Friday, 13 November 2015

'The Great Pottery Throw Down'

I've steered clear of the seemingly endless debate about 'The Great Pottery Throw down' (BBC 2). With huffy professionals claiming it would denigrate their art as crass T.V. entertainment, squiffey pots with handles like babies arms. The enthusiasts counter claiming that it would create public awareness of pottery, some even hoping for an increase in interest and sales given the high profile on T.V.

Like many others, I received the email from Love productions inviting an application to apply. Read the small print however and you find that the criteria eliminates professionals, those with experience of selling their work or of exhibiting work in a gallery or ceramics fair. There was nothing about possessing knowledge or skill, but that goes hand in hand with being a serious practitioner. Plainly the search for Britain's best potter is for amateurs only. A bit like finding the world's fastest sprinter, but not letting Usain Bolt take part.

Love productions sent follow up pleas too and well wishers forwarded the details also. It seemed the internet was cast, trawling for wannabe celebrity potters. It takes enormous self belief or a massive ego to even contemplate entering anything like this. I have enough problems confronting my pottery demons without doing it in front of two million others. Imagine being turned down from even taking part in making yourself look a prat?
Emails from Love looking for technicians followed. So you don't even have to be able to prepare the clay or fire a kiln to be a Great potter. The debate moved on to who would be the experts or host this vaguely desperate attempt to follow up on baking cakes or cooking overly elaborate dinners.

I don't do much telly, an hour is more than I can sit still for so I haven't seen a complete session of Bake Off, so tuning in to 'Thrown Down' was not high on my bucket list. I missed the first episode, but curiosity got the better and we watched the second episode, partly because the promise of making coil pots was widely trailed.
The challenge - To make a wash basin with coils. I would have thought throwing was the obvious method, so it was interesting that most of the contestants chose to employ moulds which they obviously had made or planned some time before. Plainly, making coil pots was not something any of them had much experience in. They were preoccupied with cracks and pots exploding in the kiln, so there was much scoring and slopping slip and water and the belief that a generous coating of glaze would mend or disguise bad workmanship. It was like a trip down memory lane, back to evening class where everyone found how difficult it was to make good coil pots, skip hand building and get back to the wheel.
It's not for me to to say if the creations were good or bad, the acid test is to stand for three days and try and sell them.
Was it good T.V.?
The experts were ill at ease with each other, there was no chemistry and they didn't say much either other than look for glimmers of positive creativity. Forgive the trendy haircut, real potters wear jeans and T shirts. Who wears bespoke, tight fitting, designer jackets in a pottery workshop with all that glaze flying around? - plenty of innuendo and chat from the presenter, but isn't it the promise of this format, that someone crashes and burns, ultimately failing that provides the entertainment?
The only star being Richard Miller the technician, providing measured, quiet comments as he loaded these creations into the kiln.

No doubt the debate will continue, but surely the only winners from The Great Pottery Throw Down will be the suppliers of kilns or wheels and clay. We will have to wait a year or so to benefit when all the kilns, wheels and gear appears on Ebay.

Wash basin?

As a foot note, a few years back I had an email from someone wanting to extend their pottery skills, especially hand building and knowledge of wood firing. We exchanged emails and kiln information and finally set aside a day so they could see the kiln and spend a day in the workshop. They didn't show up. Now they claim to be a conceptual artist and interestingly were one of the first potters to be shown the door from The Great Pottery Throw Down. Takes all sorts!


  1. Brilliant review!! Totally agree with every word.

  2. Very well though out, I did watch the series, having also received the invites, forwarded from friends. I cringed at the very concept, 'best potter'. I could not nor would not attempt to arrange any group of potters in order of merit. How can I? What appeals to me may not be what appeals to my friends.
    And then we discover that we aren't really searching for britain's best potter, we're choosing a winner from a group of beginners. Furthermore, from an ill-matched group of beginners.
    It made for moderately entertaining television. I don't watch television, but I was curious about this. And I confess I enjoyed it, mostly because I could utter exasperated muttering at regular intervals. One or two of those people needed a smack in the mush with a wet kipper.
    Especially the weeping presenter, whose demonstration pieces I found borderline incompetent.

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