An odd turn of phrase, but said by a BBC2 continuity announcer recently when introducing what has fast become one of my favourite programmes, The Repair Shop. And I’m not alone. Thanks to some decent scheduling pushing this TV delight to more popular time slots, The Repair Shop has gained traction as a much-loved TV favourite.
Despite being around for a couple of years, the programme only came to my attention earlier this year. The ‘shop’ is based in the Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex and is populated by restoration experts whose job it is to bring family heirlooms back to life. There is a circle of regular experts, such as Jay (the host and furniture upholsterer), Steve (clocks), Will (furniture), Dom (metal), Suzie (leather), Kirsten (ceramics), Brenton (intricate metalwork), Lucia (paintings)and Julie and Amanda (dolls and teddy bears). And then there are specialists who come in to deal with specific types of repairs eg bicycles, jukeboxes, fountain pens, guitars, bookbinding and so on.
The restorations are nothing short of incredible. The experts are exceptional. The love and care poured into the items are heartwarming. And the stories are emotional. Very few episodes haven’t brought a tear to my eye. And that’s what the programme hinges on — members of the public bringing in their heirlooms, usually in a state of utter disrepair, but always with a story. Some of the stories are remarkable, some ordinary but important, but all are told from a place of not wanting to throw away the item, and the hope that it can be repaired and restored, back to its former glory. So it’s a programme for modern times. In the throwaway culture we find ourselves in, something can be done with these important items even if they look beyond hope.
One story that recently captured my imagination was about a woman who had worked as a British spy in Germany. When she left the city where she had been based, she packed a beloved cat teapot, and on the train, the suitcase it was in fell from its shelf, breaking the head off the teapot. Years later, the men she gifted the teapot to before she died brought it into the repair shop to be restored, and Kirsten worked her magic to get it back to how it would have been when the woman first owned it.
Other stories include a son who brought in his Dad’s radio which had survived Dunkirk, a bike that belonged to a woman who used it to cycle to her job at Bletchley Park during WWII, a painting of a woman brought in by her son which was so dirty he had never seen what his mum looked like at that age, items passed down through generations, teddy bears from people’s childhoods that have been loved to disrepair, and a couple of photo albums that charted the progress of Scott’s Antarctic expedition, put together by a New Zealand explorer.
And some of the restorations are more like miracles. A recent episode saw a Carolean-era chair brought in, wrought with the scars of woodworm and a teething puppy, and it went back out looking like it was new out of the furniture maker’s studio. Will is a miracle worker with wood. An old pouffe was brought in, made with hundreds of pieces of barely sewn together leather, and Suzie, the leather expert carefully took it apart, cleaned and reinforced every piece, restuffed it and it looked new. It must have taken her days. And the experts try and work as much as possible with what they have. Unless absolutely necessary, no new materials are introduced into the item, apart from incidentals like paint and glue, as much of the original item is kept as possible. And the experts quite deliberately don’t make the product look brand new. Minor marks, scratches and scuffs are kept to preserve at least some of the item’s history.
The Repair Shop is gentle, slow TV. It’s British. It is a warm embrace at the end of a long day. It works on so many levels. The experts are a family, engaging others to help where their expertise doesn’t allow. There is no peril, no fake tense moments. It is just people doing the job they love to the very best of their ability, and improving people’s lives.
As of writing this, there are a few episodes on i-Player, some 60 minutes, others 30 minutes, but all wonderful, inspiration and life-affirming television. It seems to have fallen out of the schedules for now but I’m sure it will be back soon.
And before you ask, no, Will is not married.
Read Stuart Heritage’s take on the programme here (spoiler: he loves it too).