‘BADA Voices’ Oral History Interview – John Bly

Print We did our 2nd in the new ‘BADA Voices’ Oral History interviews last week – this time in the interviewees’ chair was John Bly, of John Bly Antiques. John Bly Antiques was established by 1891, but the business itself has roots into the early 19th century, begun by John’s Great-Grand father William Bly, in Tring, Hertfordshire.  John’s grandfather, also called John Bly, operated as a cabinet-maker, house furnisher and dealer in antique furniture at 22 High Street, Tring by the early 1890s – and here’s an early photograph of the shop of ‘J.Bly’ at 22 High Street in 1907.

John Bly 22 High St Tring 1907

J. Bly, 22 High Street, Tring, 1907. Photograph from John Bly.

In a wonderfully engaging and fascinating interview, John tells us of the history of the Bly businesses, and of how he started in the antique trade over 50 years ago! John left school to work at Sotheby’s in Bond Street, London, where he was employed in the Silver Department, marking up lots for sale; he left Sotheby’s at the age of 19 to work for his father, Frank Bly, in 1960, and continues to run the business, with his son James, from locations in Tring and in the Kings Road, London.

john bly 2016

John Bly, in London, 2016.

John’s infectious enthusiasm for the antique trade is evident in the conversation – he tells us of his first job, driving the Northampton-based antique dealer Jack Roberts’ around auctions and dealerships in the early 1960s; and of the importance of his two ‘mentors’, Michael Brett (then of Broadway, Worcestershire) and the Nat Ayer, of Bath and London – who was, so we learn, the son of the famous songwriter Nat D. Ayer (1887-1952) – writer of, amongst other songs, ‘If you were the only girl in the world…’ (1916)

John also tells us of his life as a T.V. personality – he is famous, as many of you will know, as one of the experts on the BBC ‘Antiques Roadshow’ – but he began his career as T.V. antiques expert as long ago as 1969/1970 on a show for Thames Television called ‘Looking at Antiques….’, before moving on to a programme in the mid 1970s called ‘Heirlooms’.  He has been on the ‘Antiques Roadshow’ since the 2nd series, in 1980.

John’s father, Frank Bly, is perhaps most well-known for the sale of the famous ‘Kimbolton Cabinet’ to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1949. John rehearses the fascinating tale of the acquisition, and eventual sale of the cabinet to the V&A, during the interview – it is, by now, quite a well-known story, but John’s regaling of how the cabinet was loaded on to the flat-bed truck, and covered in a tarpaulin sheet, is still worth hearing again.

 

kimbolton

The Kimbolton Cabinet, c.1775. Photograph, copyright the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

John obvious positive energy comes across strongly in the interview, as he talks about the changes to the antique trade in the past few years, and the prospects for the future of ‘antiques’.  And as with all our other interviews, our interview with John will, once edited, be made available via the Antique Dealer project websites – keep you eye of the sites for updates.

Mark

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