Higgins interview October 2010
and vintage expert Katherine Higgins appears regularly on The
Antiques Roadshow, enthusing about twentieth century design and
wearing and discussing vintage clothing. She has also appeared on or
presented a number of other programmes on these topics, as well as
having authored various guides and books on twentieth century and
vintage collectables and antiques.
Katherine is a
champion of good twentieth century design and has a passion which
she shares with Digger - The Prisoner TV series.
Here, Digger talks
The Antiques Roadshow
Can you tell us about your background Katherine?
I studied art and architectural history at university Ė I went to
UEA at Norwich and I specialised in eighteenth and twentieth century
there with a sort of close look at historic fashion and so forth.
While at university, I worked at Christies in my summer holidays.
That was rather nice because for three years I worked there and got
to know the insides and how an auction house really works. I covered
a lot of ground, from the pictures dept. at King Street to the clock
dept. where I was attached for two years. So that was a really good
insight into the world or auctioneering.
Do you bump into any of your old colleagues on the Antiques Roadshow
Oh yes. Mark Poltimore, who I was attached to in the picture
dept. at one point Ė Lord Poltimore, he is now one of the picture
specialists. So itís quite funny that our paths have overlapped
again really. Then I went to work for a London-based magazine,
because Iíve always been interested in journalism. Iíd done a
postgraduate study in journalism and I decided that was an avenue
Iíd like to go into. After a year there I found there was a job in
the press team at Christies, so I went back there on a permanent
position and ended up running the press team there, which was great.
And then I decided, lured by the fast pace of The City, I almost
went to work at The Stock Exchange. Just before signing the contract
to join their press team I found that a letter that Iíd written to
the editor of The Express had caused a bit of excitement when I said
ďYou need a columnist and I should be that girl.Ē So I joined
The Express for five years, being their antiques and collectables
A shame it wasnít still in Fleet Street in that lovely deco
building at that stage.
No, but it was lovely. It was at Blackfriars and glorious. At
Ludgate House. A wonderful location with beautiful views.
And another lovely deco building Ė the Unilever one there too.
Yes, on the other side. It was wonderful and then I did various
bits of work in television Ė The Antiques Show on BBC2, an ITV
series called Schofieldís Quest with Philip Schofield which went
to three series. So various different programmes. And then, while I
was at Christies, I wrote my first book which was called ďAre You
Rich?Ē which is a sort of history of the collectability of
household design. So I track from the fifties right up to the
nineties Ė to the start of the twenty-first century, looking at
the rooms in the house and going through them decade by decade and
looking at things that people will have an instant memory for.
Were you involved in that TV series recently where they lived
through the sixties, seventies and eighties with a modern family
trying to cope and survive with the technologies that were available
at the time?
Yes, Iíve been working with that team on another series which
is going to air in the autumn about the high street, so youíll see
me in that. Weíve taken a number of families back to a starting
point of the 1870s and then 1900 and then 1930. Youíll see me in
Hamleys talking to the children of the families about vintage toys
then and how they fit into our lives now. Watch out for that coming
out. So, thatís my background really. Then I wrote the Millers
book on seventies collectables and edited the Millers collectables
price guides for several years. And I also obviously do the
Retro is such a big thing Ė when I started on the web my passion
was sixties British popular culture, so I was covering film, TV and
music. Then I thought people must be interested in the other decades
in the same way as me so when I got fed up with a Ďproper jobí I
expanded it. And all decades seem to have big followings and
What was your proper job?
I was in IT. For about 25 years.
Ah! So when I get a computer breakdown I can just email you for
Iíve actually been in IT since 1974 for heavenís sake when it
was huge machines behind closed doors.
Well, then youíll absolutely love my suggestion for icons of
design of the twentieth century.
Is it an IBM 370? A removable disc? A tape servo?
(Laughs) Almost, youíd love that wouldnít you? No, Sir Clive
Sinclair, you canít really not have him.
Yes, he needs to be there.
Youíd appreciate that more than most people.
Sir Clive Sinclair
Vintage clothes are a great investment as well as being
environmentally-friendly and unique. Would you say there are still
bargains to be had?
I think that theyíve never really gone out of being, rather
than calling them bargains, Iíd say really good value. When you
consider the prices that couture items cost originally and what you
can buy them for now that represents really good value. You can buy
nice department store dresses for a very affordable figure. I bought
(Laughs) Ė well I'm always buying - various bits of English
clothing, but I buy to wear.
Do you ever buy to sell?
Not really, I don't sell. I might do a bit more and look into
So at the moment youíre just a custodian for these pieces?
Yes, I buy to lecture with. So I bought some wonderful twenties
and thirties dresses and Iíve got a very nice Norman Hartnell
evening gown which is a lovely piece which people really appreciate
when I unveil it at the talk. And, equally, Iím a big fan of
buying to wear the sixties and seventies Ė nice lightweight Gucci
pieces and I bought some great sixties suits. Oneís a suede suit
that I bought for the grand sum of £35.
Itís amazing, because this stuff scores on every level. Itís
well made, it makes you different from the crowd, itís
eco-friendly and hard-wearing.
Yes, all of those things. Obviously youíve got to know your
measurements. If you canít get to a vintage fair, and theyíre
not always near your location, then if you want to buy from The
Internet, on which as you know there are many purveyors, then
youíve really got to know your measurements. Make sure youíre
happy with that. You can have things adjusted if youíre buying
them to wear but obviously that will effect their resale value if
theyíre made for you. But you do get tremendous quality and itís
great value on that basis. I think itís a market thatís set to
change and weíll see prices climbing Ė they already are.
Thereís huge interest in the auctions where vintage costume
appears and equally youíve got Lily Allen who has just opened her
new shop which will hopefully roll out to bigger things abroad if it
goes well in the UK - Lucy In Disguise. Top Shop are also interested
in vintage fashions and you can see lots of ways that the prices
will creep upwards as a result.
Thereís two levels of vintage Ė the authentic stuff going around
and then the mock vintage.
Hmm. I appreciate both sides. Iíve got a great pseudo-Victorian
suit by a top designer and theyíve interpreted Victorian style
with a modern twist and I love that. Iím not a great fan of modern
design copying a vintage design absolutely. I think itís rather
nice to buy vintage and better value actually.
Yes a lot of the time it gets diluted so itís neither one thing or
Have you been to these V&A vintage Friday events?
Yes. I haven't been up to one for a long time.
Itís mostly young girls and itís quite a mix and match thing and
you think ďThatís sort of sixties and thatís sort of
seventies, but they donít quite get the whole look right.Ē
Yes, well you do get that at Goodwood Revival. The interpretation
which makes it a 21st Century interpretation of vintage Ė that
will be a hallmark of our decade.
I wonder if people in forty or fifty yearsí time will be looking
back nostalgically at the nineties and the noughties because the
forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties had very clear and
definite looks and feels, didnít they? But I canít see that with
They all borrowed though from other decades in a way. Nothing is new
in fashion and everything has a route to the past. Thatís why it
was exciting for me at university to study both eighteenth century
and twenty-first century because when you look at twentieth century
you see that there is quite a lot of borrowing from the eighteenth.
What should people look for in vintage clothes and twentieth century
Number one on the list, and this has absolutely got to happen, is
that itís got to be something that you like. And, for me, I think
for everybody, it should be something that has got scope for
research or, as we call it in the trade - provenance. It enhances
its value and the more research and provenance and background you
can add to an item then it becomes far more exciting for a collector
and far more exciting too for you as an owner. So you can look at
potteries like Hornsey or Portmeirion which were humble tableware
Ė I grew up with Cathy Winkle pottery on my parentís table. But
itís only by research and by going back through the archives and
experts looking at the original production brochures and so forth
that we have been able to get a real picture of how we arrived at
those designs. It puts them in a different light and you appreciate
the complexity of the patterns and what was achieved on a humble
plate. It just brings it alive. So I suppose anything you can
research from the zip upwards really.
I lost a sale on the site because I had some Marilyn Monroe
memorabilia, a bra from her wardrobe of costumes, and an American
was interested but I couldn't provide enough provenance for him. It
was quite a few thousand pounds.
I know somebody whoíd want that.
Oh gosh, absolutely. Marilyn dresses and accessories are always
popular and seldom come up for sale.
This guy wanted a photo of her wearing it or some solid proof and
all I had was the good name of the seller. And it was a good name.
Yes, you have to have the track Ė the hearsay from people close
to her through to the disposal of the item at the local sale. Or a
ticket, say, when Lady Churchill disposed of Winstonís clothes
when they were all sold off at the local Chartwell jumble sale.
There has to be a track. But I think anything, however humble and
however seemingly unexciting it is, comes alive if you can put it in
a sort of context. And that can be how it was made, who made it, who
was the patron and what kind of life did she lead? What was her
average output a day and how did the designer come to create this?
And also Iíd say a couple of other things Ė it should be easy to
display and thatís something you should consider. My tip for
vintage or any collectables is to go for things you can use or have
around you rather than tucked away. Iím passionate about vintage
Kitchenalia and I use it and I get great value out of reviving
fifties and sixties recipes which I do with great passion.
Does that mean your place has a very retro look inside?
Remember I am a bit eighties too, so I do pay homage to Malmaison
and Portobello and to a bit of Whitefriars so Iím a bit mixed
actually Ė eclectic would be the word.
Youíre not like some of these people where their whole house is
kitted out in a certain style?
No, Iím not devoted to an era. Iím a multifarious collector.
When would you like to have lived if you werenít in this
I think I would like to have lived in the fifties. I would like to
have been a 1950s fairly affluent hostess with my husband working at
a bank. And he left me fairly early in the morning when I had my
jobs started and I could have handled that. I think Iíve got the
right outline and I think I would have loved the fashions and the
new gadgets that were beginning to come into the home and the fact
that I could afford them. I might have had a bit of hire purchase
but itís unlikely. I think I would have been able to buy them
outright actually and been one of the 2% of people who were able to
own a refrigerator. How exciting would that have been?
A fifties refrigerator
The first ever colour TV rented
by Radio Rentals in the UK
I can remember being one of the first houses in the street to have a
telly - and the first colour telly as well.
Gosh, that was even more special.
í68 that was and I think I nagged my mum so much when I was young.
You were from a very affluent household.
Either that or my mum had different priorities.
What did your dad do?
He worked for Gilbarco and spent most of his time abroad at various
There you are you see, the JR of the sixties.
Yes, and now Iím called Digger Barnes. My mum was a copy typist...
So why is vintage and retro so popular and such a big business?
I think it's our own nostalgia and we treasure our own memories of
the past - it triggers our memories of our parentsí pasts and our
grandparentsí pasts. Things weíve grown up with that theyíve
grown up with we hold a great value in them. I think also that
vintage is so popular now because it just hits a moment in our time,
thinking about the values that it was originally designed to solve.
The sense of thrift Ė a lot of the items that we class as vintage,
and vintage is a very loose word. Essentially itís not really as
far back as the Edwardian era or even perhaps the twenties Ė it
picks up really post-deco Iíd say and in the approach to war and
the inter-war era and the wartime era itself.
Nobody really seems to know what these terms mean. When I talk to
people about retro to some people it has a feeling of pop culture
and they wouldnít see Victoriana as retro, but then the
definitions for vintage and veteran cars, for example, seem to
slide. Even on the Antiques Roadshow it wasnít that long ago that
purists used to complain if it included post-war or items that were
in our living memory.
Well, antique has got a sort of definition but I think vintage has a
looser definition and itís open to personal interpretation and
thatís quite acceptable - why not? But the values that were
surrounding vintage, like thrift, when it was first around in the
forties, are very important key values today. I mean thrift is
probably the buzz word for our current lifestyles.
And quality, we want quality and vintage pieces convey quality.
Generally theyíre made with fabrics that are well stitched, well
cut and thatís something that we yearn for in an era where weíve
got Primark. I love Primark but Iím not sure it would last fifty
years. I was in there yesterday and I was trying to find where they
were made and a lot of their products donít say where they were
Do people see you in there and say ďWhat are you doing in here?Ē
Do you know what? No-one's ever come up to me and said anything like
that. Itís because I donít have my sprayed on television make-up
Is that what it is?
I like the way they interpret top-end style Ė that was a great
bonus about the great department stores of the fifties and sixties
fashion when it became accessible at street level.
That was another shame when we lost all those big department stores.
My family are over in Ireland and Cork used to have one of the
original Grace Brothers-type stores that was frozen in time. But
theyíve all gone now. What was the one on Piccadilly Circus?
Not sure, I thought it was Ďsomething and somethingí. Iím also
sorry we lost the corner houses. I loved those as a child.
My parents met in one so that was rather lovely.
Youíre too young to remember the corner house first-hand.
In The Museum of London theyíve had a big revamp at great expense
and theyíve got a reproduction Lyon's corner house.
More fifties style
What is it about the British that makes them such avid collectors
I think that we can look back a very long way into these things
being built into the British national psyche. The idea that, in the
eighteenth century, the wealthiest of us trotted off on the grand
tour of Europe and brought back all sorts of souvenirs. And that was
the basis for the collections and collecting and I think that has
filtered down. The larger houses that we go and see are filled with
collections, whether itís glass or sculpture or whatever it might
be. At Chatsworth, where weíve recently filmed, we had a wonderful
tour of the new culture galleries there. But all of these pieces
didnít come from the UK, they were all brought from abroad and
they formed the collection. And I think we value our past and
weíve got a great sense of heritage built into being a British
Yes it seems to be classless and built into us all.
Well it is. I think itís tied up with our fondness and nostalgia
for our childhood and we are kind of a hoarding nation really. We
find it very hard to let go of pieces and we invest a lot of
personal associations in our items perhaps more so than other
countries. I think other countries like to sweep clean when it comes
to updating their living environment. And that's why Ikea settled
very well overseas and does very well here but at the same time I
can imagine that in the average British household youíll get Ikea
mixing with whatís been handed down rather than the entire house
A lot of countries have to reinvent and start again because of the
geography and the climate.
Thereís a lot of that going on.
Yes, weíre very lucky there are not many earthquakes in Britain.
Or forest fires or droughts or floods or tornadoes.
But I think the sort of sense that things were sold in sets and you
were encouraged to get a set if you were a homemaker in the fifties
Ė you could buy a starter set of the Midwinter set for newly weds
and we would collect and complete the sets. And this also happened
with cigarette cards and stamps which encouraged us to complete the
sets. Advertising has encouraged us and we like collecting and
What is your Holy Grail of collecting?
I suppose if it had to be something then it would be an example of a
Christian Dior design from 1947 for his new look collection, the
first collection he produced post-war. Simply because it showed it
broke with the past in such a dramatic way. Suddenly, the
restrictions of wartime were swept away, although in reality that
didnít happen because obviously we still had utility and rationing
here. But the idea was that this was to come. And how mesmerising
and mind-blowing must that have been at the time. And women suddenly
had the chance to become gloriously and extravagantly feminine
Have you seen Value MyStuff Now.com that was on Dragon's Den?
Yes, well I watched the Dragons and it was interesting actually.
Iím amazed, and Iím not sure if people know, and it seems that
they donít know actually. You can go to any auction house and you
get free valuations. You can take a suitcase of items to any auction
house, or their outlying agents - and there are many all over the
Itís strange that people donít know that.
Of course I used to work for Christies...
Itís one of the best kept secrets and they should push it a bit
Yes, you can get free valuations and if youíre going to pay £3.95
per item that stacks up.
Iíve got loads of posters here and Iíd like to get them valued.
Any auction house will do that for free and you can send them a
description and a picture so I donít know why people canít send
directly to Christies or Sotheby's.
I think people are a little bit intimidated still and they still see
it as an elitist thing.
The thing is, youíve got top level specialists and a lot of them
will have minimum lot values of £500 or maybe even £1000. And even
at £500 thatís cutting off a lot of the marketplace and the entry
level items. So theyíre not necessarily going to be in touch with
the Internet auction houses and Iím not sure their prices will
reflect what you will really get. Theyíll be auction estimates for
their particular auction house where they have expertise Ė if you
come to value vintage fashion that stuff doesnít appear at the
highbrow auction houses and that stuff tends to appear at the more
specialist auction houses. And thereís a lot of stuff going for £20
or £30. Itís a nice idea but for me it fills a gap that doesnít
I suppose itís also the perceived convenience where everyone has a
digital camera and a computer and you can just send it through via
email, pay by Paypal and itís done.
You can do that with an auction house. Maybe not the next day.
Yes, thatís true, maybe itís the 48 hours that's Patrickís
main selling point.
Then youíre stuck with their valuation and you go off to take it
to your local auction house and you say ďLook, itís been
suggested that I can get so much for this." And they say ďDo
you know what? Thatís kind of a high price.Ē Because theyíre
used to selling at Sothebyís and they say that itís below their
minimum lot price. And then where do you stand? Nice idea and Iím
pleased with the fact that we got some antiques onto Dragonís Den.
I MUST think of an idea to go on there because I think itís really
good to get some antiques and vintage on there.
Getting them represented? Yes, with my retro angle Iím always
thinking of that and I canít remember many retro and vintage
things on there. Iíve had two clients on there, Patrick of course
with ValueMyStuffNow.com and also Guy Portelli who got £100,000 for
his pop icon sculptures.
Oh yes, I remember that.
Heís about my age and it was effectively his last chance. He was
very brave because if they hadnít backed him none of the galleries
would have then ever again touched him with a bargepole. But he got
the backing of Theo and Peter and James.
So heís on his way to being a millionaire, I hope.
(Laughs) Maybe he'll get a small chunk of it - maybe 40% of it
Any tips for people who are thinking of making a career in antiques
I think immerse yourself in social history - that's a must. The more
you learn about the context - I don't see any vintage items or
antiques or collectables stand on their own and I think they are
part of a bigger picture. If you know that bigger picture and you
know about the designs of the deco era and how, from the moment you
open the front gate of a suburban house, it's almost like a micro
version of what was going on in Paris in 1925 and you can have a
sense of it all. It all fits in really.
Have you been to the Rennie Macintosh house in Northampton?
No, I haven't actually.
You need to go because Eric Knowles did a series on the restoration
of it for a satellite channel.
Oh did he?!
Yes, and I was living a couple of doors down at The Derngate then
and people would sometimes knock on my door thinking it was the
house I was in.
Oh, how interesting.
It's the only place that Rennie Macintosh actually designed outside
Very rare, yes. Who was the client?
Tom Lowke, a local businessman. There's pictures of him and his wife
looking very proud outside their new home in 1919 or whenever it
was. It fell into disrepair a bit and then a trust got hold if it
and painstakingly restored it to its former glory.
I must come and have a look.
It is amazing. I couldn't live in it though.
It would drive me mad with the very extreme decor, but it's a
wonderful statement and a snapshot of the style and elegance of the
Yes. The other thing I would say is go and handle as much as you can
so go to any auction house and do the pre-sale viewing. It's also
free of charge and you wander in and say "I want to view lot
74" and the porters will give it to you and you can handle it,
turn it over (don't drop it!)
You'll get free advice and talk to the experts.
Yes, and just learn yourself almost. The more you get to handle
items the more you get to find out about them.
I'm guessing that you've got several jobs, as it were?
I am a Jill of all trades - is that the saying?
That must be enjoyable.
I enjoy diversity and working on different projects and they range
from writing and broadcasting to presenting. We filmed Put Your
Money Where Your Mouth Is and I was in the presenter role. It all
seems to balance out quite well and there never seems to be a point
where I'm saying "Gosh, what am I going to do next?" It's
more like "How can I prioritise these things?" It's good.
What are the best and worst things about being on The Antiques
Best, without a doubt, are the locations. It's always so nice to
sneak around these locations and to go behind the scenes. Ranging
from the dramatic Chatsworth and being able to look at that after
hours to the really interesting living history environments that I
adore like Beamish and Ironbridge.
How many have you done now?
I don't know how many I've done but the first time I was on the
programme was 1999.
Is it that long ago? I watch it every week but I didn't realise it
was late nineties.
I've had breaks in between - I've had children so I didn't do 2000
and some of them I am actually pregnant in the programme.
Not like Sarah Beeney who seems to be the continuity person's
nightmare - she's pregnant, she's not, she's very pregnant, she's a
little bit pregnant! (Both laugh)
Yes, that is one of the issues actually. And I do between four and
five each year. I was doing one at Stratford Upon Avon the other
Just down the road from here.
In fact we had people from Northampton coming along. So that's the
best thing. And the worst thing is the weather.
Good old Britain.
So many of our shows are out of doors and if it's going to rain, it
is, for us the specialists, very hard. Because somehow the diameter
of the umbrella - there's a small 2 inches broader than the table
and then you have your head sticking under it and because it's at a
strange angle the water drips off the umbrella straight down your
neck! That's a horrible feeling and that, for me, is definitely the
There's a great camaraderie between all the presenters?
Oh yes, it's like a grown-up boarding school.
I like the idea that as we get older we turn more childish because I
am definitely getting more child-like as I get older.
I think there's a great teamwork on the show and that's not just the
people you seen on the screen but a lot of people off the screen
too. All the amazing rigging and lighting guys who are there days
before. The cameramen and great and the behind the scenes guys are
way more important than us guys who are on camera. They make it
happen. I mean, where would we be without the lovely make-up girls?
It's just such a great team and I think everyone has a part to play
in it. We get the glory but actually they are the ones that make it
happen and almost they are the ones that should have the camera
turned on them - This is the team!
There must be hundreds in total?
No, I think it's around 70 or so but it is a sizeable amount and I
haven't met a nasty one yet, they're all really nice.
That's good. I think you can tell when there's a good vibe on a
show. One of my favourite programmes, apart from The Prisoner and
obviously you guys have been there to Portmeirion, but I also love
Catweazle. You can get an idea of how much they were enjoying making
the series - it comes out through the programme.
What number are you then?
Well, I certainly wouldn't get away with being Number Six these days
with the way I look. I don't know what number I'd be but I have
dressed up as Number Six for a fancy dress a long time ago when I
was a bit slimmer.
I've had the head of the American Prisoner Society staying with me.
Oooh! So you're obviously a Prisoner fan as well.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Digger: I'll just stop the tape for a break and
call you back so please get yourself a drink and I'll call you
back in five minutes.....:
still got this old-fashioned technology here where the
interviews go to tape and I type them up. I've not found any way
to get more than one voice recognised in a conversation and
translated into text. I've done a lot of research but can't find
any. What happens, of course, is that I have to type it up in
chunks. Not a problem but I'd like some software to do it as
it's quite labour-intensive. You'd think in this day and age -
there is software that starts to recognise your voice after a
while. I was talking to Mary Hopkin and her daughter in a studio
the other day where the acoustics weren't great for the phone
and software would have found it impossible to identify what
they were saying.
Somewhere in my archive of tapes I've got the lovely Lulu de
Havilland, I've got Betty Maxwell. Interesting tapes.
don't tend to keep my tapes.
You won't be coming to see me on the Roadshow on that
A lot of the tapes the sound quality isn't great so I
don't know how valuable they'd be anyway.
This will be one you'll be keeping.
Of course. So you're into The Prisoner, like me?
Is it the imagery?
The imagery. The furniture for me is great. Eero Arnio ball
telephones that you can't get because they only existed as props
Well exactly. But that's why I love it.
got two Prisoner-related interviews on Retrosellers. Annette Andre
who appeared in one episode and hated it.
she said McGoohan was really difficult to work with. And the other
side of the coin, I spoke to Jane Merrow and she said he was
Digger: So two
different actresses who had very different experiences.
Andre and Jane
Merrow who appeared in The Prisoner
(click on the images or the links for our interviews with
they like each other?
Digger: Well, you
know the way it works and because they had different stars in each
episode I don't think they every worked together. They never went to
Portmeirion - they filmed all their bits at Elstree. Annette Andre
was then in Randall & Hopkirk and her role developed into a main
starring role as the series went on.
Was she in that?
starting with a smaller part which was improved as the
series went on so she was equal with the two male leads.
You're too young to remember that!
I remember it but didn't watch it.
had a lovely weekend up at Portmeirion for a birthday
courtesy of my girlfriend. We stayed in an individual
It's one of the few places I've been that look better
in real life than on film.
Imagery from The
The Roadshow captured it pretty well - you don't see
it all on that and it was such a lovely day I think
that came across on the recording.
Where do you see vintage and 20th century collectables
going in the future?
I think we're probably going to have more revival
events and more living history.
Like Mr Hemingway's latest venture?
Katherine: Well, I
think that's one thing and there are so many different ways where
the past can be brought to life. I think all our museums are going
through a rethink about how they're presenting history to us and I
think the trend is that we need to have more interaction. Even if
you go to the London Transport it's wonderful because they've got
conductors from the forties and women's war moments - you get
actors playing those parts to bring that history alive.
Like Viv The Spiv.
in character. So the Beamish and Ironbridge and all that kind of
stuff. From very early childhood, our children, who will be the
future connoisseurs of vintage really, they're really learning
about it first hand. And I love that and I think we'll have
access to more revival type events. And I think that as more
research is done more is uncovered by anyone, I mean you or I
could do it. I do it, but anyone can go to their local public
library and home in on their local pottery which is unknown. And
do more research about that or the local electronics firm or
whatever it might be. It can be anything. As more research comes
to light I think it will perpetuate our interest in vintage
Digger: What do the
think of The Internet as a research tool?
fantastic and I think it's great that when I was researching my
grandfather's forays in World War One, first of all in the Royal
Naval Flying Corps and then when it became the RAF in 1918 his
exploits there and I became quite good friend with the followers
of the squadron he was in and getting to know all about the DH9s
that he was flying in and you meet interesting people. And I
think it's a great source or research material and there's lot
of original documents online. You don't have to take that trek
up to The National Archives or The British Library. Quite a lot
of parish records are online and there's quite a lot you can
access actually that can lead you from one thing to another. I
love The Internet and I think it's just opened a hole new world
Digger: I couldn't
be doing what I do without The Internet.
Trading now - the marketplace is much more transparent which
I think is a great thing.
Digger: I'm not
sure about eBay. That's been a disappointment overall for
It changed its character - it mutated in a way, perhaps,
that the original owners didn't necessarily know that it
was going to go in that direction.
not an auction now, is it?
I think there's an awful lot of contemporary and modern
items on there.
junk as well.
I think there's a sense that - it's not really the
place that's worth looking first whereas it used to be
the first port of call. There was so much that was
period or vintage on there. I wanted a particular shoe
of Tupperware sparks and I found it. For me that's
just a wonderful thing to own and I couldn't have had
access to it in the UK and so I'm thankful for eBay in
many ways. You just have to use it with expertise and
caution, I think.
One chap I know was selling Dr Who items to Americans
who seemingly couldn't get the items over there and he
was making 1000% profit on them for a while. I think
it had its moment but it has changed. Extra fees and
costs and so on have put a lot of traders off.
That's what I need to go on The Dragon's Den for, isn't it? That's
why I need to be there. I need to be there with my next version of
eBay. (Laughs) That's what I'll work on.
the general idea, now you just have to come up with a bit more
detail. The thing I find with The Dragons is that they seem lovely
- I'm even starting to warm to Duncan and before I thought he was
surly and brusque and so on.
There's a musical coming out about him.
They're all good in their way but they're often inconsistent. I
know a lot of editing goes on and things take two hours and you
only see ten minutes. But, for some reason, sometimes they'll
lay into somebody because they've said the wrong thing or not
done the right thing and at other times they seem to let that go
and almost go with their gut instincts with somebody who might
appear unbusinesslike and unprepared. It doesn't seem to be very
suppose they know what their own portfolio is and where there
gaps are and they might have had somebody who has grown and
effectively flown the nest and they've cashed in on that. And
they may have a gap suddenly.
Digger: Theo and
Debra seemingly always doing the 50/50 together.
They work very well together.
Jones keeping quite until the last minute and taking them by
surprise at the last minute. Again!
Absolutely. I think it's a great series and it's given
people hope and I think hope is a great thing.
Digger: And an
insight into not only how ideas and invention come about
but also how a business should be formulated.
You get interesting tips and advice. My husband started
a business a year and a half ago and he's been voted
Global Entrepreneur Of The Year 2010 and it's a very
good sounding block for those who want to take the next
step. And who are just slightly nervous about leaving
the corporate setting behind them and starting out on
their own, I think. By looking at other people's
experiences and taking their advice you can go quite a
long way actually, I think. But you've got to remember -
these guys are there for a reason and they want a return
on their money and they want a big chunk of the cake. I
really do like negotiation skills and that's what 'Put
Your Money Where Your Mouth Is' is all about. All about
haggling, and if you've been in the antiques and art
world and you're successful then you are a good haggler.
I consider myself a good haggler and I would love that
moment where you negotiate the Dragons down to that
never heard of before 2% of my business for £100,000.
think you'd be walking down the stairs, to be honest.
Do you think so?
it depends on how much they wanted it, of course, but I
think they have a percentage below which it's just not
worth their while or interesting enough for them to
The other thing which I find interesting and which quite
clearly comes across is that they invest in ideas and
good products but they have to like the people.
One of the people - the chap that started Value My Stuff
Yes, Patrick. He's a very nice chap and he's a good
friend of various friends and he's a very nice chap. And
I think he will be worthwhile to work with and a
pleasure and he's got a business head and a creative
one. They can be safe with him. And equally Levi Roots -
he was a great charismatic character and he obviously
has been a great bet to work with. I mean, Peter
supported him and he's done very well from that. I think
we've gone slightly off track.
for the first time with me, I can assure you. What names
stand out for you in terms of twentieth century
fashion, architecture, style and design?
is one because I think his concepts and realisations
were where we should have been going if we'd done it
properly in Britain. But we didn't really do it to plan
over here when we interpreted his ideas. But I am a
great fan. Slightly on that basis, and someone who tried
to make it work over here - Wells Coates, and obviously
he was an architect as well as a designer and he worked
for EK Cole and designed the famous round radio.
of Clarice Cliff
Yes, that's right.
got a Bush radio here from 1950 and it still takes a
minute or so to warm up before it comes on. I only use
it occasionally because I don't want the valves to go.
I've also got the classic Bush TV - the one they always
show on ads and so on. I'm hoping I can get the innards
working at some point. They look great.
These were fantastic pieces of good British design.
they're still so cheap - they're going for £75 or
Well, they weren't when they were originally new. You
needed a month's salary and hire purchase was the thing
that made it possible.
No, I wouldn't put Conran there because I've just bought
a Conran sofa and it's been such a nightmare. When I
spoke to them about how awful my sofa has been I told
them if I was ever talking about pinnacle designers - I
have a sixties Conran table here, I would like to have
put him on my last of pinnacle designers but after the
experience I've had with this sofa. And the really
appalling upholstery job that they've done on it I
really can't say that I'd put them on the top of my
did you talk to there?
I said it to Conran and I'm still in negotiation with
them - that's my next job this morning actually.
Whenever I have a complaint I always go to the press
office rather than customer service which I find usually
is anything but. It may be the wrong route strictly
speaking but they are always there to help or at least
to get your issue heard.
Unfortunately, and unusual for Conran, it was
re-upholstered in Poland very badly and then it came
over here with a great fanfare about it being presented
to me and it arrived so badly upholstered. Not only did
it destroy the velvet I had chosen but it looks like an
awful, cheap, second-hand sofa and not a great piece of
they've got a lot to do to get back in your good books.
I'd like to think we can resolve it. I'd like something
to sit on soon. (Laughs) But Conran is off the list for
those reasons. I'd put Clarice Cliff up there - I think
she was a designer and suburban goddess that brought
colour to suburbia really.
on the clothes front?
I'd put Hartnell and Barbara Hulanicki on the clothes
side as well.
been trying to find her.
She spends a lot of time in Barbados and she's just
launched the Biba range, which is lovely.
can remember being quite young in late sixties and early
seventies and being in the West End and my sister used
to take me to visit Biba. I didn't know what it was all
about but I loved the imagery and we would have tea on
the rooftop gardens pretending to be something out of a
Bryan Ferry song.
I remember mother opening Biba baked beans. I first went
when I was five and you'd go up to London every week.
don't remember Biba baked beans.
Black and gold label. They were delicious as far as I
can remember. But the new collection is fantastic and
I'm a great fan and I like the way they've styled the
new look. I don't think Hulanicki has an interest in it
anymore, in fact I'm pretty sure she doesn't but it's
great to see that brand having a second chance really.
Another name I would put on my list just because I think
he is fantastic - I interviewed him while he was in the
hairdresser having his hair coloured - Kevin Grange. He
designed the 125 train, the Kenwood Chef, the parking
meter, Parker pens - what else has he done? The
instamatic camera - a fantastic designer and he's up
there with Clive Sinclair. I'm a bit of a secret lover
of anything mechanical or electronic actually.
Sinclair's design was polished and slick and prefect
get cross with bad design... I've got The Prisoner on
video way back from 1982 when it was first shown on the
new Channel 4 and there's some adverts in the break and
one of them is for an IBM Personal Computer. It's just a
box that allows you to do word processing and sums and
it costs £3,500 in 1982 money.
Amazing. I wonder who could have afforded it. The
average Channel 4's viewer at that time their disposable
income wouldn't have been that high.
not sure who their target market was.
So finally Lucienne Day would be up there for his
textiles - I'm a great fan of the Festival Hall and next
year will be such an important year being sixty years
since the Festival of Britain. I think it's a wonderful
place - my husband proposed to me in the Festival Hall
and I got back to Skylon the restaurant there a lot just
to sample the views and pretend I'm in the 1950s.
would you be if you weren't what you are?
I think I'd be an architect if I had a choice. I always
wanted to do architecture and I've studied it a lot and
I think if you know about architecture then it really
informs your knowledge about objects. Because if you
know decorative acanthus leaves on Victorian mantels or
around the doorway of terraced housing then you already
know what's going to be inside. You know the look will
carry through and the exterior will inform the interior.
That for me is key.
would find that with deco because everything was deco.
Yes and every new build suburban house, if it was for
purchase and not a council house, had a bay window and a
sun-trap window. That curve was followed in the flower
borders and then you'd find everything inside was
curvaceous and modern style had entered humble suburbia.
And I think that's lovely and if you look at Victorian
terraced housing and look up above the doorways you'll
see the scrolling acanthus leaf decoration and then
you'll go inside and see Doultonware or other
contemporary pottery using the same decorations in their
pottery. It all perpetuates itself. I love looking at
buildings and I spend a lot of my time looking up, up,
up. I don't look down at my clothes or the pavement.
(Both laugh) I'm surprised I don't rip more often. If I
have one ambition left I'd love to have a show that
explores the way we live in houses now and the way they
were originally designed to be - there will be a
mismatch and people living in houses today that won't
realise the wonder and glory of the house when it was
Beatles did that in A Hard Day's Night.
Did they? They were there first?
Digger: In a
way. They each walk up to four separate terraced houses
and put their keys in and wave to each other. Two
housewives, including Dandy Nicholls, watch them and
comment on how fame hasn't changed them. But when you
see them entering it's just one huge expansive room with
Ah! I'll ask Pattie Boyd about that.
hello to her because we interviewed her about three
years ago. She was lovely. She worked with Penny Junor
on her book.
She's lovely. Who hasn't she met? But she's so grounded.
having been married to two of the greatest rock icons.
Is there one last question?
do you think the British are scruffier than their
I think you've got to get on trend.
see a lot of scruffy people about - people wearing the
same thing whether they are at home or out to dinner.
Tailoring is inherently British and we are passionate
about our tailoring and style, but I think the current
look is overtly casual. But that's because that matches
what we've become.
Can't that casual also mean to a lot of people just
Westwood was a pioneer of using zips in clothing and the
interior becoming the exterior. The flash cut is a nice
creative look. I think we're very eighties revival in
our look at the moment which does mean that you've got
less outline and more bagginess. But I don't think we
are scruffy - I think we have no reason to be scruffy
because clothes are more affordable than they've ever
when I was on my Med cruise and we were being dropped
off at various places, including the south of France -
places like Villefranche, I just noticed that all the
British were wearing scruffy clothes and the French and
Italians who were there just looked so smart. I know we
were all on holiday so you can allow for that, but there
were some Scandinavians on our boat which was 99%
British passengers and the Scandinavians even looked
smarter than we did. So I wondered if we were a scruffy
Well, maybe these people don't want to reflect their
higher income in their dress. Maybe they don't want to
exude that. We're not in the eighties era where we were
quite flash and wanted to show our money off. In a way,
dress down is almost the order of the day and we want to
be slightly classless and to have money, at the moment,
is not the sort of thing you want to brandish around.
When people are struggling to make ends meet. If you do
that on holiday you're likely to be pick pocketed or
have your bag snatched - if you look underdressed and
casual you're more likely to come away with your wallet
went into The Ritz last year and we were underdressed
and not very smart and we were politely asked to leave.
(Laughs) I thought it was quite funny.
There are hotels that still have a dress code, even the
dearest ones. I remember we went into the restaurant for
afternoon tea and my husband was in his shorts and we
were told shorts were not appropriate.
that was our experience.
And I said "Do you know what? I think we're quite
respectable and we'd love to have that table there and I
think we should be allowed to stay for tea." So the
agreement was, because we had been customers in the
past, we could have a tablecloth for my husband. So he
was allowed to wrap it around to cover his shorts and we
sneaked in so he couldn't be seen.
was a good compromise. I thought they might have some
spare trousers like they often have spare ties!
So the next time you go to The Ritz, take a tablecloth
will. What about hats? In previous generations, hats
were a very important item of clothing and also served
to tell other people about your status and so on. Do you
think they'll ever be as popular as they once were
again? If you look at a photo from the twenties and
thirties you could tell what a person was from their hat
and they were all wearing one.
Yes, that was part of our social etiquette and we're
unlikely to go back to that for the mainstream because
our society has changed. We don't demand that anymore.
It was an essential part of work and of society and a
lot of barriers have been broken down. I mean, goodness
me, women wearing trousers?! How did that happen? And I
can't imagine us ever going back to an era where women
no longer can wear trousers. And equally I think that
hat wearing will remain for formal occasions and is
increasingly on the return for vintage dressing and is
very acceptable. And that's sort of spilling out onto
everyday wear. I think if you really like dressing in
vintage I think you can look great wearing a hat as
Without it you don't look complete.
Chanel revived their berets at one point and they are
something that could be revived - I can imagine a trend
like that happening just as it did in the sixties in an
era of feminine independence. When Mary Quant was hot
and every girl had to have a beret. Actually, she was
getting girls to wear a hat which harked back to the
rigours of social etiquette that she was trying to break
away from. But the V&A have some wonderful hat
making courses and you can go and make your own
fascinator or get involved in hats from that perspective
and I think it's quite acceptable to have some sort of
wintery hat to wear. And a lot of people do, skiing hats
and all that kind of stuff - it's just not going to be
the sorts of hats you wear on formal occasions.
Well, Katherine. It's been great talking to you and
thanks for giving us an insight in the vintage and
twentieth century world! See you on The Antiques
Roadshow and on The Dragon's Den! Thanks for your help
and time and that's been super.
A pleasure. Thank you David. Bye.
Vintage shops today
|Retro Bazaar - Funky
Furnishings, Cool Collectables
|Welcome to Retro Bazaar, the
coolest place to hang out, shop and satisfy your cravings
for all things Retro!
We had spent many a cold day wandering around fairs
delighting in the odd item of retro we found, however it
seemed to us that people were selling the occasional piece
amongst the older antiques they had - there were no
So over a nice warming Americano at our favourite coffee
shop one winter's day, we hatched a plan, a grand plan of
immense proportions. Admittedly we've had to scale back
the 3 storey department store of retro, but you never
know, one day maybe!
So we hit the internet, learning the intricacies of
starting your own business, and eventually found ourselves
Throughout all this time we were travelling the length and
breadth of the country selling at any show that would have
us, admittedly some were better than others and problems
and hold ups got in the way, (like when the van broke down
the first time we used it!)
Move forward to the present day, and now that we have a
website, we're getting closer to world domination, but
it's going to take a couple more years! Frankly we're
happy to continue selling affordable retro to the masses,
just as we are!
We hope you enjoy our website, and if you see us at a
show, please do say hi!
Becky & Glynis
68 Alston Drive
T: 01908 310020
|Visit the website for details
|Lovely & Company - Vintage for
the Modern Home
|We are Lovely & Company, an online vintage
furniture store based in Brighton, England.
Thereís something for everyone on our site. Most of our finds date from the
beginning to the middle of the last century, with a few new bits thrown in.
We both have backgrounds in the music industry and our principles for
furniture buying reflect our music tastes Ė in true Balearic spirit, we
believe in mixing it up Ė industrial, rustic, mid-century, English, Danish,
French, American, Indian Ė lovely things from wherever and whenever.... Itís
a simple philosophy: first and foremost, we buy what we like Ė things weíd
like to have in our home (and in most cases do), that we hope youíll like
too. We source pieces that are individual and authentic. For us, a home
isnít static and contrived. Thereís no set formula. Our selection of wares
is both relevant to now but also enduring... modern vintage.
Whilst we stock some design classics, weíre not into design snobbery and
will happily sell 20th Century design classics alongside soda crates and
milking stools. All our items are originals, but not everything is designer.
We're inspired by and have tried to capture the vibrancy of a (much edited)
flea market Ė eclectic and ever-changing.
|Visit the website for details
Many thanks to Katherine
for her help and kindness. Katherine Higgins interview November 2010.
More information can be found at:
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