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Screaming Two-Stroke in Bargain Hunt

Tim Wonnacott helps 'Bargain Hunt' outperform on its minimum budget for fans of UK TV abroad

Tue, May 23rd, 2017

‘Bargain Hunt’ now with TVMucho

Economic change often wrongfoots media commentators. Some of the BBC’s most significant output over the last decade has bypassed the critics, scooping up massive audiences despite basic formats, limited budgets, and self-effacing promotion. The daytime favorite ‘Bargain Hunt’ is a prime example of the genre, which we at TVMucho have come to know as ‘screaming two-stroke’.

Perhaps, like Collins and Billen and the late great A.A. Gill, you’ve managed to avoid ‘Bargain Hunt’ throughout its 15-year run, and you need to get up to speed? There’s not much to tell. Each episode sees two teams issued with small cash budgets and then set loose at antique fairs and car boot sales with an expert buyer. After a set period they’re corralled and their purchases are auctioned. The team which makes the bigger profit wins. Any questions?


The show is far from unique. It couldn’t have existed without ‘Antiques Roadshow’. It shares aesthetics and personnel with fellow shows ‘Cash in the Attic’ and ‘Flog It!’, and its subject area crosses over with US fare like ‘American Pickers’. But ‘Bargain Hunt’, which has run since the start of the century, continues to pull in solid viewing figures day after day, even when much of its output consists of repeats. How did a show with such an elementary format pull off such a trick?


Pointing at airplanes


‘Bargain Hunt’s success certainly isn’t built on its production values. Their production values are essentially those of 70s children’s TV. In other words, awkwardly staged discussions on jerky Steadicam, interspersed with turgid auctions filmed in towns where they still point at airplanes and audience members don’t know not to stare at the camera and a jiggling soundtrack of last decade’s hits. Nor is it the rather dull contestants, who in any case we can’t get to like because they appear for one episode only. And it certainly isn’t the low-voltage ‘experts’, with their toe-curling efforts at ingratiation and dead-wrong appraisals.


The greedy can obtain a reliable pleasure from the show’s fast turnover, as we watch objects retrieved from market stalls and packing cases going under the hammer in a matter of minutes. But ‘Bargain Hunt’s ace-in-the-hole is surely the saturnine Tim Wonnacott.


Wonnacott is a raffish 60-something with the looks of a hardcore Henley spectator. He took over the show from David Dickerson shortly after its inception and has since remade it in his own image. Avuncular and unpatronizing in his dealings with participants, his occasional asides to camera nevertheless convey deep and genuine knowledge. (As well they might — he used to run Sotheby’s regional operations.) The occasional segment in which he sets out into the saleroom to snatch overlooked treasures from unexpected corners is a pure delight.
BBC seems to have let Wonnacott slip through its fingers, sparking a mini version of ‘Top Gear’s ‘Keep Clarkson’ campaign. Although the last couple of series have been fronted by a succession of lackluster wannabes, the Corporation continues to rebroadcast episodes from his more-than-a-decade at the helm. Bargain Hunt remains one of the minor gems of UK daytime TV which you can enjoy via TVMucho.

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