The Great Pottery Throwdown is, with its playful filth and flair, the very best of British television. It is unrelentlessly joyful, a triumph of quaint skill and beauty, and a simple celebration in the delight of hobbies. The show’s format derives straight from the giants of GBBO, but whereas the smells and taste of baked goods are trapped by television, pottery makes the perfect on screen subject.
Contestants face an elaborate, self-styled main make and an intricate technical challenge, which range from speed throwing the most egg cups off a hump, to blindfolded attempts at the widest bowl. The themes for the main tasks have included raku week, with its high tension firing process, the punfilled Greek sculpture week and the throwing of matching lamp sets.
Each week, Keith Brymer Jones – who judges alongside Sue Pryke – cries over the beauty of a pot. And each week, curled up in bed having never spun, or thrown, or glazed in my life, I too well up at the creation of a pot. And that’s the beauty of this program; it delights in the glory of the seemingly mundane, which becomes anything but when welcomed into the bizarre world of pottery.
The jargon is gloriously eccentric, as contestants chuck about their warping, wedging, fetteling techniques or ponder over oxidations and reductions, enamels and glazes. Its language lends itself effortlessly to innuendo, which is matched by the editors close up shots of hands moulding soft clay, tugging and pulling with unstifled giggles and straight up self mockery. Compliments in the show range from, “your jugs are great”, to “I like your knob, Jacob” – a reference, of course, to the intricately moulded topper of a traditional ginger jar. Each episode is also packed with tension. The glazes seem a source of endless mystery, as when fired they either transform to vivid, colourful creations or, to contestants’ despair, remain unmarked and unexpectedly dreary. There is the risk of cracks, the drama of shattered pots being lifted from the kiln, the simple celebration when they appear whole.
However, what really makes the show is the brilliant ensemble of different characters. Host Melanie Sykes brings warmth and an unafraid sense of humour, which bounces effortlessly off the contestants, who appear to represent all of life. From charming ex-professional cyclist Matt, to the loving bodybuilder Claire and aspirational 19 year old potter Kit, the show embraces a refreshingly friendly attitude towards competition. They are quick to rejoice in the artistry of each other’s work, whilst also rallying round when cracks begin to show. It has left me mulling over the simple question, does pottery attract nice people, or does pottery make you nicer?
I think the jury’s still out on that one, but what’s for sure is that, as the world around us descends evermore into panic, you could do worse than to sit and enjoy an hour’s escapism into the enticing world of pottery.
I mean, this week, they’re making Victorian toilets – what could be better?
Illustration: Frannie Wise