Is Craft on TV good? Poldark Scything and The Great British Pottery Throw Down

This new TV program by the BBC has to be the most anticipated craft TV show for some time. Potter friends were up in arms when the working title “Britain’s best potter” appeared last year asking how could any aspiring amateur deserve the title? Would it be dumbing down? Who could they possibly get as hosts to do it justice?

I personally have always felt that perhaps with the notable exception of Gerald Ratner’s little blooper all publicity is good publicity. The recent episode of Poldark showing a brief clip of topless scything had the growing scything community up in arms at the appalling technique and terrible representation of their skilled craft but it has resulted in a huge amount of positive discussion about scything across the media.


So coming back to the Great British Pottery Throw Down it is made by the same production company that made the hugely successful Bake Off and Sewing Bee. It will be fronted by Ex Radio 1 Ladette Sara Cox with the subtitle “It’s messy, it’s hot, it’s pottery”. Fantastic! What better way to make pottery cool for the next generation?

OK so folk may say but it’s still dumbing down. Well that is where the “expert judges” come in and I don’t think they could have anyone better than Kate Malone for the job. I imagine every week will be a microcosm of a craftspersons life showing the hard work, the planning the preparation, the hopes for how our work will come out and then at the opening of the kiln there will be that mix of disappointment of and delight followed by the return of the cycle of more planning and more hard work.


Folk mostly know Kate Malone for her magnificent huge arty pots sold for thousands of pounds through high end galleries.

A 7984Two lesser known aspects of Kate’s work are her work bringing ceramics back into architecture with large building frontages and her work on glaze research, she is a superb technician with a deep understanding of her materials. What even fewer folk know about Kate is that she is also a lover of the humble kitchen pot. She told me once that if she could survive doing it in her London home she would be every bit as happy making humble everyday jugs and mugs. A few years ago we traded a porringer and spoon for some of her small sculptural pieces, I love the textures and colours.


I also regularly use a mug she designed and has made in Stoke



All in all Kate is just the most wonderful down to earth person with a deep understanding of her materials and techniques and passion to share and pass this knowledge and enthusiasm on. I would like to predict that this show will be an absolute winner, and result in all those pottery classes that have been closing down around the country reopening, I can’t wait.

10 Responses to Is Craft on TV good? Poldark Scything and The Great British Pottery Throw Down

  1. jarrod April 26, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    You know my struggles with the marginalization of skill and craft. But in the end I really agree with you that this type of media is good for craft on a certain level. Maybe the media can only talk about it in one way and we are responsible to talk about it in the other; relating the skill, technique, experience. I really feel that we have a responsibility to talk about it in the context we want and not just look to the media, government programs, or even large organizations to do it for us, although they surely can help at times. Great subject and I hope it brings on great discussions.

  2. Hannah April 26, 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    Here here, I think Kate is a marvelous choice, highly skilled, with a deep understanding of her material. Respected, admired and charming. Perfect.

  3. Matthew April 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    The obvious question is why not a ‘Great British Woodworking challenge’. This format has become a staple of BBC output for a while with sewing, baking, painting and now pottery – so why not woodworking? Spoon carving would simply have to be there of course but it could include green and brown(?) woodcraft skills. The final could be making a green wood chair from tree to completion set in a picturesque woodland, very good TV I’d say.

  4. Jeremy April 27, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    Sounds good to me. As very amateur american bakers, my daughter (12) and I really enjoy the BBC baking show. There is a lot of useful tips in the judging, as they aid us in what we are looking for or trying to avoid. It has really inspired her to get off the couch, get adventurous and try baking things (the real key to preserving craft IMO). I could say the same thing about seeing Roy Underhill on TV as a boy, it looked fun and compelled me to give it a go.
    It’s only as the high from making turns insatiable, do people get drawn into the depths of a craft. While exposure (e.g. schools) is important, creating passion is key, and fast paced TV (and editing) does this well. For those that are already passionate, it’s usually less impressive, but they are already hooked into the craft, so it matters little.

  5. kate Malone April 27, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

    Thanks Robin for your confidence… i have now finished two of the 7 sessions of filming, and the sensitivity with which the team making the film is heightened with their excitement at what they are seeing formed in front of their eyes.. it is a pleasure to be part of such a team and i do hope it will make the UK in their sitting rooms realise the transformations of material and the pleasure in the making. The contestants are very impressive and i knoe the judging will be a real challenge.. not always easy at all. The schedule and attention to detail is exhausting and invigorating.. off again tomorrow for three days of more whirlwind of work…
    anyway, best withes, many thanks . and lets swap again..

  6. Jon May 5, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    Hi Robin,

    On Wednesday (6th May) on BBC4 there is a programme called Handmade. This episode is about making a Windsor Chair.

    I have watched the episodes on glass and metal – they were both beautifully shot and show craftsmen working without any interruption from music or narration.

    I’m not sure 1/2 hour will give the topic justice but I am planning to watch.


  7. Louise Hibbert June 13, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    I personally think the pottery show will be a good thing as it may help to show people how much skill and effort goes into a handmade object. As a full time maker I have to charge a reasonable amount for my work in order to pay the bills, and the hardest part of selling is that so many people think you are asking too much, even though many of us are earning less than minimum wage! Also, the more crafts are on mainstream television the more they will become part of people’s everyday lives. The Sewing Bee made me itch to start doing some sewing again.

    Regarding the scything, even I was wincing at his technique (and I’m no expert on the subject) but otherwise it was quite enjoyable… It is strange how often techniques are not looked into when used on TV, when it would be easy enough to make the extra effort to get it right. My partner teaches climbing, amongst other things, and often has a similar problem when they do it horribly wrong on TV and in films. It certainly would be great if they could spread some of their huge budgets around by employing more experts and avoid jarring, or even dangerous portrayals of skilled activities within the media.

    • Robin Wood September 4, 2016 at 10:56 am #

      Well said Louise, not seen you for ages hope things well.

  8. edalefairy July 16, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

    Yes but Aiden (the actor) looked so lush..
    And sorry but that is the point of drama – to entertain 🙂

  9. Marshall Colman November 5, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    What is dumbing down? To me, it’s knowing nothing. Pottery Throw Down combines competitive fun with information about how pots are made, which is the opposite of dumbing down. People who know and care about the arts are more likely to buy than people who don’t, and however refined and spiritual we are about our craft, we want people to like it, to buy and and we want to make a living form it.