Friday 7 April 2023

Looking at the Items in Brian Cant’s Bric-A-Brac Shop

As a preschooler, Bric-a-Brac was easily one of my favourite television programmes and it's a fact which remains true to this day. However, it's a programme which, despite being repeated for nearly a decade, has had very little of substance written about it. This isn't a surprise as, well, very little information is available and only a handful of episodes have ever surfaced on YouTube. But, luckily, a few years ago, I picked up a copy of the 1983 See-Saw annual, which contains the only official photos I've found. And it's going to help us look at the items in Brian Cant's Bric-a-Brac shop.

Now, I could have done this article several years ago, using the available episodes on YouTube as my source. But, and this is a stickler for me, they're far from broadcast quality, so any screenshots would have been poor and murky. This is no criticism to the uploaders - one of whom is myself - more an acknowledgement that decades old recordings don't always survive well. Anyway, the good news is that, yesterday, I finally purchased a scanner. This means I've been able to scan the Bric-a-Brac photos from the See-Saw annual at a relatively decent quality.

First off, there's the magnificent sight of Brian Cant as the Bric-a-Brac shopkeeper, although he's curiously missing his glasses here, in amongst a plethora of items. This particular shot appears to have been taken during the filming of the very first episode, which was broadcast on Wednesday 1st October 1980 and looked at the letter B. So, yes, lots of items beginning with B here including: Bruin the bear who's wearing a bowler hat adorned with a banana and carrying a bugle alongside a brolly which is poking into a tin bucket. Bruin is also holding a book, which the See-Saw annual claims is a book about bears, but it looks more like a book on how to count. Next to Bruin, there stands a bicycle with a basket - which appears to be carrying a bunny - and a bell.

Those are the B words, but what else can we see in this picture? Well. there's a lot of books, but it's difficult to make out what any of them are due to the resolution of the original picture. On the top shelf, there's an orange book which appears to be some sort of 'How To Break Your New' guide but I sadly can't make out the rest of the title. The top shelves are also home to a delightful yellow teapot and a small collection of vases and figurines that you would expect to see in an elderly relative's house. The middle shelves, meanwhile, house a fantastic Jack in the Box, a figurine of a mother with her children and, rather randomly, a castor.

Moving on to the P page, we get to meet some of the items featured in the P episode which first aired on Wednesday 15th September 1982. This, of course, was the only episode to feature a living being other than Brian Cant, with Polly the parrot - on her perch - making an appearance to help teach youngsters about phonics.We can't discern much more about the contents of the shop here but, once again, the background is plastered with books. There is at the bottom left, some crockery and also a rather large tin saucepan but that's about it.

Over on the metal shelves of the shop, we find more items beginning with P, most noticeably a plastic penguin which, as the episode demonstrates, is a windup toy. This penguin is joined by a pile of postcards with, you guessed it, one from Paris at the very top. Also on show is half a coconut and, in the background, a tatty old rug can be seen taking up space on the floor. Again, not too much to enter into our inventory, but it's better than nothing.

Next up is a whole world of items beginning with S and, at last, some identifiable books. As the annual informs us, there is some string, saucepans and socks occupying the shelves. Also making an appearance is an ancient bust, a ship in a bottle and, amongst the books, a couple of old clocks.

If you click on the picture above, you'll get a slightly larger version of it, and you may just be able to make out a couple of the identified books. At the bottom left of the picture, there's a white book which is, in fact, a copy of The Comet is Coming by Nigel Calder, released in early 1980. Also, on the second shelf up on the right, a green book hangs over the edge - this is Community Care for the Mentally Disabled by JK Wing and released in 1979. On the left hand shelf, directly above the one containing the socks, there's a red, leather bound book on its side, and this is Modern Legal Forms by West Key Number System and CJS Reference - exact publishing date unknown, but these were certainly out in the early 1980s.

I also managed to pick out multiple copies of the BBC tie-in version of Blood Money by Arden Winch, a rather gripping story which was adapted for the small screen in 1981. Keen to fill up the shelves, the BBC have also managed to install several copies of their tie-in book for World's End, a 1981 series which told "the story of a London village". Clearly, many of these books were either grabbed from the props department or the BBC Publications office was raided.

There's a little more S fun to be had with a set of military figurines which have clearly seen better days. Nonetheless, they act as an archaic reminder of children's toys from the past, for some reason I assume that children of today don't play with army soldiers. They're probably all into zorbing and drill, or I'm simply even more out of touch that I thought.

It's time to rewind through the alphabet and back to the letter G, where the items on offer are those that showed up in the episode first broadcast on Wednesday 22nd September 1982. It's a very G-centric image with no other items getting a look in. A goldfish bowl is used to hold not only a set of Penfold golf balls, but also a tube of glue and a gimlet style corkscrew. Again, there's something for a chintzy aunt in the form of a glass galleon and, perhaps for a thirsty uncle, a glass goblet which is perfect for glugging from.

But the G-ness doesn't stop there, we're also lucky enough to have another G-picture packed full of items for our eager eyes. So, from the top, we have a pair of ladies gloves balancing above a globe whilst, down below, there's plenty to view. The goldfish bowl is back, but this time it's been filled with grapes and it's flanked by a miniature guitar and a gong. Two more windup toys have appeared in the form of a gorilla and, it took me a while to figure out what it was, a grasshopper (a better view of it can be seen in the episode here). Finally, to complete this festival of G's, there's an old gate which apparently belongs to Gus.

The table is also home to a polishing cloth and what seems to be a bottle of, I guess, polish? Also present, in the background, is an old, leather armchair with some sort of throw over it. Books, again, populate the walls but they're far too out of focus to identify. If you look closely above the gate, you can also see the handlebar of a small toy pram which features in the P episode.

And, so, we're on to our final look at the contents of the Bric-a-Brac shop and, this time, we'll be visiting the items featured in the W episode, from Wednesday 25th August 1982. It's a bit of a clutter, but it wouldn't be a Bric-a-Brac shop without an untidy element. Atop a wicker basket there sits an old bicycle wheel and a muddy wellington boot, with a dusty wireless in front of all this. There's more books, of course, including another copy of Blood Money, and, rather oddly, a lacrosse stick propped up against the shelf. A wooden chair, which may or may not be carrying some LPs, has also been used to hold a navy and white neckerchief.

We've barely scratched the surface of what could be found in the Bric-a-Brac shop and, indeed, if we had access to all the episodes in HD quality, this article would be so long that even my patience would be tested. Nonetheless, at least we know a little more of what's lurking in the shop now, and I think I'll almost certainly have to get a copy of the BBC tie-in Blood Money book in homage to this magical series.

If there's anything I've missed out or you can determine what some of the books on the shelves are, then please leave a comment below.

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