She’s a familiar face to viewers of Bargain Hunt, Flogit! and the Antiques Road Trip - and her TV career began when she was in her 50s.
The day Anita Manning walked into a second-hand furniture and antiques warehouse to buy a bed for her three-year son, her life changed forever.
It was the 1970s and times were tough. As she pulled out her purse to hand the dealer £3 for the bed, she noticed some boxes of bric-a-brac under his desk.
“I told him that it must be wonderful to work with beautiful objects, and he told me he was looking for a buyer, then asked, ‘Do you want to work for me?’ So I said ‘yes’. It was simple as that.”
‘I’ve always been fascinated by old objects’
At the time, Anita was teaching dance and PE part-time, while raising two toddlers. But she faced this new challenge with relish. “I loved doing the job,” she says.” I travelled all over the country in a big three-ton van buying up stuff in auctions.”
It helped that she had always been fascinated by old and beautiful objects.
“As a girl, I was very fond of my granny, and I loved being around her house. I loved the rich red colour of her mahogany furniture. I loved the yellowing keys of her old piano. I even loved the old Hielan’ Cattle looking down at you from the picture rails.
“I suppose I was interested because of the history behind these items. They told me stories. And I also took great pleasure in handling the objects.”
Anita was smitten. For years, she made a living by trekking round auctions, buying and selling goods on a small scale while raising a family. “I was happy enough twirling all the plates, as women do.”
At the age of 40, her life would take another turn. Her daughter Lala had just left school and decided she wanted to get out to work, to earn some money, to leap straight into life.
“But it was the Margaret Thatcher era and there weren’t many jobs for young people. So she said to me, ‘Why don’t we start up our own auction? You know all the stuff – and I’ll keep the accounts’. ”
This forced Anita to make a life-changing decision.
“Sometimes in life you’re faced with stark choices – do you take a leap into the unknown, or do you keep doing the same thing that you’re used to doing and that you know you’ll always be able to make a living from?”
Anita had attended plenty of auctions over the years, but she had never run a business. “I had never managed anything before, except my own crazy family. But I was always a great one for taking chances.”
In 1989, she and her daughter launched Great Western Auctions in Glasgow. Back then, the antiques trade was heavily male-dominated, and female auctioneers were as rare as white blackbirds.
“People just didn’t think women could do it. The auctioneer was in a commanding, conducting position, so there was a sense that maybe it wasn’t a woman’s place to be up there.”
Anita now laughs at some of her own early mistakes. “Just before my first sale, an auctioneer came to visit and told me that you don’t start with 400 lots – you start with 20. Aaarrgh!”
‘It’s like theatre without a script’
From the first day, she knew that she had made the right decision. “I had a background in debating and public speaking, and I had been a teacher, so I wasn’t afraid of standing up in front of people and talking.”
Anita admits she gets a buzz from the drama and excitement of a sale. “It’s like theatre, but without a script and with no predictable outcome.Your job is to market objects as well as you can. You have to bring all your skills and personality into the role. It’s not just about the voice.
“I like to bring in humour and give the customers a good day so that whatever they buy, they’ll go away and say ‘I really enjoyed myself today’. Going to an auction should be a memorable experience.
“It’s not like going to a High Street store, where everything is priced £29.99 or whatever. Auctions are exciting events for buyers – there’s always an adrenalin rush.”
Now based in an old Baptist Church that was built in 1885, Great Western Auctions has risen to become one of the top auction houses in the land. They now have four auctioneers, including her daughter Lala, as well as back-up staff.
Starting a TV career at 50
Anita acknowledges that her frequent TV appearances have raised her profile and reputation. Her customers now come from far and wide – indeed, with a thriving online operation, people bid from all over the world on auction day.
At a time when older women are notoriously under-represented on TV, Anita has succeeded in swimming against the stream. Over 50 when she made her first onscreen appearance, her TV career is still going strong 12 years later.
She was first discovered when the BBC roadshow Flogit! came to the Great Western Auctions. She made an instant impact. Three weeks after the programme was shot, the series producer phoned Anita and asked her to become one of the regular on-screen experts who examine the items and offer an evaluation.
“I said, ‘well … I don’t know. Let me think about it’. They got back to me three times before I finally agreed. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to travel around the UK, seeing new places, meeting new people, telling stories and listening to other people’s stories.”
For a while, she had a regular weekly slot on the now defunct Scottish Television programme, The Hour. She’s even been sent to Iceland to present a TV travel programme.
It does help that she’s attractive, stylish and articulate, with a touch of the charisma and flamboyance that the cameras adore.
‘An auctioneer will get you the highest possible price’
What would she suggest to those of us who might have some old family treasure stashed away, and want to sell it?
Last year, Anita wrote an article for elderjuice about what to look for in an old object – the hallmarks, the backstamps and the other clues that can give you an idea of an idea of its age and rarity. So what next?
“My best advice is take it to an auctioneer and get it valued. An auctioneer acts as the agent for the seller, so it’s in the auctioneer’s interest to get the highest price possible for you, because the higher it sells, the more commission we get.
“You’d want to go for an auction that will give you the best possible marketing possibility.”
She diplomatically refrains from plugging Great Western Auctions, though she does illustrate the point with anecdotes from her own experience.
On one occasion, a local woman asked for a valuation of an old writing bureau she’d been given by a deceased neighbour.
“The woman had a disabled son and had to move house, but there no room for the bureau. One of my valuers looked at it and estimated that it could fetch three to four thousand pounds.
“The woman had no idea it was worth that kind of money – she just couldn’t believe it. So it came to auction and she was sitting there in the front row. It sold for £10,000.
“Can you imagine the joy of being able to help this woman, who might easily have just thrown the bureau out?”
‘The more you do, the more energy you have’
A large of part of Anita’s appeal is that she not just some cold-hearted business shark, obsessed with the bottom line. Her humanity shines through, and she’s comfortable in her own skin.
“I like the idea of being a Scot, I like being a woman – and I like being mature.”
She’s also defiant in the face of the enemy of we all have to deal with – Old Father Time.
“I think that the more you do, the more energy you have. No longer do you reach a certain age and then it’s time to sit down and do your knitting.
“This over-sixties generation is different from the generation before. We want to get out and do things and because of better nutrition and living conditions, we’re healthier.”
Anita’s zest and passion for life and work is inspirational, and, although she admits to being well past pension age, she’s not about to hang up her hammer any time soon.
More from Anita Manning
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