I know that I wasn’t the only person crying my way through the quarter final of The Great Pottery Throw Down. As the potters made self portrait sculptures they took us with them on their journey of powerful catharsis. There was nothing superficial about these self portraits. They were raw and honest battle scarred depictions of womanhood in midlife. 21 year old AJ, the show's first non-binary contestant may not have as many years to draw from but gave us an equally honest glimpse into their sense of self. Each potter showed us their story. We saw ourselves in them.
The bond between this group is evident. They are all on a journey, individually and collectively. So by the time we got to the final it was no surprise when host Siobhán McSweeney asked Anna questions about winning that Anna replied "I've already won. I'm in the final"
"We're all winners" Anna continued and we believed her. "But it's a competition, there's supposed to be tension!" Siobhán jokingly protested. This felt poignant. A reminder than competitions don't have to be the back biting, dog eat dog, there can only be one winner narrative than we've been led to believe.
The Throw Down is rare in giving the lion’s share of screen time to midlife women who in other shows of this format rarely make it to this stage of the competition. And this matters. Women rapidly disappear from our screens after a certain age unless they adhere to a specific brand of media female image. But in the weeks running up to the final The Pottery Throw Down gave us older women dressed ready to wrestle great hulks of clay into beautiful forms. This isn’t the space for nail extensions. This is a space to do work. The last time I felt this unpretentious and gentleness on TV was watching Grayson’s Art Club in lockdown. Grayson and Philippa pottering about the studio, eating their packed lunch out of a Tupperware on the sofa and chatting via zoom to ordinary people felt very honest, and needed.
What role does Keith play in all of this? Brymer Jones is a big presence both in physical stature and personality. It would be easy for him to take centre stage yet he doesn’t. But there isn’t a hint of Paul Hollywood,from The Great British Bake-off, style hero-worshipping, either from the contestants or the presenters. And rightly so, Brymer Jones is a skilled potter as Hollywood is a skilled baker and whilst ‘celebrity’ judges and presenters might be needed to attract an audience The Throw Down doesn’t seem to forget that we are here to watch the potters. It seems there is little room for ego in the pottery. KBJ’s big personality presents as a giant gentle bear reminding us of the security of childhood. If you’ve seen a picture of Keith wearing his huge fur coat this image is magnified.
His gentleness is echoed in fellow judge Rich Miller. There is no competition between the two men. Nobody is vying for top position. Keith doesn’t even seem to react to all the innuendo that is seemingly endless when working with clay. Brymer Jones is often brought to tears over the sight of a pot. And why not. This is a craft that he has dedicated his life to. His passion for clay is evident but so is his nurturing encouragement of the potters. We see them light up after a tearful review of their work. We also see them soak up feedback about how to improve.
Keith and Rich show us how to be a man in 2022. How to be human even. For the past two years we’ve been united in lockdowns, restrictions and not being able to hug our loved ones. As a tearful Keith hugged Christine, closely followed by Rich, the camera panned to show it was tears all round. This big bear of a man is showing us that it’s ok to feel and show emotion. On a Sunday evening, as we sit around our TVs collectively watching The Great Pottery Throw Down, a rare thing in itself in these days of catch up and streaming, it feels like Keith is leading us in some kind of national collective crying therapy. And boy do we need it! We have a lot to mourn from the past two years. And there is very little lightness to be found in the news right now. Maybe Keith’s Sunday crying therapy sessions are the respite we need to help us head into the week ahead. I, for one, will miss this gentle Sunday evening viewing more than ever before.
When Keith saw the Fat Hen And Flo KBJ idol he wasted no time in ordering himself one and messaging to say he would post it on his Instagram page if we wanted. Even his message was humble. If we wanted? Errrrr yes please! When an idol slips into your DMs early on a Saturday morning this small biz owner literally skipped down to the beach for the morning swim in the freezing February sea. This is why Keith is an idol. If circumstances put you up on a 'celebrity pedestal' it's what you do from that pedestal that counts. In this instance Keith used his position to throw a little light on a small creative business run by a middle aged woman with all the gentleness and warmth that he demonstrates in the pottery.
If you want to learn more about Keith Brymer Jones I would highly recommend his book. Boy in a China Shop.