Four Rooms: Has TV"s quirkiest auction show gone too far by offering up Hitler"s loo?


Lots of controversy: It’s TV’s quirkiest auction show – but has Four Rooms gone too far by offering up Hitler's loo

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UPDATED:

22:50 GMT, 23 March 2012

How much will you give me for this second-hand car

It’s a nice little runner, perfect for the missus to get to the shops. Navy blue, 2001, VW Golf, with 61,000 miles on the clock. One former lady owner. You’re offering two grand Are you mad This motor’s worth at least ten times that. Oh, did I forget to mention something The former lady owner just happens to be the woman who will be our queen.

Kate Middleton bought the VW in question when she was a student and was driving it around St Andrews University when she first met Prince William.

The dealers on Four Rooms are fiercely competitive with each other

The dealers on Four Rooms are fiercely competitive with each other

She will, perhaps, be taken aback to
know that three years after her brother sold the car for around 1,400,
it’s being touted for sale at a huge premium. On TV. And the current
owner reckons it’s worth more than 20,000. The car is one of the highlights of Channel 4’s reality show Four Rooms, which has just returned for a second series.

A curious mixture of Dragons’ Den and
Antiques Roadshow, the programme is based around a very simple concept.
There are four dealers, each of them alone in a room. A seller –
offering anything from a pair of Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves to Richard
Burton’s fur coat or JK Rowling’s writing chair – picks a room, enters
and haggles.

If he or she is satisfied with the offer, a deal is done. If not, it’s time to move to another room and another dealer (who may offer less, of course). The catch: once you’ve left the room, you can’t return. So the price is take it or leave it. And, just like in Dragons’ Den, the dealers are spending their own money. Sometimes rather a lot: last year the four dealers shelled out more than 200,000 between them.

And what a bunch they are: there’s Gordon Watson (the camp, amusing one), Jeffrey Salmon (the abrupt, eccentric one), Andrew Lamberty (the straight-laced, sensible one) and, new for this series, Celia Sawyer (the strident, sassy one). Salmon is not beyond using a pack of cards or rolling some dice in order to seal a deal.

Kate Middleton bought the VW in question when she was a student and was driving it around St Andrews University when she first met Prince William

Kate Middleton bought the VW in question when she was a student and was driving it around St Andrews University when she first met Prince William

JK Rowling's writing chair

Richard Burton's coat

Quirky: JK Rowling's writing chair and Richard Burton's coat are for sale

It’s a weirdly engaging show. The
dealers (all of them lugging around egos as oversized as their wallets)
are fiercely competitive with each other when it comes to clinching the
best buys, yet all are keen to drive the seller’s price down. After all,
they are in this to make a profit. Last series, Andrew Lamberty bought
the nose cone of a Concorde for 55,000 ‘and I sold it the day after I
put it in my window’. For how much He won’t say, beyond the fact it
went for ‘more than I paid for it, but under 100,000’.

But it’s the items for sale, rather than the dealers, that are the real stars of the show. They’re quirky and sometimes freakishly odd. This week, for example, alongside the Middleton VW there’s a slice of cake from the Queen’s 1947 marriage; a Bakelite phone that belonged to Queen Mary and was probably used to discuss the abdication crisis with her son Edward VIII; a horrible Victorian anatomically correct waxwork of a dead pregnant woman; and a dress Amy Winehouse wore for a concert in Brazil a few months before she died.

Muhammad Ali's boxing glove

Muhammad Ali's boxing glove

Bad taste Probably not, once you realise the seller was Amy’s father, Mitch, who pitched up alongside a representative of the children’s charity Hopes And Dreams (to which Amy had donated the dress before she died). Mitch was merely trying to maximise the amount of money going to the charity. Nonetheless, says Lamberty, ‘It felt a bit uncomfortable… too soon’ to be bidding on the belongings of an icon who died less than a year ago.

So, was Lamberty prepared to bid on the dress Yes – for one reason. ‘The fact Amy had wanted the dress to be sold for charity before she died made a difference. But all the dealers said, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a profit on this.”’ It’d be mean to give away what happens in the show but, put it like this, neither charity nor dealers went home unhappy.

And what of the car, the waxwork or
the 1947 slice of cake Again, we’re saying nothing – beyond the fact
that if an art dealer invites you round for a cup of tea and a slice of
cake any time soon, do check the ‘best before’ date before you pop
anything into your mouth.

There
is, however, one item due to appear on the show later in the series
that stands apart – and makes one question the judgement of Channel 4
and the show’s producers. Many viewers are likely to be offended by the
decision to offer for sale a toilet said to have belonged to Adolf
Hitler.

The lavatory (which it would be in
poor taste to picture here) was reportedly removed from the Fhrer’s
yacht. Forget the grubbiness of selling a used lavatory on primetime TV.
Is a piece of extreme Nazi memorabilia now considered the basis for a
jolly evening’s entertainment Lamberty agrees the item is in bad taste.
Did he put in a bid for it ‘No.’ Why was it included in the show
Bluntly, he admits, ‘For shock value.’

Four Rooms is on Wednesday nights at 8pm on Channel 4.