Beccles gunsmith continues expert role in TV series
- Credit: Nick Butcher
His Beccles business has truly stood the test of time having played a focal part in town life for hundreds of years while sweeping through generations of his family.
So it only seems fitting that Robert Tilney of R Tilney and Son Gunsmiths is appearing on one of the most enduring programmes on television, giving advice on a subject he knows inside out.
Mr Tilney has been a familiar face on BBC1’s The Antiques Roadshow for nine years as an armourer and part-time expert, but he is just about to begin filming the new series where he will be the firearms and ballistics expert during nine shows.
“When I first started Michael Aspel was still the presenter.” he said. “The BBC decided that people bringing weapons and air rifles should be subject to a health and safety check and a friend of mine who works on the show asked me if I wanted to be an armourer. I thought why not, it sounds like a hoot.
“I did a few shows as armourer and then we went to Belfast to the Titanic Drawing Room. When you are doing a show you have someone on a table meeting with people and then if you find something you go off to record it. The arms and militaria table had a queue and there was no expert because he was off filming so I went and did it. The producer said ‘can you do that?’ and I said ‘yes, that’s what I do.’”
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After manning the tables Mr Tilney was approached to record his first segment for the show.
“I said I’d like to start with First World War medals as I think they are terribly interesting. There was a lovely girl who turned up with a posthumous medal that was given to her by her great grandfather and she was the same age he was when he was killed. It was really poignant. I was then told to let them know if there was anything else I’d like to record.”
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Last year Mr Tilney recorded four shows as an expert and in May he will more than double his screen time filming the new series.
“It is great fun, but I was quite surprised as I hadn’t realised quite how global it is. I did a show last year and we weren’t terribly busy. There was a couple who kept looking at me. It turned out they were from Australia. They said the show was on every day of the week and they wanted my autograph, which to me was so strange.”
Aside from filming The Antiques Roadshow, Mr Tilney runs the longest standing gunsmith’s business in Smallgate, where he has also lived since he was born.
The shop itself pre-dates the Tilney family and was thought to be owned by gun maker John Easter.
R Tilney and Son was established in 1860 by Mr Tilney’s great grandfather Robert. It was passed down to his grandfather Harry, father Lindsay and then him when he left school at 17.
The business incorporates buying and selling, part exchange, repairs and valuing, while Mr Tilney also gives private coaching.
The shop features some historical gems including a large silver cup won by his grandfather in a competition and the rifle he won it with, a pre 1840 bandsman’s sword and a castle rampart gun from the 1660s.
“I’ve grown up with the shop and around guns, I’ve always been sporting orientated. I worked in the shop with dad and I just kept going. I’m very proud of it, some of the tools I use my grandfather worked with.”