You are in the Special Features section - Katherine Higgins interview October 2010

Katherine Higgins interview October 2010







Katherine Higgins interview October 2010


Katherine Higgins




Twentieth century 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 to Katherine.


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The Antiques Roadshow


Digger: Can you tell us about your background Katherine?

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.

Digger: Do you bump into any of your old colleagues on the Antiques Roadshow now?

Katherine: 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 correspondent.

Digger: A shame it wasnít still in Fleet Street in that lovely deco building at that stage.

Katherine: No, but it was lovely. It was at Blackfriars and glorious. At Ludgate House. A wonderful location with beautiful views.

Digger: And another lovely deco building Ė the Unilever one there too.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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?

Katherine: 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 Roadshow.

Digger: 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 interest.

Katherine: What was your proper job?

Digger: I was in IT. For about 25 years.

Katherine: Ah! So when I get a computer breakdown I can just email you for help? 

Digger: Iíve actually been in IT since 1974 for heavenís sake when it was huge machines behind closed doors.

Katherine: Well, then youíll absolutely love my suggestion for icons of design of the twentieth century.

Digger: Is it an IBM 370? A removable disc? A tape servo?

Katherine: (Laughs) Almost, youíd love that wouldnít you? No, Sir Clive Sinclair, you canít really not have him.

Digger: Yes, he needs to be there.

Katherine: Youíd appreciate that more than most people.



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Sir Clive Sinclair



Digger: Vintage clothes are a great investment as well as being environmentally-friendly and unique. Would you say there are still bargains to be had?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Do you ever buy to sell?

Katherine: Not really, I don't sell. I might do a bit more and look into that.

Digger: So at the moment youíre just a custodian for these pieces?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: 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. 

Digger: Thereís two levels of vintage Ė the authentic stuff going around and then the mock vintage.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Yes a lot of the time it gets diluted so itís neither one thing or the other.

Katherine: Yes.

Digger: Have you been to these V&A vintage Friday events?

Katherine: Yes. I haven't been up to one for a long time.

Digger: 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

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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 recent years.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: What should people look for in vintage clothes and twentieth century collectables?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: I know somebody whoíd want that.

Digger: You do?

Katherine: Oh gosh, absolutely. Marilyn dresses and accessories are always popular and seldom come up for sale.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Does that mean your place has a very retro look inside?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Youíre not like some of these people where their whole house is kitted out in a certain style?

Katherine: No, Iím not devoted to an era. Iím a multifarious collector.

Digger: When would you like to have lived if you werenít in this particular time?

Katherine: 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?


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A fifties refrigerator

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The first ever colour TV rented by Radio Rentals in the UK



Digger: I can remember being one of the first houses in the street to have a telly - and the first colour telly as well.

Katherine: Gosh, that was even more special.

Digger: í68 that was and I think I nagged my mum so much when I was young.

Katherine: You were from a very affluent household.

Digger: Either that or my mum had different priorities.

Katherine: What did your dad do?

Digger: He worked for Gilbarco and spent most of his time abroad at various oil refineries. 

Katherine: There you are you see, the JR of the sixties.

Digger: 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?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Good point.

Katherine: 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 made.

Digger: Do people see you in there and say ďWhat are you doing in here?Ē

Katherine: 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 actually.

Digger: Is that what it is?

Katherine: 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.



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Some images courtesy of and © copyright  Some images courtesy of and © copyright

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Fifties style



Digger: 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?

Katherine: Simpsonís? 

Digger: Not sure, I thought it was Ďsomething and somethingí. Iím also sorry we lost the corner houses. I loved those as a child.

Katherine: My parents met in one so that was rather lovely.

Digger: Youíre too young to remember the corner house first-hand.

Katherine: In The Museum of London theyíve had a big revamp at great expense and theyíve got a reproduction Lyon's corner house.




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Some images courtesy of and © copyright    Some images courtesy of and © copyright

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More fifties style



Digger: What is it about the British that makes them such avid collectors and hoarders?

Katherine: 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 national.

Digger: Yes it seems to be classless and built into us all.

Katherine: 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 being Ikea.

Digger: A lot of countries have to reinvent and start again because of the geography and the climate.

Katherine: Yes.

Digger: Thereís a lot of that going on.

Katherine: Yes, weíre very lucky there are not many earthquakes in Britain.

Digger: Or forest fires or droughts or floods or tornadoes.

Katherine: 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 completing sets. 

Digger: What is your Holy Grail of collecting?

Katherine: 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 again.

Digger: Have you seen Value MyStuff that was on Dragon's Den?

Katherine: 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 place.

Digger: Itís strange that people donít know that.

Katherine: Of course I used to work for Christies...

Digger: Itís one of the best kept secrets and they should push it a bit more.

Katherine: Yes, you can get free valuations and if youíre going to pay £3.95 per item that stacks up.

Digger: Iíve got loads of posters here and Iíd like to get them valued. 

Katherine: 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.

Digger: I think people are a little bit intimidated still and they still see it as an elitist thing.

Katherine: 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 exist.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: You can do that with an auction house. Maybe not the next day.

Digger: Yes, thatís true, maybe itís the 48 hours that's Patrickís main selling point.



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The Dragons



Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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 and also Guy Portelli who got £100,000 for his pop icon sculptures.

Katherine: Oh yes, I remember that.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: Fantastic.

Digger: So heís on his way to being a millionaire, I hope.

Katherine: (Laughs) Maybe he'll get a small chunk of it - maybe 40% of it anyway.

Digger: Any tips for people who are thinking of making a career in antiques and collectables?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Have you been to the Rennie Macintosh house in Northampton?

Katherine: No, I haven't actually.

Digger: You need to go because Eric Knowles did a series on the restoration of it for a satellite channel.

Katherine: Oh did he?!

Digger: 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. 

Katherine: Oh, how interesting.

Digger: It's the only place that Rennie Macintosh actually designed outside of Scotland.

Katherine: Very rare, yes. Who was the client?

Digger: 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.

Katherine: I must come and have a look.

Digger: It is amazing. I couldn't live in it though.

Katherine: No.

Digger: 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 times.

Katherine: 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!) 

Digger: You'll get free advice and talk to the experts.

Katherine: Yes, and just learn yourself almost. The more you get to handle items the more you get to find out about them.

Digger: I'm guessing that you've got several jobs, as it were?

Katherine: I am a Jill of all trades - is that the saying?

Digger: That must be enjoyable.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: What are the best and worst things about being on The Antiques Roadshow?

Katherine: 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.



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Chatsworth House

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Digger: How many have you done now?

Katherine: I don't know how many I've done but the first time I was on the programme was 1999.

Digger: Is it that long ago? I watch it every week but I didn't realise it was late nineties.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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)

Katherine: 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 day.

Digger: Just down the road from here.

Katherine: In fact we had people from Northampton coming along. So that's the best thing. And the worst  thing is the weather. 

Digger: Good old Britain.

Katherine: 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 worst thing.

Digger: There's a great camaraderie between all the presenters?

Katherine: Oh yes, it's like a grown-up boarding school.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: 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!

Digger: There must be hundreds in total?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: What number are you then?

Digger: 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.

Katherine: I've had the head of the American Prisoner Society staying with me.

Digger: Oooh! So you're obviously a Prisoner fan as well.

Katherine: 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.....: Hello Katherine.

Katherine: Hello.

Digger: I've 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.

Katherine: Somewhere in my archive of tapes I've got the lovely Lulu de Havilland, I've got Betty Maxwell. Interesting tapes.

Digger: Hang on to them.

Katherine: I know.

Digger: I don't tend to keep my tapes.

Katherine: You won't be coming to see me on the Roadshow on that basis.

Digger: A lot of the tapes the sound quality isn't great so I don't know how valuable they'd be anyway.

Katherine: This will be one you'll be keeping.

Digger: Of course. So you're into The Prisoner, like me?

Katherine: Yes.

Digger: Is it the imagery?

Katherine: The imagery. The furniture for me is great. Eero Arnio ball chairs...

Digger: The telephones that you can't get because they only existed as props

Katherine: Well exactly. But that's why I love it.

Digger: I've got two Prisoner-related interviews on Retrosellers. Annette Andre who appeared in one episode and hated it.

Katherine: Oh really?

Digger: Yes, 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 lovely.

Katherine: Yes.

Digger: So two different actresses who had very different experiences.


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Annette Andre and Jane Merrow who appeared in The Prisoner
 (click on the images or the links for our interviews with them)

Patrick McGoohan




Katherine: Did 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.

Katherine: Was she in that? 

Digger: Yes, starting with a smaller part which was improved as the series went on so she was equal with the two male leads. 

Katherine: Yes. 

Digger: You're too young to remember that! 

Katherine: I remember it but didn't watch it. 

Digger: I had a lovely weekend up at Portmeirion for a birthday courtesy of my girlfriend. We stayed in an individual room. 

Katherine: Oh really? 

Digger: It's one of the few places I've been that look better in real life than on film. 




Imagery from The Prisoner



Katherine: 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. 

Digger: Where do you see vintage and 20th century collectables going in the future?

Katherine: I think we're probably going to have more revival events and more living history. 

Digger: 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.

 Digger: Like Viv The Spiv. 

Katherine: Yes, 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 really. 

Digger: What do the think of The Internet as a research tool? 

Katherine: It's 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 for us.

Digger: I couldn't be doing what I do without The Internet. 

Katherine: 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 me. 

Katherine: 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. 

Digger: It's not an auction now, is it? 

Katherine: I think there's an awful lot of contemporary and modern items on there. 

Digger: And junk as well. 

Katherine: 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. 

Digger: 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.

Katherine: 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. 

Digger: That's 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. 

Katherine: There's a musical coming out about him. 

Digger: (Laughs) 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 scientific. 

Katherine: I 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. 

Katherine: They work very well together. 

Digger: Peter Jones keeping quite until the last minute and taking them by surprise at the last minute. Again! 

Katherine: 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. 

Katherine: 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.

Digger: I think you'd be walking down the stairs, to be honest.

Katherine: Do you think so?

Digger: Yes, 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 become involved.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: That's true.

Katherine: One of the people - the chap that started Value My Stuff

Digger: Patrick.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Not 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?

Katherine: Corbusier 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.



Ekco radio

Bush TV


Bush radio


Collection of Clarice Cliff




Digger: Ekco?

Katherine: Yes, that's right.

Digger: I've 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. 

Katherine: Yes.

Digger: And 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.

Katherine: These were fantastic pieces of good British design.

Digger: And they're still so cheap - they're going for £75 or whatever.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: What about Conran?

Katherine: 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 list.

Digger: Who did you talk to there?

Katherine: I said it to Conran and I'm still in negotiation with them - that's my next job this morning actually.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: 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 Conran design.

Digger: So they've got a lot to do to get back in your good books.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: And on the clothes front?

Katherine: I'd put Hartnell and Barbara Hulanicki on the clothes side as well.

Digger: I've been trying to find her.

Katherine: She spends a lot of time in Barbados and she's just launched the Biba range, which is lovely.

Digger: I 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.

Katherine: I remember mother opening Biba baked beans. I first went when I was five and you'd go up to London every week.

Digger: I don't remember Biba baked beans.

Katherine: 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 design.

Digger: I 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. 

Katherine: 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.

Digger: I'm not sure who their target market was.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: What would you be if you weren't what you are?

Katherine: 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.

Digger: You would find that with deco because everything was deco.

Katherine: 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 new.



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Some images courtesy of and © copyright    Some images courtesy of and © copyright

Some images courtesy of and © copyright

Sixties fashions




Digger: The Beatles did that in A Hard Day's Night.

Katherine: 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 state-of-the-art gadgets.

Katherine: Ah! I'll ask Pattie Boyd about that.

Digger: Say hello to her because we interviewed her about three years ago. She was lovely. She worked with Penny Junor on her book. 

Katherine: She's lovely. Who hasn't she met? But she's so grounded.

Digger: Yes, having been married to two of the greatest rock icons. 

Katherine: Is there one last question?

Digger: Yes, do you think the British are scruffier than their European partners?

Katherine: I think you've got to get on trend. 

Digger: I see a lot of scruffy people about - people wearing the same thing whether they are at home or out to dinner. 

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Can't that casual also mean to a lot of people just scruffy?

Katherine: 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 been.

Digger: So 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 nation?

Katherine: 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 intact.

Digger: We 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.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: Yes, that was our experience.

Katherine: 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. 

Digger: That was a good compromise. I thought they might have some spare trousers like they often have spare ties!

Katherine: So the next time you go to The Ritz, take a tablecloth with you.

Digger: I 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.

Katherine: 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 well.

Digger: Without it you don't look complete.

Katherine: 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.

Digger: 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.

Katherine: A pleasure. Thank you David. Bye.



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Some images courtesy of and © copyright

Vintage shops today






Retro Bazaar - Funky Furnishings, Cool Collectables
Website Retro Bazaar
Details 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 specialists.

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 some premises.

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

Retro Bazaar
68 Alston Drive
Bradwell Abbey
Milton Keynes
MK13 9HB

T: 01908 310020

Remarks Visit the website for details


Lovely & Company - Vintage for the Modern Home
Website Lovely & Company
Details 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.

PHONE: 07976931671

Remarks Visit the website for details






Many thanks to Katherine for her help and kindness. Katherine Higgins interview November 2010.

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