I’m Potty about Pottery

The Great British Bake Off, like the yeast used in the bread making challenges, has mushroomed and spawned various programmes using an identical format – and the latest features lots of clay pots.

Pottery and the art of potting doesn’t quite hold the mass appeal of baking, because we’ve all done a bit of baking before haven’t we, but how many of us have lobbed a bit of clay about?   None I’m betting, because a kiln, a potter’s wheel, lumps of clay, slurries, slips, glazes, and all that jazz aren’t the sort of things you can just whip out and stick back in the cupboard.  Unlike other crafty hobbies, potting takes up a lot of room.

And the same can be said for the larger than life judge – Keith Brymer Jones.  You couldn’t invent Mr Jones, or maybe you could if you’re a producer desperate to make the Pot Off as big as the Bake Off.  We need another Paul Hollywood you’d shout in a brain storming session, you know someone to get the women going – and here’s the checklist minions:

  • silver Fox
  • spiky, gelled hair
  • beefy muscles
  • strong, masculine hands
  • suggestive twinkle in the eyes.

And what the minions came up with was Keith Brymer Jones – a bizarre cross between Tweedle-dee/dum and a slightly less beefy Gerard Depardieu, sporting the scariest comb over on the planet, gelled into rock solid submission, the spikes facing forward like a surreal kind of launching pad made out of hair, and a clothing ensemble that looks as though it came from his local Oxfam (nothing wrong with a charity bargain.)  The twinkle is sometimes there but more often than not Mr Jones’ eyes are a lachrymose vision.

But what’s lovely about the surreal Keith Brymer Jones is that he just can’t seem to believe his luck;  to believe that the Beeb decided to give his little known world of potting a go and neither can Kate Malone, the middle-aged Mary Berry stand-in.  This amazed enthusiasm was evident in the first episode and is probably the reason behind Jones’ frequent tears.  This might be a pottery based telly game but for Potty Potter Jones it’s turned into the Crying Game.

And you don’t need hunky Paul Hollywood when you’ve got all that throwing, massaging, moistening and coaxing of the clay at the wheel (hang on a second, I’m feeling quite flustered.)

The potters, as with the bakers, are a motley crew.  From the young, dreadlocked teacher Matthew, who started out with a certain swagger and an ‘am I bovvered?’ attitude, but now appears to be a model student, in a reversal of his usual role (Matthew’s parents are both ceramics teachers giving him a bit of an unfair advantage methinks) –  to Major Tom the posh ex-Army perfectionist (will they ever break out the Bowie song?………Brymer Jones to Major Tom.  Take your potter’s wheel and chuck some clay-ay on….) who’s currently looking like the prospective winner.

Despite the fact that there are hours and hours to wait for the newly created pots to emerge from the oven (sorry kiln, I was momentarily back at the Bake Off),  The Great Pottery Throw Down is very watchable as various experts in all things pottery are trundled on while the ceramics bake (I mean ‘fire’ dammit.)   And we learn fascinating things about the history of ceramics and the science stuff behind it all, all of which I’ve forgotten.

Sara Cox is single-handedly taking on the role of Mel and Sue but bringing some northern cool to the proceedings, rather than the Oxbridge country garden style of the Bake Off duo.   Sara is at pains to explain that Keith’s propensity to turn on the waterworks is a ‘good thing’ – and not that he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, in desperate need of some potty-based counselling.

This week’s episode upped the ante in weirdness as our potters found themselves outside working with the pottery technique known as ‘Raku’, which involved heavy duty gloves, goggles and setting fire to your creations in a dustbin before manically buffing up your pot to get rid of all the burnt stuff.

James the Vet failed the pottery vetting process and got the boot whilst Major Tom spent a lot of time trying to get ‘in the zone’  – we knew this because he kept obsessively repeating ‘I can’t get in the zone.’

Meanwhile I’ve checked out Keith Brymer Jones on the web and he was to be found doing a bit of  public potting at Blue Water shopping centre in Kent yesterday.  He’s probably coming to a centre near you – go along and see if you can make him cry.


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