Chris Yeo challenges Fiona Bruce with automata for Basic-Better-Best on the Antiques Roadshow (Feb 14 2021). Left and centre are pieces from the Ken Stradling Collection.

We were delighted to have two automata from our collection featured on BBC Antiques Roadshow on February 14 from Bodnant Gardens in North Wales (Series 43, Bodnant Garden 1 on iPlayer until January 2022). Expert Chris Yeo (until recently our curator) used them for a cameo Basic-Better-Best challenge with presenter Fiona Bruce. A Rare Appearance of the Lesser Spotted Markey Warbler by Peter Markey and Bathers by Sam Smith were placed alongside the rather macabre Sheep Shearers by Ron Fuller.

Chris drew out Fiona and the small Covid-19 crowd to decide which if the three pieces was the most valuable – and which they enjoyed the most. We all agreed that the birdwatchers took the crown for most entertaining, revolving enthusiastically with their binoculars poised and yet never quite pointing in the right direction to spot the circling warbler.

A Rare Appearance of the Lesser Spotted Markey Warbler. Peter Markey. c.1995. (Colin and Jennifer Beales Bequest, Ken Stradling Collection)
Bathers, Sam Smith. c.1972. (Ken Stradling Collection)

Sam Smith‘s Bathers is not so much an automaton as a story-telling machine. Like much of his work there is a story to unfold, revolve the changing room doors to find three stylish figures all ready for posing as much as the pool. The fourth door hides a coy figure unwilling to emerge. Smith career spanned the mid 1940s until his death in 1983 working in painted wood and found materials as well as writing and illustrating books and paper construction toys. His connection with Bristol was strong, his first major show held at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 1972. Chris Yeo was of the opinion that this was the most significant piece of the three, a one-off and a great talking point.

The collection includes a number of other pieces by both artists. Several Peter Markey including the birdwatchers were bequeathed to the collection by the architect Colin Beales and his wife Jennifer. in 2015. ‘Kissing Couple’ dates from around 1998 and was sold as a self-assembly kit. These pieces were probably bought from the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Covent Garden. This highly unusual collection and shop sold unique handmade automata, as well as kites, card cut-outs and videos. The Ron Fuller Sheep Shearers featured alongside our pieces were also a popular item retailed by them. The permanent exhibition space and shop in Coven Garden closed in 2000, but they still organise exhibitions and events and are working hard to keep active online through their website.

Kissing Couple, Peter Markey. c.1998 for Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, London. (Beales Bequest, Ken Stradling Collection)
It’s Coming – It’s Over. Sam Smith. c.1970 (Ken Stradling Collection) Originally posted 25 Feb 2021