sizes up a glass sculpture during the Antiques Roadshow (4710416)
Andy McConnell sizes up a glass sculpture during the Antiques Roadshow (4710416)

Antiques Roadshow expert Andy McConnell will celebrate the magical appeal of glass and raise money for charity at an event in Suffolk this month.

Andy, who has clocked up 12 years with the hugely-popular BBC show, is returning to the county where he first fell under the spell of antiques.

He did the rounds of local antique shops with his parents when he was in his teens.

But it would be ten years before he took the steps that led to him becoming one of the UK's leading specialists in glassware.

In between he trained as a journalist on Culture's sister paper, Sudbury-based Suffolk Free Press, then moved on to rock journalism based in Hollywood.

The Roadshow's first glass expert and resident joker, whose valuations come with a liberal helping of banter, is in Clare on October 26 and 27.

Andy McConnell and Friends includes talks and identification sessions. Profits will be halved between EACH (East Anglia's Children's Hospices) and The Glass Society.

Event organisers are Clare Parish Council chairman Paul Bishop and his wife Christine, who run regular glass fairs in East Anglia.

The Friday evening audience at Clare Town Hall will be treated to a mix of expert knowledge and anecdotes in Andy's Beyond the Roadshow talk, followed by a fund-raising auction.

On Saturday, October 27 glass artists Stewart Hearn and Katharine Coleman, and Stewart's ceramicist wife Kathryn, will join Andy in Clare Community Centre to speak about their work.

He will wrap up the afternoon discussing iconic French glass designer Rene Lalique, and casting an eye over people's treasures from family heirlooms to intriguing items dug up in the garden.

Andy's love of antiques dates back 50 years. "Mum and Dad were part-time dealers," he says. "When I was at Framlingham College they would come up to Suffolk and we'd tour the local shops.

"I was doing English, history and art A-levels, and going to antique shops was like living history.

"What we were looking at was the artefacts that were around at the time. They give you a much more vivid view of everything.

"It was incredibly enriching. . . and you could also make a few bob out of it."

He developed a keen eye, and at 14 was trawling London's Portobello Market. "I could buy something for ten bob, sell it to my parents for a fiver, then they would sell it for £50. Antiques are in my veins."

Leaving school he went into journalism. "I loved my time in Sudbury covering some really interesting stories like when Ballingdon Hall was moved up the hill. The Free Press editor Geoff Brown was such a mentor to us all," he said.

He still writes specialist articles for newspapers and magazines as well as producing a series of exhaustively-researched books on glassware.

In the 1970s he headed for Los Angeles pursuing the inside stories on some of the world's biggest rock stars.

Back in the UK four years later he began dealing in antiques while writing a book on singer Joe Cocker and working at a recording studio.

Then he got a call from the band Jefferson Starship (formerly Airplane) inviting him to come on the road.

"I think they wanted a jester to go along with them," he says. But he also spotted the chance to make some sales abroad.

"I bunged a load of antiques into a bag and went. In Hamburg I went into a shop belonging to Gunther Kramm and he said 'You have a very good eye. In two years this will just be a glass shop. You could buy it in the UK and bring it to me'.

"I said I know nothing about glass and he said, 'Neither do I, but we will learn together'."

It was the start of an arrangement that lasted more than 20 years.

Andy spent two years working for Island Records producing videos for the likes of Tears for Fears, Steve Winwood, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

"In London I'd go antique hunting in the morning then go to work and stay till 10pm," he explained.

He met his wife Helen in 1981, and they lived for several

years in France doing up a house while he worked as a builder. They now own Britain's biggest glass shop, Glass Etc, in Rye, East Sussex.

As his reputation as a glass expert grew he was recruited by Antiques Roadshow, which he says is "like playing for the world champions".

He loves the interaction with owners, for instance playing a 'bidding-up' game with someone over a vase starting at £100 till she reached the true value – £4,000.

But there is no joking when it comes to assessments and valuations. One glass he examined ended up being given to the V&A museum.

"Accuracy really counts. The onus is on you to make sure you are right on your game."

An encounter with the owner of a Lalique vase probably made the biggest impression on him.

Giving her the good news it was worth £5,000 he asked if she would take part in filming. "She said she had an appointment so couldn't wait around long.

"It was for her first session of chemotherapy. It was like the agony and the ecstasy all in one day."

He holds the record for valuing the most expensive items ever seen on the Roadshow – five fabulous chandeliers in Bath Assembly Rooms worth £1 million each.

And he also made the programme's lowest-ever valuation. . . 20p for a Shipham's paste jar found in mud beside the Thames.

Being part of the team gives him a real buzz. "Fiona (Bruce) is great to work with. My best mate on the show is Will Farmer, he's a really good pal."

Art expert Philip Mould was responsible for Andy appearing on Celebrity Mastermind. "He was invited and said he wouldn't do it. . . but he knew a man who would.

"It was terrifying. You can't choose your professional specialist subject in case you get something wrong, so as I'd written a book on Joe Cocker I chose him."

Andy's madcap on-screen persona makes him one of the show's most recognisable characters. "That's a bit of a downside, people staring at you in the street," he says.

The charity aspect of the Clare event is important to him. "I'm very keen on doing charity work. I've set myself a target of £10,000 to raise this year and think I should get to £15,000.

"I think my generation – born post-war – has been insanely lucky, so we should give something back."

Friday, October 26,

Beyond the Roadshow talk, 7.30pm, Clare Town Hall, £12 including a glass of wine/juice and nibbles

Saturday, October 27

A full programme in Clare Community Centre with Andy and Friends, including a glassware ID session, 11am-5pm, £25, including buffet lunch

Email info@theglasssociety.org.uk or call 07887 762872 to book