I spent a very long day assisting with the making of an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow last week, by driving a Bristol Lodekka on a Park & Ride service.
As well as having a glimpse behind the scenes as the programme was being filmed, I also had the pleasure of conveying most of the Roadshow experts on the bus. But my abiding memory of the day was that it left me completely exhausted!
I left home at 06:00 in order to pick up the bus and be in position by 08:15. As this was to be a very long duty, I had arranged for the bus (ex-BOC Bristol Lodekka LC8515) to be driven to an outstation just a couple of miles outside Minehead, which is where the programme was due to be filmed the next day. As I drove up the M5 in the pouring rain my heart sank as I knew that the cab of this bus is not watertight in any way. Walking around doing my checks left me soggy and even the Bristol AVW engine seemed reluctant to start.
My first task was to ferry the Antiques Roadshow experts from their hotel, where I also met my conductor Richard, to the West Somerset Railway station at Minehead. It was strange to see them up close and to exchange a bit of banter about the wet weather. One of them, clearly not a bus expert, asked “Is this a Routemaster?”
My instructions were to spend the rest of the day shuttling to and fro between the station and the Monday Market field, which was being used as a Park & Ride car park. I had looked it up on Google Maps previously and, while there did appear to be a tarmac track it didn’t seem to offer anywhere to turn the bus so, to avoid the risk of getting bogged down on account of the weather, I reversed the bus off the main road and down the track to the field. I was pleased to see in my mirrors as I slowly backed around a corner that a large part of the field had been recently covered with hardcore and stone chippings so, for the rest of the day, there were no problems getting in and out.
The BBC had completely taken over the WSR station, setting out their famous canopies and tables all along the platform. Fortunately, Minehead station benefits from a very long platform, a relic from the days when it had to accommodate very long trains in the summer, packed with holidaymakers heading for Butlins.
As you can see from the photo above, the rain persisted for most of the day and most of our passengers looked very bedraggled after they had been standing in the queue for hours to have their treasures assessed. The larger items proved a bit tricky. One couple had brought an old wooden chair, which had to be placed at the top of the stairs. Other objects were carried in suitcases, rucksacks and holdalls.
The journey between the car park and the station only took about five minutes (ten if I took the longer seafront route) but it was full of twists and turns, junctions and roundabouts. This seriously tested my stamina and by the time I took my first break I was already feeling drained. People often ask what the bus is like to drive and on days like this there can only be one answer: heavy!
Lunch was provided by the BBC and came in the form of a small bag of picnic items, together with a cold drink. My conductor, not having worked up a sweat like me, headed off to the station cafe in search of a hot cup of tea.
45 minutes later we were back in service although now the loadings were quite light as most of our passengers were either being assessed, filmed or were still standing in a queue.
Soon after 15:00 my smartly dressed conductress Cherry arrived to relieve a weary Richard. People were on their way back to the car park in larger numbers now and we continued shuttling back and forth until only a few cars remained. Back at the station all was quiet but the BBC floodlights were still on. I wandered over and watched the experts in action, surrounded by interested onlookers, members of the film crew and WSR staff. Sadly I neglected to take any photos but this gallery of pictures will give you a flavour of the day’s action.
Among the last few passengers to return to the car park on our last trip was a lady who stepped breathlessly onto the bus carrying a heavy bronze mortar (minus its pestle sadly), dated 1588. It turned out she was breathless for another reason – her object was one of the last to be filmed and was valued at a staggering £XX,XXX. To find out the actual amount, you’ll have to wait until the 2-part Antiques Roadshow 40th Anniversary Special goes to air in September.
By now my arms had completely turned to jelly and I couldn’t wait to park the bus, climb into my car and go for a pub meal. After all the totting up was done, we found that we’d carried 618 passengers during the day. OK, so it was probably half that number of people in reality because most had two journeys.
In other news, an interesting outing with the Crosville Bristol L5G saw me trundling through the grounds of Ashton Court, Bristol. The 1950 single deck bus had been hired to take wedding guests from the Mansion up to the Bluebell Wood and back again after a wedding blessing in a woodland setting. This job was notable for the very long reversing maneover back down the track in order the turn the bus around. The photo shows the guests, smartly dresssed but also wearing Wellington boots, meandering down the hill from the woods towards the bus after the ceremony.