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STUCK MIDDLE: Browsing BritBox, cruising to ‘Antiques Roadshow’

Happy 2023 to one and all. May fair winds be at your back and sunshine on your shoulder throughout the coming year!

Winter evenings we are often in front of a fire, and the TV. And among the better side effects of the recent pandemic is that The Empress and I no longer bother with much traditional commercial television. We stream what we watch from any number of sources, Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Disney and YouTube among others. Prime offers additional sources such as BritBox which we have adopted as a regular means of entertainment. Enter any subject you choose in the search box of any of these providers and an abundance of programming will appear on your screen. Whether you want a favorite old movie, a biographical program about some historic figure, maybe a tour of Versailles, or a PBS special you may have missed or wish to see again, it’s all at your fingertips.

Among our favorites has become “Antiques Roadshow,” both the UK and American versions. There are 42 seasons of the UK broadcasts and 26 of its American cousins, and common theme notwithstanding, there are some distinct differences between them.

Let’s start with settings. The American version broadcasts from larger cities and a few resorts around the country, often from elegant performing arts centers, civic centers, or the grounds of some gracious estate. The Brits have palaces, ancient castles, massive baronial estates, medieval cathedrals, Roman ruins, and a royal property or two. They even broadcast a couple of episodes from Royal Ascot, the famous horse racetrack, which they hastened to tell us stands on the site of a track dating back to the Saxons or Angles from around 500 AD. Lovely as it may be in March, Palm Springs just does not compare as a setting to Althorp House — Princess Diana’s home.

And then there is what may be found in Great Auntie’s attic. We Americans have excellent stuff ranging from wonderful Native American pottery and crafts, on through beautiful artwork and colonial furniture, perhaps some dinnerware from Monticello or a fancy silver vase some Vanderbilt owned, and on to such as the gorgeous creations of Louis Comfort Tiffany; every bit of it is remarkable. But it isn’t an 8th Century Carolingian shield, or a medieval apse window with fabulous stained glass, or a small statue of Aphrodite that belonged to Napoleon when he was in exile on Elba. We just don’t have long-forgotten Celtic swords rattling around in the back of our sheds. On one beautiful Long Island estate someone was very proud of several extraordinary side chairs “after Chippendale” that dated to the late 19th Century. On a UK broadcast someone is proud of several actual Chippendale pieces from the 18th Century. Provenance is everything on the Roadshows, and we Yanks simply haven’t the history of our UK friends with their thousand-year-old monarchy to show off.

My young grandsons might well find a Cherokee arrowhead or two if they dig around in our garden long enough. And maybe someone will one day find that Confederate gold rumored to be buried somewhere in Flat Rock. But on one UK broadcast a little boy was very proud of a coin he’d discovered in “Granny’s garden.” One side featured a silhouette of no less than Queen Elizabeth I, which dated the coin to roughly 1600. My boys will never dig up one of those in my yard.

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Stuck in the Late Middle columnist Bill Humleker writes about life, family and culture from his home in Flat Rock.