Bargain Hunt: The Guide

Something bizarre is occurring down the bazaar . . .

Jack Sugden has something worse than a manslaughter charge to look miserable about. It could be time for last orders down the Woolpack. This month the BBC wheels out its big guns against Emmerdale in the early evening ratings war; at long last Bargain Hunt, that reliable bastion of daytime programming, is going prime-time.

In case you’ve missed it, this is the antiques show with a twist. Instead of dragging along granny’s old dresser in the vain hope that it turns out to be a Sheraton, the contestants (split, for the purposes of easy identification, into the Blue and Red teams) are taken to market, given a sub of £200, and told to go out and snaffle some bargains in under an hour. Each team is also provided with an expert whose advice they can either follow to the letter or disregard completely, and the following week their purchases go to auction; whichever team makes the most money (or loses the least) is declared the winner.

Bargain Hunt first aired in the spring of 2000, and over five series has attracted an ever-increasing number of viewers hoping to garner enough tips to give up the day job and transform themselves into Ian McShane. The glue that binds the whole thing together is presenter David Dickinson, the man with the Cheshire Cat grin and a dubious line in lightweight Continental suits. Whether feigning a Bruce Forsythe-like interest in the contestants or trying on centuries-old headgear for comic effect, he can be relied upon to exude an enthusiasm for proceedings that is healthier than his permanent tan. 

For some time David has been attempting to get the show shifted to an evening slot, but now he has succeeded in upping the bidding (the float has increased to £500, contestants have more time to roam the stalls, and a new titles sequence has even been commissioned), how will it fare against everyone’s favourite agrarian soap?

On the plus side, David already has some audience-friendly catchphrases up his pinstriped sleeve, which he casually drops into the conversation when advising contestants on the worth of their purchases. Anything hideously overpriced ‘might struggle’ at auction (pronounced ‘ockshun’); an item that is worth what has been paid – but no more – is ‘all its money’; and a real, honest-to-goodness bargain is ‘cheap as chips’. Disturbingly, on recent shows he has also taken to enthusing ‘didn’t the washboard do well?’ over any item fortunate enough to make its money back; the Forsythe Syndrome is clearly in its advanced stages.

And while David is the lot that attracts the most interest, he is ably supported by an endearing cast of advisers. Recurring favourites include long-suffering ockshuneers Philip Serrell and ‘dapper’ David Barby, who demonstrate unfailing good humour as their considered advice is disregarded by bickering mother/daughter couples intent on purchasing chipped chinaware sets, thus ensuring fiscal tragedy.

But David remains the star. The Lancashire Lovejoy (complete with asides to camera), his transformation from popular daytime personality to full-fledged media celebrity has now been cemented by appearances on Through the Keyhole, Blankety Blank and even Have I Got News for You?. Contestants cheerfully confess to coming on the programme solely in order to meet him, and during a recent run a pair of students revealed themselves to be founder members of the David Dickinson Appreciation Society (prompting one of the great man’s patented double-takes).

His mid-ockshun gurning may be painful to watch, and his value estimates sometimes wildly inaccurate, but David is a man who likes to call a Victorian coal shovel a spade. When a team has made a spectacular loss of £235 he will happily conclude that, despite being having been ‘great fun’ on the show (all the contestants are great fun – even the dull ones), they were ‘a load of rubbish’ when it came to buying and selling. ‘What was that load of old tat?’ he will grinningly enquire of anyone foolish enough to choose a gaudily decorated selection of 1950s dinner plates in the expectation of a healthy return.

Prepare to be Bobby-dazzled;  David Dickinson would be cheap as chips at half the price.

Richard Hewett