Paul Martin – The Man Behind the Gavel

Paul Martin has been the friendly face of BBC’s ‘Flog It!’ for over 17 years. Writer and TV producer Pete Lawrence has worked with Paul on several projects and helped us get to know the person behind the Gavel!

Paul MartinPaul is infinitely youthful; in fact, I’d say he almost seems to look younger every time I see him. Match that with his boundless energy and wide-eyed sense of wonder and you have the creative, passionate excitable man, who audiences love. 

Behind his boyish charm is a man with many interests. He has been a semi- professional drummer in a band and still has two drum-sets at home. He likes horses, dogs and out door country life. He also a pretty decent snooker player, with a full size table at home. He works incredibly hard and spends much of his working life on the road to far flung corners of the UK for valuation days and auctions. 

PL: What was the young Paul Martin like?
PM: I grew up near Falmouth in Cornwall and well, I had the best teenage years.
I was into surfing and I had a drum kit, so I either had friends around the house making loud music or, with the beach
in walking distance, hanging out at the beach. I loved sailing and surfing. 

PL: Sounds like lots of fun, did you work hard at school?
PM: Well my dad was a teacher, so I didn’t have any excuses! I was interested in English, Art, Woodwork and History and I went on to do a foundation arts course at Falmouth College. I really enjoyed all aspects of fine art, particularly ceramics and working with wood. 

Paul MartinPL: So what was the journey from Art Student to Antiques expert? PM: After art college I got a job at Pinewood studios working on sets for feature films – then I met a girl who worked at the weekends in Portabello Road and I found the market enthralling. I was fascinated all the eccentrics with wads of cash buying and selling. I was mesmerized by the whole vibe, so I saved up, got a van, got a stall and gradually expanded to Camden on Sundays and Brighton on Fridays. I also got into prop hire and kitting out pubs – they would take anything – fishing rods, vintage rugby balls, riding boots. I built up the business and started to get a lot of stock. In the end I decided to move to Marlborough because I needed a lot more space, especially as I had started to seriously get into craftsmanship and history. I accumulated a lot of big pieces! 

PL: So a successful antique dealer, how on earth did you get into TV?
PM: One day a customer came into the shop and started asking me loads of questions about different pieces. Eventually, after about an hour she told me she was a TV researcher and asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a bit on her camera so she could remember everything. Anyway it was a quiet day in the shop, so I agreed. The next day she called and said would I like to be on a TV show. I really wasn’t into the idea at all and said no. That night I was having a few drinks with other dealers in a wine bar and they thought I was crazy. The next day I had a call from the BBC Controller offering me the presenter role on series 1 of Flog It!. Originally it was 20 shows and I did it part time but it soon went up to 60 shows a year, so I had to give up the shop. 

PL: What is it about antiques that excites you?
PM: I have an absolute passion for furniture that has been well-crafted. The work and detail that went into some pieces is just breathtaking. Bear in mind most pieces are made by hand, no  power tools, just dedication and care from the maker. I also really appreciate good design, whether that is in a piece of furniture or a vase, or piece of jewellery. On top of all that I love history. I’m  always fascinated by the stories behind the pieces: their provenance – the tiny details that help paint the bigger picture of history. Plus I guess it’s the ultimate in recycling – I always think about how one piece of furniture or a decorative object just keeps giving pleasure to different people over the centuries. 

PL: What advice would you give about antiques?
PM: Well taste is very personal and things do go in an out of fashion. For example not that long ago everyone was into dark wood furniture – oak tables and wardrobes – now mid-century is back in fashion. So if you aren’t careful you can end up paying a fortune for stuff that within a few years quickly loses its value. I always say buy what you really, really like. If you get pleasure out of the craft or the design, or the colour or quirkiness of something, then even if trends change, you still have an object you love rather than something that you don’t like and you can’t sell. 

Paul and Pete are currently working on a new antiques programme together, which will be on air in 2019.