Treat the Empire with extreme care, BBC tells Antiques Roadshow hosts

·2-min read
Fiona Bruce - Jeff Overs/BBC
Fiona Bruce - Jeff Overs/BBC

Antiques Roadshow presenters should be careful about discussing the British Empire to avoid the “risk” of a backlash, according to BBC documents.

The long-running Sunday night programme is being outsourced by the BBC, but the corporation has stipulated that any new producers must ensure they can handle “sensitive” subjects.

Antiques Roadshow must be able to address “colonial history”, online documents state, in order to avoid a “reputational risk”.

The stipulation comes after presenters on the BBC One programme were criticised for glossing over the origins of objects that were probably seized during British colonial rule.

Documents intended for would-be producers of the programme state: “The high-profile nature of Antiques Roadshow means that it is often under a great deal of public scrutiny as to how it handles sensitive areas such as colonial history.

“We are looking for experience in managing compliance issues and reputational risk.”

Mughal ring controversy

In 2021, Antiques Roadshow was criticised after John Benjamin, a jewellery historian and a regular on the show, said that a £2,000 Mughal ring had “somehow found its way from somewhere near the Taj Mahal over to a charity shop here 200 years later”.

Information on the origins of the object appeared to ignore British control and plundering of India, and was branded a “euphemistic dodging” of a painful historical period by colonialism expert Prof Dan Hicks, an archaeology expert from the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum.

A direction to steer clear of this criticism was included in the guidance for potential producers of the Antiques Roadshow, which will no longer be made in-house by the broadcaster after 43 years.

Fiona Bruce is expected to stay on as presenter despite the changes, but the corporation has said that the team of on-air experts could be rethought to ensure diversity.

Documents state that the BBC would be open to suggestions on how to ensure the “current pool” can “evolve in a way that reflects the breadth and diversity of the BBC audience”.

The brief also suggested producers should seek to make the show more prominent on social media.

Documents have outlined a £5.1 million budget for the programme over the next two years, with each episode worth around £127,000, and about £135,000 allocated for four specials.

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