It is often a surprise to younger middle-class folk to discover that Antiques Roadshow has not been on television since broadcasting began, but in fact started out only in 1977. It can also be interesting for them to learn that this grand old flagship of British middle-classness had a sort-of predecessor, in the now-forgotten Going For Song (see above), which went out on the BBC in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Most pleasing of all, though, is the revelation of the man integral to both these shows; the incomparable and now sadly-overlooked TV genius, Mr Arthur Negus.
Arthur George Negus OBE (1903-1985) was born in Reading, and took over his fathers antiques business when his father dies in 1920. He then – and this is one of the great things about him – stuck with antiques until 1966, when he was invited to appear on the panel of Going For A Song. On his first show he made such an impression with his slow, grave West-Country delivery, obviously deep knowledge and bonhomie that he never looked back. Coming over as the sort of person you desperately hope will serve you when you go to a shop with a problem requiring an honest appraisal, he seemed even then an enduring relic of a lost Britain of civility and gentle humour. Impersonators such as Mike Yarwood leapt onto his distinctive mannerisms and accent, and a star was born.
When Antiques Roadshow needed a presenter he was an obvious choice as anchor, and he did the job so well that in 1982 (when he also received his OBE) he was given his own show, Arthur Negus Enjoys. Looking back at him now, one can appreciate many things, not least those superb spectacles that today would be so very, very fashionable, and his velvety, burr-ing accent. Most of all though, as a man who didn’t even begin his TV career until he was 63, he is a reminder of the idiocy of TV’s current obsession with youth. Older people are great on TV; they lack that fidgety need to impress that the young have, and give the impression of actually knowing something more than how to read an autocue. Watch the clip above, or dig out some old Antiques Roadshows, and see if you can disagree.