Eric Knowles and the Antiques Roadshow head to Burnley’s Towneley Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:01 10 June 2013

Eric in action at the Roadshow

Eric in action at the Roadshow

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Lancashire ceramics expert Eric Knowles is heading home with the Antiques Roadshow team. He spoke to Roger Borrell

If you happen to have a genuine Tiffany lamp lurking in the back of your cupboard, Eric Knowles would like to have a word.

Lancashire-born Eric – his parents still live in Nelson which he describes as ‘the stockbroker belt of Burnley’ – has been one of the mainstays of The Antiques Roadshow for what seems like forever. He joined almost as a boy and now is every antique lover’s favourite uncle.

Eric is preparing for a trip home. The roadshow is filming at Burnley’s Towneley Hall on June 27 and the ceramics expert will be there before heading on to an engagement in the Lake District.

He admits to having nagged the programme’s producers into using Towneley, one of the county’s most famous historic homes. ‘Over the last 32 years we’ve been to Blackburn, Accrington and Stonyhurst. Our producer Simon Shaw has taken us to some great locations.

‘In fact, these days the locations are an important part of the programme, working in tandem with the antiques. Days have gone when we used to roll up at the local leisure centre.’

Towneley has been on Eric’s radar as a possible location for a long time but it has held a place in his heart since the 1950s.

‘I’ve been a regular there since I was small.

‘In fact, Towneley lit a fire in me that shaped my future life. I still find it an exciting place to go, I always get a buzz. I spend a lot of time in big houses and internationally famous museums but the smell of beeswax polish always takes me back to Towneley.

‘As a boy, I was fascinated by the history of the place and the story of the family that lived there. I would imagine roundheads and cavaliers around every corner.’

His love affair with antiques and auction houses was ignited when he went to a sale preview in a house in Rossendale. He spotted a couple of old chaps in brown coats working as porters and the recently redundant Eric fancied giving it a go.

A speculative letter to Bonhams in London produced the offer of an interview so he caught the ‘midweek shopper’ with his mum and his grandmother.

They went to Harrods while he convinced a character he described as a latter day Mr. Fezziwig - the nice boss in A Christmas Carol - to give him a job.

‘I think at first they found this young chap from Lancashire a bit of an oddity,’ says Eric. ‘But they realised I knew something and, in the end, the family basically adopted me. They were very good to me.’

He spent more than 30 years with Bonhams, the last 20 as a director, before parting company just before Christmas.

As well as public speaking and many television commitments, he is now working with Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions which, like Bonhams, dates back to the 18th century. ‘I never get bored with antiques, especially ceramics because the learning curve is endless,’ he says.

And that Tiffany lamp he wants so badly?

‘Well, Accrington has the best collection of Tiffany glass outside the USA so to have a piece arrive at the roadshow would allow me to wax lyrical on the programme. Ideally, it would be a Magnolia standard lamp worth around £500,000. Sometimes, doing this job makes me feel like Charlie from the Chocolate Factory!’

Have you got the bottle?

Four years ago a glassware collector who had spent just under £1,000 on a new piece for his collection was told by an Antiques Roadshow expert: ‘I’m afraid it’s an empty olive oil bottle, Tesco, circa 2008. It’s worth nothing.’ The clip was never broadcast.

If you hope for better luck, the roadshow is on at Towneley (BB11 3RQ for satnav slaves) on June 27. The doors open at 9.30 am and close at 4.30pm. Entry is free. People with large items can send details and photographs to: antiques.roadshow@bbc.co.uk

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