Interview with Flog It! presenter Mark Stacey
PUBLISHED: 11:49 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 11:16 24 March 2015
Sussex antiques expert Mark Stacey is a perennial TV favourite, who regularly appears on a host of BBC shows. He tells Angela Wintle how he broke into television and why he's celebrating all things vintage in Brighton
Mark Stacey knows a thing or two about the power of television. Since becoming a regular antiques expert on a raft of popular antiques shows from Flog It! and Antiques Road Trip to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, he’s recognised wherever he goes.
“These programmes are shown all over the world,” he says, in his cultured Welsh accent. “I run an antiques shop in Brighton and a lot of overseas visitors come in just to see me, which is rather bizarre. Thanks to all the repeats, I’ve been known to be on Bargain Hunt at noon, Flog It! at 3.30pm and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is at 5.15pm. I’ve lost count of the number of times somebody’s texted me to say: ‘Every time I turn on the wretched telly, there you are. You’ll be on Crimewatch next!’”
But Mark, 48, is too measured to let it go to his head, though on the day we chat he has just returned from yet another manic filming session. “The schedule can be quite intense, particularly in the summer,” he says. “I’ve just finished filming two series of Antiques Road Trip back to back – the usual version and the celebrity one. And I’ve also completed another series of Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.”
So how does he account for the unfailing popularity of all these shows? “Well, take the Road Trip. There’s the repartee between the experts, the characters they meet on the road, the classic cars and the landmarks they visit – all of which are terribly British. Then, of course, there are the antiques. Viewers love learning about their history, though I don’t think they care too much about how much money we make or who wins the competition.”
Mind you, the shows have their detractors, too. Some dislike the gameshow element, arguing it detracts from the objects’ intrinsic value, while others feel that contestants are encouraged to strike too hard a bargain. Mark can see both sides of the argument. “Dealers complain bitterly that we’re destroying the trade and I’ve certainly experienced customers haggling too hard in my own shop. But if you walk into a fair and pick something up, the chances are most stall holders will offer you a discount. And let’s not forget the cumulative effect of these shows is to put the antiques world in the spotlight.”
None of these programmes, of course, would be complete without a colourful presenter. Does he have a favourite? “Paul Martin, the presenter of Flog It!, is lovely. I call him the Mr Darcy of the antiques world because he dresses like a Regency dandy. And Bargain Hunt presenter Tim Wonnacott, who used to be my boss at Sotheby’s, is extremely knowledgeable and just as he appears on television. I also got on well with David Dickinson [his predecessor], though he’s a bit like Marmite – you either love him or hate him. He’s larger than life and there are no half measures.”
And what about his fellow experts? “I’m very close to Catherine Southon and I love Anita Manning. Thomas Plant and Charlie Ross are also good mates. Like every profession, you hit it off with some and not others. But if you’ve been put together to work, then you do the job.”
Mark, who grew up in South Wales, worked as a residential social worker before deciding to set up his own antiques stall at an antiques collective in Surrey. “I didn’t have any real knowledge, but I’d always enjoyed visiting fairs and picking up the odd bit of silver,” he says.
“I’ve acquired all my expertise myself – through reference books and auctions.”
But eventually he realised he didn’t have the capital to take his business to greater heights, so he decided to join an auction house. “The first position I saw advertised was for a valuer’s job at Bonhams in Hove. When I enquired, the manager said it had already been filled, but he invited me to come along for an interview anyway, just to gain experience. We got on well and I did get the job after all.
“Bonhams was wonderful and I loved going round people’s houses, unearthing things they didn’t know they had. One of my best finds was a painting of an Amsterdam street scene by the Dutch artist Willem Koekkoek (1839-1895), which sold at auction for nearly £80,000.”
Mark went on to work for several more auction houses, including Sotheby’s ceramics and valuation departments at Billingshurst, before spotting an advert in the Antiques Trade Gazette appealing for experts to audition for a range of BBC antiques programmes. He decided
to give it a go and much to his surprise was invited for a screen test in Bristol.
“It lasted all of 15 minutes. They asked some basic antiques questions and then I had to do a mock piece to camera with a BBC runner who pretended he’d brought in a Staffordshire figure for valuation,” he says. “Afterwards, they said: ‘We’ll let you know,’ but I heard nothing so I emailed the producer to inform her that I’d quite like my travel expenses. That’s when I discovered I’d got
He made his first television outing on Flog It! in Ipswich. “I didn’t think I was terribly good and I remember saying to friends on the way home that I hadn’t given enough information. But the following morning, the series producer said they wanted to book me for another one. And then Bargain Hunt asked if I’d do a Children in Need special. So my first Bargain Hunt featured a celebrity and a live auction.”
Thanks to the county’s flourishing antiques scene, Mark often films in Sussex. “We’ve filmed Flog It! in Worthing and Brighton’s Corn Exchange, and lots of Bargain Hunt at Ardingly Antiques and Collectors Fair. The car boot sale at Ford Market is another popular location, and Brighton and Lewes antiques shops feature large in Road Trip, though they don’t put me on those because I have too many
How is the Sussex antiques market faring in the current financial climate? “Well, Brighton used to have a lot more antiques shops in the Lanes, but rising rental costs have put a stop to that,” he says darkly. “Kemp Town is the exception because there are nine or ten antiques and vintage-related dealers.”
Since opening Vintiques in St James Street, Kemp Town, just over a year ago, he has joined their number. “I chose the name because I didn’t want to give the impression that our stock was all brown furniture and antique china. There’s room for traditional stuff, but Brighton is such a cosmopolitan and vibrant place that a lot of people want quirky or retro items. We try to combine the two, from the Georgian right up to the Eighties.”
While Mark is away filming, his Spanish partner Santiago mans the shop. “We love living in Brighton and settled here permanently five years ago. We visit the Theatre Royal as often as we can and enjoy meeting up with friends.”
It seems Mark is here for good, and the same can probably be said of his antiques vehicles, though it’s doubtful they’ll outlive that great British institution the Antiques Roadshow. Is there much snobbery between the two camps? He smiles enigmatically. “How can I put this? You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”