A statement from the BBC said: “In the light of recent developments in the UK and China with regard to the trade in antique ivory, the Antiques Roadshow is currently reviewing the way it will, in future, approach items of antique ivory that are brought in by members of the public for appraisal.”
In 2014, the producers of the Antiques Roadshow said it would show fewer ivory objects but stopped short of banning the valuation of antique ivory on screen. However, since that time, few ivory objects have been featured on the show.
In 2014, the producers of the Antiques Roadshow said it would show fewer ivory objects and, since that time, only a handful of ivory objects have been featured on the show.
The debate was reignited by Virginia McKenna, however, who wrote in the Radio Times that ivory should no longer be featured on the Roadshow.
The 86-year-old, who starred in the film Born Free, then appeared in a debate on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme alongside Victoria Borwick, the president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association.
McKenna, co-founder of animal rights charity Born Free Foundation, said that if the Roadshow stopped showing ivory, “its influence is so enormous, everyone will take heed”.
In response, Victoria Borwick said: “We have got to very clearly distinguish between antique ivory and the modern trinkets.”
The BBC said: “In recent years, on the rare occasions when we have examined an ivory object, the Roadshow has sought to raise awareness of the debate around antique ivory, informing our viewers about current legislation and drawing attention to the horrors of modern-day poaching.
“We’re looking forward to finding out more about the government’s plans for new legislation and will review our approach in coming months.”
‘Today Programme’ debate
The issue of whether the Antiques Roadshow should no longer feature any ivory was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on January 9. It can be accessed on BBC iPlayer here (it starts at 2:21:40) and a transcript of the debate appears below. The subject also drew opinion in this week's Letters' section.
Nick Robinson: “It’s the programme we watch with fascination and to see if that item granny kept in a cardboard box in her attic turns out to be a lost treasure. But should the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow now refuse to handle any antique made from ivory? Yes, says the founder of the Born Free charity Virginia McKenna and she’s written in the Radio Times about it. No, argues Victoria Borwick who is president of the British Antique Dealers Association…“Virginia McKenna, why ban any item that is there even if it’s not recently been bought or isn’t going to be sold and therefore isn’t going to be encouraging poaching?
Virginia McKenna: “Well, I can perhaps illustrate that particular reply by telling you quickly a little story about a carved capsicum, made out of ivory which about 14 or 15 years ago was confiscated from an auction in London. Seven experts identified it as a piece of antique ivory. In fact, it was carved only 14 or 15 years ago. So if seven experts can be wrong, I’m extremely concerned that other pieces of ivory ostensibly antique are not at all, and so the chain of death for the elephants, 20,000 a year are killed for their ivory, will continue until there are literally none left.
NR: “To be clear, you think Antiques Roadshow should take the policy of nothing involving ivory whether confirmed as being old or ancient should never be shown?
VM: “Well, however old or new, that little piece of ivory is about a dead animal is it not? And I think the Antiques Roadshow for whom I have the upmost enormous respect - I watch it always and I think their experts are brilliant and love Fiona Bruce as the presenter - could be, and should be, the voice of reason and true understanding, and their influence is so enormous, I’m sure everyone will take heed.
NR: “Oh everyone? Well there’s a question for Victoria Borwick of the BADA, I’m not sure everyone does quite agree with every part of that do they?
Victoria Borwick: “Well I think the sensible point that has been highlighted today is that we must all have a campaign to stop the slaughter of elephants, and we must absolutely focus on that and keep that as our eye on the ball and keep that as our task.
NR: “But you still want to see ivory in certain circumstance?
VB: Yes – we all want to see herds of elephants for our children and grandchildren. We also want to continue to look after, things which as you say granny might have found in her attic, people have in their homes, people use in their homes. After all, ‘tinkling the ivories’ where do you think that expression comes from? Obviously ivory is used in a lot of musical instruments, it appears for example in portrait miniatures which granny might have passed down or someone might have painted a love token on ivory because it lasts very much longer than paper, or it might be on a clock face.
In fact there are things in people’s homes that they might not even realise have ivory in them, the little bits around a lock on a cabinet was probably made of ivory. Look back, see how ivory was worked, go right back to Egyptian times, ivory has always been cherished and we must separate those things of cultural and heritage and we expect the government, like has happened across the world, will continue to respect antique ivory
NR: “VM would you not cut out a lot of our history, a lot of our culture if you make it complete and blanket ban?
VM: “Well I have nothing against granny or grandpa keeping their ancient ivory in their homes. Naturally, a lot of people treasure the things left to them by their ancestors, but that is not the point, it’s the commercial aspect, it’s selling that piece of granny’s or grandpa’s ivory that I’m totally opposed to.
NR: “Let me put that back to Victoria Borwick, but a final word on this, the ban the government is considering is a ban on UK sales of ivory that it says contribute either directly or indirectly to the poaching of elephants. I think VM’s point is simple that if this is seen as an item of beauty it will encourage more poaching.
VB: “No, we have got to very clearly distinguish antique ivory and ivory that’s been passed down through the generations and in our churches and recognised by many faiths and religions and cultural significance. We all want to get rid of the trinkets. We confirm that we support the government’s proposed ban on modern trinkets.”