Sophie meets some of the ‘walking encyclopaedias’ who work on the frontline at Royal Pavilion & Museums.
Marcus Bagshaw, Sue Winkett, Clare Hartfield and Zak Flannery all work in the Visitor Services team across the organisation’s five sites. They provide a rollicking, unpredictable and alternative tour of Brighton’s museum service in this episode and their enthusiasm demonstrates how a one-team mentality, however difficult to initially embed, is vital for both a happy workforce and more engaged audiences.
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Narrator: From Brighton, on the English South Coast, these are the voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums, with Dr. Sophie Frost.
Sophie: Hello! I’m Sophie, and I’ve spent the past 9 months wandering the corridors of the Royal Pavilion & Museums in Brighton & Hove – otherwise known as RPM – uncovering the stories of the museum people who keep Brighton’s historic buildings and collections relevant, vibrant, and accessible for the world we’re living in.
Sophie: In this episode I’m joined by Marcus Bagshaw, Sue Winkett, Clare Hartfield, and Zak Flannery, who all work in the Visitor Services team at Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton and Hove. As we discovered last time, schemes such as the Workforce Development programme provoked a family feel across the workforce at RPM. In what follows, we’ll see how the enthusiasm and expertise of different frontline staff provides a collective energy that keeps RPM’s objects, buildings, and collections, alive for its visitors.
Marcus: My name is Marcus Bagshaw and I’m what they call a Visitor Services Officer – basically front-of-house. The role is all-encompassing – it’s not just the one thing – we get involved in many different elements of customer service. And, I think one of the main reasons we are there, is to embellish the customer experience – provide just that little bit more information that they might not get, ordinarily. So, that means that we do get into some very interesting conversations, long and short. And, of course, working in a place like the Royal Pavilion – visitors are never short of questions.
Sophie: (laughs) How long have you been in that role for, Marcus?
Marcus: From 2014.
Sophie: Right – so five years.
Sophie: You’ve mentioned that you’ve worked across the five sites. Is this all since 2014?
Marcus: It is.
Sophie: Oh, wow – okay.
Marcus: Yes ..it’s …I’ve crammed an awful lot in, to a short period of time. Okay, so, prior to that, my role was Curator of the Grange Art Gallery & Museum, in Rottingdean. Now, for those of you that aren’t familiar with it, I can tell you that, once upon a time the Grange Art Gallery & Museum was part of Royal Pavilion & Museums. And it was our sixth museum, across Brighton and Hove – it had been for many years. Its remit was the fact that it was known, primarily, as a toy museum, but with other bits and pieces – including exhibitions and references, to Rudyard Kipling. He being the most famous resident of Rottingdean which, incidentally, is a couple of miles outside of Brighton, on the South Coast. I picked up the strings of where my predecessors left off. I still work for the Grange Art Gallery & Museum as a volunteer.
Sophie: So Grange Art Gallery & Museum …I mean – I apologize for not knowing – but why did it get divorced then, from RPM?
Marcus: Cuts. It was as far back as the very early-1990s. It got to the point where a museum would have to give, and the one that had to give, was the Grange Art Gallery & Museum – with a view of dispersing the collection across the rest of the estate. So the toys were transferred to Hove Museum – so that became a kind of toy museum, or, in parts anyway. And other pieces – they went back to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. The museum was bereft of a so-called collection.
Sophie: And the toy collection, having come from the Grange – where did that …I probably should know this …but where did the toy collection come from? Who bequeathed that?
Marcus: It was a bequest by, for the most part, by a gentleman – elderly gentleman by then – who was mad on model railways.
Marcus: And so, part of the bequest to Rottingdean at that time – who were looking for opportunities to exhibit something – wholeheartedly. And on the back of that, other institutions came forward as well, offering up toys – from local people, to other museums. And so, it built up quite a nice little reputation for being a toy museum. And even today, you come across people who remember those times with great affection, and say, “Oh I remember them – is it still there?” And when you tell them not, they seem to be so sad about it, you know. But anyway, that, in part, was then transferred to the Toy Museum, in Brighton, under the railway station.
Sophie: Oh yes – that’s right.
Marcus: There’s some link there – in terms of collections.
Sophie: Moving back to Royal Pavilion & Brighton Museum now, where you’re now based. I’d really like to hear a little bit about being part of the front-of-house team there. And how that works, and how close you feel to the objects and the collections there …and that sort of thing really.
Marcus: There was a day, when, indeed, it was almost a case of ‘ them and us’. Not to the point of being nasty, but your role was very defined, and you did what it said on your contract, and you did no more than what it said.
Marcus: And because the organization is now looking for every opportunity imaginable, they’re encouraging everybody, within the organization, to come forward with ideas of possible development, of this and that. And, at the same time, enabling staff to get involved with things, within the organization, that ordinarily would not have been possible 20 years ago. That really has enabled people to really get their teeth into, you know, the business – to find out precisely, in way-more detail, how other departments operate. And, you know, you find yourself, therefore, meeting people that you’ve never met before, because you had never had the requirement to speak to them.
Marcus: We are there to impart knowledge. We are there to provide quirky facts and figures, you know – it helps if they’re amusing, of course, because it breaks the ice, somewhat. And if people are a little bit uncertain about things, when they come into a museum, by the time they leave the Royal Pavilion, they’ll feel, I think, a lot more comfortable with you, with the concept. You know, it’s not all stuffiness, and elitist, and all that – it’s open to all. It’s such a rich part of the Brighton tapestry – it’s enabled all sorts of opportunity; for the local people, as well as visitors. Now, we’re able to do much with our role, and, for example, we now have something called Pavilion Tales. Staff – across the board, every department, every level – were being asked if they would be interested in giving a public talk about an object, or objects, or the history of, or whatever of – about the Royal Pavilion. So the umbrella was Royal Pavilion, and you could talk about anything, within reason, beneath that umbrella. And, it was quite a brave move and I don’t believe – at the time that it was announced – that there were too many people coming forward. So I think, even then, people were a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, let alone; what on earth is Pavilion Tales?, we don’t need this, we’ve got other things to worry about. But, in retrospect, actually it did a world of good because it enabled staff to engage and to get more out of their job role – which was so uncertain, particularly then. And so, the bottom line is that we run it predominately through the winter months, and, once a month, a person will give a talk before an audience in the Music Room. Happily, the acoustics are incredible…
Marcus: …so we don’t need to be mic’d-up. As a result, we have developed quite a following, in terms of the audience. It’s given the members something more to enjoy, as part of their membership. We even get people passing through, who are interested enough in the subject, to want to stop off from the tour and and have a listen. They’re generally half an hour to 45 minutes, and we have a Q&A at the end, as well, so that engages the audience even more. But some of the subjects have been tremendous, you know – there was one called ‘George IV’s Big Pants’.
Sophie: (laughs) Gosh, and what happened in…?
Marcus: Well, this is …this is something else that it’s achieved – the person who did the talk was able to work with Martin Pel, who, of course, is our Costume curator. And he gave that person permission to have the Prince’s big pants out of storage so that it could be a part of this talk.
Sophie: How great!
Marcus: It was! And it’s a wonderful way of utilizing the collection, which, has to be said, for the most part, you know, sits in an acid-free cardboard box and is only bought out high days and holidays, if at all. There’s a lot of stuff that we have, that’s never seen the light of day – being beautifully looked after – but doesn’t see the light of day. So, whenever we do these Pavilion Tales, a lot of it is in mind of, “Oooh, what can we use within the collection – a piece of jewellery, or of this or of that?” And, as a result, you know, that’s enabled us to work more closely with the curators, and all of that – it’s all good. And then happily, for all of us, the audience find it fascinating and feel quite privileged to be in the presence of the Kings pants, you know? It really is terrific, in many, many ways.
Marcus: Another happy coincidence was …last Christmas, we were looking at what we could do Christmas-wise at the Royal Pavilion. We have to be a bit careful there because Christmas, kind of, wasn’t at the Royal Pavilion. And it’s a bit fragmented because, by the time Queen Victoria embraced Christmas, they were already at Buckingham Palace. Because, before that, Christmas wasn’t considered to be the festival it is today – very different. I’m part of the Christmas team, as well, and that – my role – has given me that opportunity.
Sophie: What do you have to do?
Marcus: I have a ball! – I decorate Christmas trees …
Sophie: Oh, brilliant!
Marcus: …and decorate generally. When we were given this blank canvas it was a chance to be creative again, and another opportunity – let’s be creative! You know, if you’ve got something in you, that you feel you can bring to the museum – do it! You know, we’ve all got hidden talents …and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. And so, as the years have gone by, Christmas at the Royal Pavilion has become very popular, in spite of David Beevers’s concerns – which I appreciate and understand. But, you know, it’s like anything – we’ve got to look outside the square. We have to.
Sue: My name is Sue Winkett and I am technically a VSO at the Pavilion. So, I cover both Visitor Services in the building, and the retail side – so I do a bit of everything. So I could be talking to the visitors and security in the building – that could be selling them a ticket, or serving them in the shop, or over at the museum. So I’ll do a bit of everything.
Sophie: And you’ve done that for three years?
Sue: So, for three years – yes. And I uuh …oh gosh. So I have no training, no background in this. The nearest I would say I get to it, is I trained as a jeweller – that was my university days. And, then I went on from that to become a fashion buyer. And, after that, I ran a business selling costume jewellery, wholesale, for 14 years, and then came to the Royal Pavilion. There’s a lot of staff there who’ve got creative backgrounds; there’s quite a few artists actually, very good artists, so there’s definitely a creative vibe there – I think that’s what draws people in the first place, you know. The building is so amazing, and the museum – I think it’s a natural ground for artists.
Sophie: And, I guess, that you – probably from your previous career – have kind of quite an appreciation for a lot of the objects in the Royal Pavilion?
Sue: I absolutely …so I could not believe I got a job there. I just didn’t …I just didn’t expect to get it – given my background, with no connection. Yeah, I absolutely adore that building, and all the staff do actually – we’re really passionate about it. You know, how could you not love that building?
Sue: A lot of people come in, and say, “Oh, I’ve lived in Brighton all my life and I’m only just coming in, now, at the age of 60 or …” – I hear that all the time. But I just think that’s the nature of it, I think, you’re never as excited by what you live near.
Sophie: But what is it about it that..?
Sue: I think, for me, it’s because it’s so wild. You think ‘palace’ – you don’t think dragons, serpents, Chinoiserie – you don’t think of these things. I always talk to visitors and say, “On paper, this shouldn’t work!” You know, there’s so much going on in that building, it just shouldn’t work, but it does. I think, yeah, it’s just how wild it is – it’s just not at all regal, in that sense, I think.
Sophie: Could you describe …I don’t know …the spirit of the team in a bit more detail. You know, how do you all tick, and how does it work?
Sue: I would say, because it’s such a diverse workforce. It is the most diverse I’ve ever worked with. But, we have that shared passion for the building, and – I know it sounds very cliché – but a shared passion for good customer service. So I would actually describe it as a family. Everyone looks out for each other, we work together really well, supportive of each other – but really enjoy the day as well. I will often describe my day as, “I turn up, I laugh all day, and then I go home.” – how many jobs can you do that? And, of course, I’m talking to the visitors about the building – I’m doing my job – but I’m enjoying every minute of it, as well. And I think that’s how most people feel. It’s …yeah, it’s good fun, as well as a great job.
Sophie: But what are …are there, sort of …bad bits? Like it being really draughty in the winter, or anything like that?
Sue: Oh it’s absolutely freezing in the winter – yes, I have to say. It’s an historic building, you know – that’s the nature of it. If it’s a long winter, that can be hard, but still, it doesn’t diminish people’s enjoyment of their jobs. So, yeah, I genuinely really don’t have any negatives about it.
Sophie: So, how about Workforce Development? Have you managed to have an opportunity with that?
Sue: Absolutely, yes.
Sophie: Oh great – tell me all about it.
Sue: Oooh, well I’ve done …so I’m on my third. Now, one of them was very short, only a couple of weeks. So my first one was in the Museum Lab – so they opened that up as a space; to bring visitors in, to see ‘behind the scenes’, and see what people’s jobs were in the museum. So, each week, there’ll be a different couple of curators, on either Decorative Arts or Natural Sciences, and the public could come in and talk to them and ask them about certain things, and what they were doing. So I was involved in that – in bringing visitors in, encouraging them in to participate in that. Which was great, because at that time I hadn’t worked in the museum, particularly, and didn’t know the staff, didn’t really know what anybody did, didn’t know how it all worked. So, I met all the curators, understood what their roles were – even just getting to know them, was fantastic. And I’ve always been really keen on ‘we should all know something about everybody’s role’ – have an appreciation of other people’s roles, within an environment. So I loved that – that was great. And then, I did a very brief one for the Stephen Jones hat exhibition, where I helped the curator, Martin Pel, do the installation and the takedown. And that was great fun – just to see how, you know …it’s a really big installation …to see how that works; what goes into it, how stressful it was for them – not for me, but for them.
Sophie: Why? What elements were stressful?
Sue: They were a combination of fashion and historic building – it’s an interesting combination. They worked very differently, and required a bit of negotiation on their part. One works very last minute, the other requires lots of planning. So, just to combine those two – was interesting, but they managed it really well. They were absolutely amazing, and the installation went down fantastically – I loved it. So that was something completely different but brilliant. A real insight for me. And the one I’m currently doing is working on the online shop for the Pavilion…
Sue: …helping to photograph our products, to put them on the system, for the shop. And then I’ve got a bit of training coming up – things like blogging, that sort of thing. So again, you know, it’s getting involved in another aspect – which is the retail side. You know, it keeps you interested in your role, it gives you a greater understanding of the business. I just think it’s a really positive thing. And it’s not a lip service thing either, you know, it’s not a box-ticking exercise. There are lots of members of staff who’ve done different things, and it really is good for development. I was at the conference they held about it …talking to other museums …about the workforce. And one of the speakers said – when I think it was first mooted – somebody said, “But what if we give these staff this Workforce Development and then they leave?” and somebody replied, “But what if we don’t?” And I thought “Fantastic! – that’s the right attitude.” It’s about investing.
Sue: Well I have to mention, because we get this all the time …so, I don’t know how well you know the Pavilion, and the Banqueting Room in particular? It’s got these amazing chandeliers, and the central chandelier is just phenomenal. And of course, you know, you have to smile every time, and, not let on that you’ve heard this a thousand times …they all come in and say, “Oh, we don’t want Del Boy cleaning that!”
Sue: You know – it’s such a unique building that you’re never short of things to talk about. And people ask all sorts of weird and wonderful questions. Every room is full of absolutely gorgeous objects, and the walls – every square inch has got detail in it. And then people will say, ” And how many times do you clean it?” – you know, things that you’d think, “Oh! I’m surprised you don’t want to ask me about the objects, or the chandeliers, or the paintings – you only want to know how often it’s cleaned!” And it just makes me smile, because that’s what …people take different ways, don’t they? The best part for me is being in the Music Room, where, I’d say, 50% of visitors walk into the doorway, stand there, look up and go “Wow!” That is magical for me – I love it. There’s this urban myth that Hitler wanted it for his headquarters. So many people, so many visitors – come and ask about that.
Sue: Well, it’s just one of those urban myths that’s got around, and, no it wasn’t true. And, in fact, there was some bombs landed near. One, in fact, in the gardens, I understand, but no – it wasn’t destined as Hitler’s headquarters. Because apart from anything else, I’ve been told that other historic buildings have had exactly the same thing said about theirs. How many headquarters he would have wanted – I don’t know, but no, that’s not right.
Sophie: Gosh, what an incredible place! Yeah, my mind’s going in all strange directions right now, so …(laughs). If you can say some sort of …a bit of a philosophical question. What the broader significance is, of the Royal Pavilion, as a palace. But also, just what it means to the nation. Like, why is it so important? What is it about it?
Sue: I think its uniqueness. I don’t know of anywhere else that is so, um, unusual. And in fact it probably, I would say, it is a feature – the fact that it’s so central as well – in Brighton. Normally, historic buildings like this would be on the outskirts of a town or a city – not right at the heart of it. So, for me, that’s quite a significant element – the fact that it’s right in the centre of Brighton. And it’s so accessible, you can just walk around it – you don’t have to go in the building – you can just walk around it and enjoy the gardens. Where else do you get that kind of thing happening? Everywhere else is fenced off, it’s all, you know, you can’t get …you have to pay to go in the gardens, even, often, don’t you? So I think, that, for me, that’s really unique about it, and probably why the Brightonians like it so much.
Sophie: Yeah. And actually when you describe it like that, it makes me understand why people call it the ‘People’s Palace’ – because it is so accessible and welcoming and …bonkers.
Sue: Yes, it’s very Brighton.
Sophie: Well, yeah! And someone said earlier how it has, kind of, set the precedent for the spirit of Brighton, for this culture of Brighton – of fun.
Sue: Yes, yeah – out of the ordinary – yeah.
Clare: My name is Clare Hartfield. I am a Visitor Services Officer. I started out working on a temporary contract as a cleaner, and then applied for a job role as a VSO, which I achieved – which was wonderful. And my job role really involves …my main role, really, is for the safety of the people in the building, so that goes for the Royal Pavilion and the museum. So I’m responsible, obviously, to get everyone out, in the event of a fire. If there’s any problems, you know, the public look to me to help them out. So, we look after the objects in the building as well, obviously, not just the people, and …yeah – to provide customer service, really, as well. We work on the tills a little bit as well – in the museum – and also just looking after the customers when they come in; greeting them, sharing as much information as we can about the history of the building, and answering any questions they have.
Sophie: And do you enjoy it?
Clare: I love it, yeah. I’ve always been obsessed with history since I was a little girl. This is really sad, but I’m going to tell you – my nan used to take me …like the thing I used to love to do the most, when I was a little kid, was go to museums – that was my thing. And it was also good because it didn’t cost any money in those days, obviously. And the big museums – they don’t charge – the British Museum was a favourite of mine, and the Natural History Museum. I was one of those kids that used to come home with rocks in their pockets. And I have a vivid memory of going to the Horniman Museum – that was one of my locals, my nan used to take me there. And there was a mummy in this display case, and we go in, and I would just stick my little face and hands up against the window, just be peering down at this beautiful mummy in its coffin. And my nan would be, like, “Would you like to see anything else?” and I’d be like, “No! I’m just happy, just, here – studying this mummy!” So, Ancient Egypt was kind of where it all started really …and dinosaurs – I was really obsessed with their fossils, and things like that.
Sophie: So you mentioned that you’ve done two different Workforce Development placements?
Clare: Yeah – I’m on my third one now, yeah. The first one I did was when I first started, that very first winter. And it involved looking at the process of – the beginning all the way through to the very end – of organizing an exhibition. So, obviously that wasn’t me doing that on my own, but I got to see what was involved; what other staff members were doing to put this all together – to get it in and then get it out. So, I didn’t realize – I just sort of imagined it, like, ‘Oh yeah, you just pick some items and then you just put them in a box and ..’ Absolutely not – there’s a lot of work, and a lot of thought and organization that has to go into putting on, even quite a small exhibition. And this one was quite unusual because it was an exhibition that wasn’t behind glass – it was already in an established royal palace.
Clare: So, what it was – it was celebrating Christmas. And, the idea was focusing on around the 1840s – when Queen Victoria would have been staying, one Christmas, with Prince Albert and her two oldest children. So, the Yellow Bow Rooms – which is what they would have been in George’s time – were converted into her childrens’ nursery, in Victoria’s time. So, that’s kind of the link. So, in these rooms (the Yellow Bow Rooms) we had a beautiful dolls house – absolutely massive, massive dolls house – and (I believe it was) a Victorian-era rocking horse. It was a Victorian-era pram as well, but the doll that was inside it wasn’t Victorian – I think it was from the 1920s – but it was of Queen Victoria in her wedding gown. So again, it was like a beautiful link there to Victoria, and childhood, and the Victorian era. So, yeah – it was lovely! We did a lot of research into Christmas itself as well – that was quite important. Looking at anything that was, kind of, a link to childhood and Christmas, and toys, and the Victorian era, obviously. Because a lot of these things – they started around that sort of time. So, that was great. That was a wonderful way to start the run-up to Christmas – was researching how a lot of these traditions started. So, that was like, the most festive Christmas I’ve ever had! So, yeah – that was really good fun.
Sophie: That’s brilliant! That was Workforce Development – placement one?
Sophie: So what was two?
Clare: So, again a Christmas one – which was good. But this one was split between Brighton Museum. I should have said, as well, a lot of the work that I was doing was going on in Museum Lab, which is upstairs, at the back of Brighton Museum, which is often open to the public. Again, this second Workforce Development was split between there, and Hove Museum, because that’s where the exhibition was going in. So, for that year, it was an exhibition, kind of, well …basically an advent calendar but on the level of an exhibit.
Sophie: This was to take place at Hove?.
Clare: At Hove, yeah. I worked with Grace again – a really lovely friend of mine, that I made. And, her and some of her colleagues, were the ones to choose what items were going in there. But I worked on, sort of, writing up some of the little blurbs that went with each item. So that meant again – a similar sort of thing really – researching into things like frankincense, gold and myrrh. Things like; some of the first Christmas cards – that sort of thing – looking at the history of them, but then condensing it down into quite a few short paragraphs. Which was quite good for me, because I tend to waffle – verbally and written stuff as well. So, yeah, that was quite good for me to learn how to …”Well, what are the key bits of information that the public are gonna be interested in, and how to get that into just a few sentences.”
Clare: I worked on a few other things in Hove as well. The main thing was the exhibition, but I also helped out with some of the other smaller exhibits – lifting up cases, putting in new objects. I learned a lot about object handling, as well, in both Workforce Developments. Making new records for things that, perhaps, didn’t even have one, and giving a really good description of what it was; what it was made out of, what it looked like, whether there was any damage – which I really enjoyed, I really like doing that. It’s very methodical work, and, again, you never know what’s in your box, so it’s just something new every day. So, yeah – it kept it really interesting.
Clare: I’m now responsible for us, at least, helping out with Pavilion Tales – which is something that I’d already taken part in myself, quite regularly, when I first started. So, Pavilion Tales is like a, sort of, …I don’t know what the word is …it’s run by and for members of staff. So, anybody that works in the Pavilion, whether they’re a Visitor Services Officer like me, or they work in retail, or they’re much more higher up in the organization. Anybody that works for the Royal Pavilion – whether they’re a volunteer or not – if they want to do a Pavilion Tale, they can. And it’s really just up to us what we want to research – which is lovely because it gives you complete, sort of …as long as it has a link to the Royal Pavilion that makes sense, you can pretty much research whatever you want. And the idea is, is that you give a short talk about something that you’re really, really interested in. I did one all about Maria Fitzherbert – she’s one of my favourite, favourite people. She was George IV’s first wife, secret wife.
Sophie: Why? Just quick segue …to Maria Fitzherbert – because I would be remiss not to ask why she was a secret wife.
Clare: Well, because she was Catholic, and obviously George was the heir to the throne and also the heir to being the head of the Church of England. So that was just an absolute no-go. The monarchs were not allowed to marry Catholics. It’s a really long story and I won’t go into it, but the gist of it was, is that, by marrying in secret, without the permission of his father, George III – it effectively kind of made the marriage null and void from the beginning anyway. So it was an awkward thing – it was like: they are married in the eyes of the church, but they’re not married in the eyes of the state. So – it kept Maria happy, because she felt, as a Catholic, “Okay, we’re married in my eyes and the eyes of my church. It’s all fine’. But, I think George probably always knew in the back of his mind, ‘Well, I feel that it’s real but I know that it wouldn’t stand up in court.’ effectively. So, when the time came for George to marry a proper German princess, Maria is just cast aside.
Clare: And then he married Caroline of Brunswick. And again, that’s a really sad story, because they were really only together for a couple of months, maybe. Long enough for Caroline to conceive and have a daughter, but I think maybe once she was pregnant, it was, kind of, like, “Well, my job’s done here – I can now go back to the person I really loved, which is Maria.” And they had a really on-off relationship for years and years. He had various other mistresses, and, eventually, it was the last and final time – she just …I think she just had enough. I think, he promised her that she would always be welcome at his table, and when it came to an event in Brighton where all the dignitaries were invited – heads of state, other royals, I believe, from France were there as well. I think it was a feast to do with the beginning of the Regency – very symbolic. And I think as well, it was like, ‘Okay, it’s now really time to set aside …everyone’s really a little bit worried that maybe we were secretly married, and that, maybe secretly, she did have a child. So now is the time for me to just put that to bed, and not invite her to my table.’ So, she was invited, but she was invited to sit at a table on the other side – so she’s just like, ‘Well, I’m not coming then!” And that was it – they never saw each other again. It’s a really sad story – they’ll make a movie out of it one day!
Sophie: Which I think you should write.
Clare: (laughs) I think the whole …him and his various love interests …yeah, there’s a lot of material that I think – one day they’ll do it, one day they will.
Sophie: George was just such a remarkable character. But, so …Pavilion Tales – are you are now, kind of programming it or …?
Clare: Kind of – yeah, pretty much. I’ve only really just started it, so I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks and it’s going into full swing in the next few weeks. So I basically go round and I bully my colleagues into doing Pavilion Tales. Because a lot of them – they enjoy doing them but, if they’ve got a lot on their plate with work, sometimes it’s like; “Could you do a talk in two weeks time?” And I’ve been the same – I’m like; “You know what: I want to do them, but I need a month or so to go away and research this and do it properly. So a lot of people don’t want to do the first few. They’re like; “Oh no, can I wait till November, please?” So, that’s quite difficult – trying to get enough people onboard, straight away. But we do have a lot of Pavilion Tales, that people have written before, and we’ve got hard copies, so I’ve tried to encourage people, like; “Well, there’s some pre-made ones – if you want to do them?” But interestingly, for a lot of people, they’re very personal. And they’re very much, for me included, they’re about things that I’m really interested in, and I really want to go away, and I want to do the research properly. I almost treat them as mini …I went to University of Winchester, I did Archaeology – and for me it’s kind of the same thing. I want to treat these as tenderly as I can. I want to make sure that I get this right. So, for most people, they do want to go away, and they want to do their own ones – they don’t necessarily want to do ones that they’ve done before.
Sophie: So, something you’ve mentioned several times – and I really want to draw out a little bit more – is how all of those placements have helped you build really significant friendships. Again, it’s something that doesn’t get talked about very much but, probably with the Workforce Development, friendship-building…
Clare: Yeah it’s more personal than that…
Sophie: Yeah, could you talk about that a little bit?
Clare: Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m quite a friendly person anyway. I like to talk to people, and I love talking to the visitors when they come in. But Workforce Development has meant that I could step outside of just being a VSO, and just talking to my direct colleagues. It means that I’m actually getting to know people that I’ve, perhaps, just said ‘Good Morning’ to, or ‘Good Evening’ to, and I know, perhaps, maybe what their job role is, but I don’t really know what it is they do. And I don’t know them personally. This has meant that I’m able to, now, just make loads of new friends within the organization. Not just on first-name terms, but people say; “How are you getting on with your family history? How are you getting on with that Pavilion Tale I heard you were researching?” – things like that. And it’s lovely, because you just feel even more part of a family here – because, it does – for me, it certainly feels like this big, sometimes-dysfunctional family that I absolutely love. Because it’s never boring – there’s always something going on, and maybe somebody organizing some after-work drinks, or there’s an event going on at work that we’ve all been invited to, that’s something really educational, or whatever. It’s, it’s really …just a really friendly atmosphere, really approachable people. And once you get to know them through Workforce Development, somebody that may well have only of just given you a smile, now and again – now that they know you, they’re like; “Oh, well actually, I know this person’s really interested in what I’m doing.”
Sophie: With you, Clare – obviously I hear how much you love your job and are really passionate about it. In terms of hopes and dreams, where would you see yourself going? It’s that big existential question!
Clare: I would love to …yeah, do, maybe …I don’t know …something, like, be a Collections Assistant, or something within the Royal Pavilion. I mean definitely obviously something history-based. So yeah, I mean, I definitely feel like each Workforce Development I’ve done has given me more skills, more understanding of just how things work in museums, and places like royal palaces, and stately homes, and that sort of thing.
Sophie: And last, but definitely not least, we’re going to hear from Zak Flannery – another member of the Visitor Services team, who started as a Cultural Apprentice, in 2011.
Zak: Many years ago – it might have been 20/21 – I got the opportunity to work, for a year, as a Cultural Apprentice. And what that basically meant was, I got to spend a little bit of time in lots of different departments, on the many sites. So, this covered; not just the Royal Pavilion, but Brighton Museum, Booth Museum, Preston Manor. I got to learn the actual runnings of a venue – which was the main thing. So not so much working with conservationists, or setting up an exhibition – more, what’s the day-to-day running. Like, how do you keep the lights on, what do you have to keep clean? …and stuff like that – so, that’s put me in good stead because it gave me, basically, a lot of work experience. And, what I do now – so, I am hired as a part-time Retail Assistant, but I get the opportunity to work with the Conservation team now. So that’s what I’m doing currently, but I also work as a cleaner, sometimes, and also do some of the VSO’ing – which you’ve probably talked to other people about.
Sophie: We talked to Marcus yesterday.
Zak: Yep – so, yeah, I do some of that. And then also, they have evenings running – with the Functions team. And weddings – so I get the opportunity to work with them as well. So that’s how I fill out the rest of my time.
Sophie: That sounds really quite a nice job to me, because it’s really varied. So everytime you get bored with selling postcards you’ve probably got something else going on.
Zak: It’s nice cos …it’s more how I feel the world is now – you’ve got to be a bit more versatile in what you can do. Not for everyone, but if you’re doing what I would describe as, kind of, maybe …and I don’t personally feel like this, there is a skill to it …but I would call it a lower-entry work force or lower-skilled workforce – that’s how I would describe it myself. That’s why you’ve got to be a bit more versatile. But it’s nice though, because you’re still working in a beautiful building and you get to do interesting events, and stuff like that.
Sophie: But on that …do you see yourself, in 5 years, building up a career more, at RPM? Or have you got other plans?
Zak: Hard to say really, but I’m interested in doing more with the Conservation team. I was unsuccessful, this time, on getting a job with them, but hopefully, for one of the schemes that they have there – they’ve got a Workforce Development scheme – I’d like to apply for that. And, at the moment, I just pick up shifts as and where I can – to learn what I can.
Sophie: Do you mean specifically …to work in museums, you have to be a versatile person?
Zak: I think it’s the same anywhere, but if you’re doing, kind of, entry-level work – I’m just saying this from the experience of the people I work with currently – that you’ve just got to be able to do lots of different things. Particularly if you’re starting out on zero hours – like I do myself. Obviously, there’s many different ways to get …if you’re interested in working in museums and stuff, I think it helps to have to be versatile. Because, for instance – when I did that apprenticeship, many years ago – one of the roles was working with the cleaners, and that meant cleaning toilets, and stuff like that. And the person I was with at the time, refused to do it. And it just hurt her prospects later on, because people were like; “Oh, she won’t do this part” – because it was part of the course. But I feel, you just got to try a little bit of everything – to understand how everything works – because the upkeep of toilets, and rubbish, is very important to a museum, and you’ll notice very quickly, if it wasn’t being done.
Zak: I would sometimes think of it as quite cushy – with some of the rules and the benefits you get – it’s not like work. It’s not like anywhere else I’ve worked, which …I’m not complaining. It’s helped me greatly – I managed to live by myself, and stuff like that – with these opportunities. So that’s great.
Sophie: I’m interested in that thing about the council, and maybe you talking a little bit about how you see it. What’s going to happen when RPM goes to Trust? – I know there’s still a lot of unknowns around that.
Zak: Sometimes I feel like people aren’t held enough to accountability, or they’re not thinking big enough – when it comes to a unique venue like the Royal Pavilion. And it’d be nice to see it run a bit more like a business.
Zak: Because it’s a very unique building to the UK and I think could be doing better. For instance, when you go around Brighton & Hove, you’ll see a lot of the imagery of the symbol of the Dome, of the Pavilion – the onions. So it’s very iconic to this city, but yet, none of the locals will visit it, hardly-ever. And, it just doesn’t seem to be …I dunno …there’s just not a massive interest in looking after it, I feel like, sometimes. Maybe we’ll have people a bit more excited about having this strange palace in the city.
Zak: Like, King George IV – I don’t think – is a particularly famous king, for people in Britain. You may not know who he is, or even care, but you’ll be certainly interested in how he lived, when you visit the Royal Pavilion. So, one of the things that people pick up on, is the gluttony – so, he’s quite fat man. And once, there was talks where they brought out his breeches, and people would love it – people loved just seeing how fat this guy got. And I had visitors ask about his …what’s the right words? …his mistresses.
Zak: People want to know about all that stuff – like the same things people want to know about today’s celebrities, I guess. So, that kind of stuff’s interesting. I think what you’ll find, if you do live in the city of Brighton & Hove, is this guy, kind of set the precedent of the culture of this city – so, it is unique, I feel, to the UK. It’s quite a creative, maybe quite a tolerant, place? And I think that’s down to this guy coming here, pumping a lot of money into this used-to-be a seaside town, and bringing arts, bringing businesses, running prostitution, artists, I don’t know. I think, yeah – artists, music, booze, gambling – all these people followed the king, because this is what he said, this is what it was used for – the Pavilion was used as a party palace, and you’ll probably hear that a lot from the staff. And I think that created the culture for here, in Brighton & Hove – so it’s the start of it, I believe.
Zak: Basically, one of the other interesting things about working at the Royal Pavilion, is you get to go behind the ropes and see some of the unseen stuff you wouldn’t get to as a visitor. And something I mentioned earlier, that I wanted to talk about again – which is a fond memory of when I first visited – I was taken up to Queen Victoria’s bedroom and taken behind the rope and behind Queen Victoria’s bed. When you look in this room, it’s all hand-painted wallpaper, and it’s got images of birds and butterflies around the whole room. And one of the butterflies hidden behind the bed; the conservationist who was doing that room decided to add – instead of a signature – like, a unique image as his kind-of mark. And, what he’s done is drawn a cartoon face on this butterfly …a smiling cartoon face. And that was just really nice to see, because it’s something you’d never know unless you worked at the Royal Pavilion and you got to go over the rope and see it. So seeing details like that – I really enjoyed.
Zak: And also, when you go into the Music Room, at the Royal Pavilion, if you look behind the bench, there’s the big mural up there. There is a duck – the silhouette of a duck – that’s been covered up, that somebody decided to just add a duck to the scenery. And it’s not historically accurate, and it was done, maybe, in the last 80 or 90 years, I think – and they just covered it up again. And it’s just funny, because you can just see the silhouette, still. I don’t know who decided to do that – I heard different stories. But I heard it was during, maybe, the Indian soldiers – one of the soldiers decided to do it. You have to ask one of the …I’d go to David Beevers, to get the actual facts.
Sophie: Okay (laughs).
Zak: And you can already tell – I don’t deal with facts!
Sophie: (laughs) With the Royal Pavilion then, where would you say – what’s your favourite space there?
Zak: Again, it’s something you can’t actually access all the time. But if you go to the very tops of the biggest bottle in the Royal Pavilion – it was meant to be the King’s bedroom, originally – but it ended up being servants rooms, because the king couldn’t go up there, due to his ill health. So, when you go up to the top of this bottle, it’s one of the best views of the area, I think. It’s got 360-degree views with the windows on it, and I loved it – only because I was thinking – this would be a great flat!
Zak: I could be quite happy here.
Sophie: Well, maybe when they move to Trust… (laughs).
Zak: Yeah, well there you go – they can sell it off, and release it to me – yeah. That, and, at the moment you’ve got the Royal Collection here, at the Royal Pavilion. So they’re there for the next two years – its amazing items. The items are so beautiful – some of my favourites are the clocks that you can find in the Saloon, and also in the banqueting rooms. And, when you’ve got these pieces in the palace it, kind of, accentuates the feel of the palace?
Zak: And actually, something else I was going to quickly mention to you – one of my fondest memories is working for the Functions team, doing an event called The Regency Ball, for The Regency Society. And these people go all over the world to Regency buildings and have a ball. And it was great, because they’re all dressed up in their Regency-period costumes …and sometimes they are re-interpretations. I saw this beautiful, kind of, Regency dress, but it was all kimono design on it – because this couple had come from Japan. And I saw other people in Regency-period clothes but they were wearing the Russian clothing as well. But seeing all these people in the Royal Pavilion in Regency clothing makes it …it makes more sense.
Zak: It brings the history alive a little bit, and, when they were doing their dance, as well, it just made me laugh because finally, I’m actually seeing what the purpose of this room was for. So, yeah – that’s really special – I enjoyed that.
Sophie: How often does that happen – that was a one-off?
Zak: That was a one-off event that they organized, and you do sometimes – like once a year – the staff have been known to dress up in a Regency outfit.
Zak: For an Open Day – yeah, for some of the Open Days. And they’ve had King George walking around as well. And I really love that – I think that’s some of our most successful events. Very engaging for visitors as well, because, like I said, a lot of people who visit today don’t even know what it is, or are expecting to see it. So, just having some kind of …having actors, or just staff members, dressed up, walking around, just brings it to life and makes it more memorable. And that’s something, I think, you could try more of – if you weren’t part of the council.
Sophie: Yeah. And I think it goes back to something I thought was really lovely, that you were talking about – it sort of set the precedent for the culture of the city.
Sophie: And, in a way, having it more performative, like that, helps people to realize, really, how significant the Pavilion is – which is really nice. So, yeah – that’s really interesting. And, what about …I was just wondering, because you mentioned …I mean, it doesn’t sound like you do so much now, but you mentioned, in the past, you’d spent quite a lot of time at Booth, and Preston Manor.
Zak: Yeah, and they’re very interesting. I …I like the Booth. I used to go there …like a lot of us who grew up in the city. Because it’s free to enter – you just go there, to visit, briefly – it’s a strange place. Don’t go if you’re not interested in taxidermy – if you don’t like stuff like that, you’ll hate it, because that’s all it is. But, do go if you just wanna see something a bit strange. It’s very much of its time. You’ve got to remember that, if you didn’t have zoos, and you weren’t travelling – it was a way for people to see what these animals would look like and, maybe, in their environments (they would re-interpret it). But also, I just saw some really strange things – like a tortoise turned into an ashtray.
Zak: I know! It’s so …you just look at some of this stuff thinking, “People had some weird …they did some weird stuff for that!”
Sophie: Is that on display there now?
Zak: I’m not sure if that’s still on display, but there are a few things. One of the things that I thought was always quite striking is they used to have a Orca skeleton there, that had been donated – because an Orca, unfortunately died, and washed up on the beach, and the bones had been handed over to the Booth Museum. It’s now been moved to another museum, but, it’s …it’s just interesting – seeing such a big animal, and the structure of it. (pause) I thought it was interesting, anyway.
Zak: It’s not for everyone – like I said. It’s very strange and of its time.
Zak: And they are all – I would like to stress – they are all old pieces – there’s nothing new.
Sophie: No, but that’s what’s even more interesting, because it’s again – something Lee was saying about – it’s sort of like …the legacy of our evolution, but our understanding of animals and how much it’s changed since then. Like, we wouldn’t dream of (well, we wouldn’t in this country, anyway) dream of turning a tortoiseshell into an ashtray anymore.
Zak: Well, do you know what – I’ve got another one that’s a bit odd: Over in Preston Manor, the household, obviously, really loved their pets. And if you look into the back of the grounds they’ve got a little pet cemetery, but, one of the ways to remember it …they turned …the lady of the house turned one of her favourite dog’s paws into a letter opener, I believe. And then, I know she also …her favourite horse …she took the hoof of the horse and turned it into, like …an inkwell.
Sophie: Uurgh (laughs)
Zak: Just a way to remember them. See …it seems very strange to me – now. And I don’t really …I don’t understand, but for her I guess it was like – you get to hold the paw of your favourite, loved animal. Uh, yeah! I dunno – it’s just a different way of thinking! Even learning about how people used to talk in the Regency period: I was thinking – I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation with them. Language has changed so much, and, like, the roles that people had in those days.
Sophie: How do you mean?
Zak: I went to one of the talks of someone who obviously knows more about the history and the facts. And they were telling me some of the job roles, and – I couldn’t even tell you what the words are now – they were so alien to me. Just jobs that don’t even exist anymore – running that Royal Pavilion. So I just thought – if I had a Bill & Ted moment and I got blasted back in the past to meet them, to ask for history lessons – I wouldn’t even be able to communicate, with the level of English I’ve got today.
Sophie: (laughs) No ones ever quite put it like that! I wonder whether you’d be able to have a conversation with King George?
Zak: Yeah, that’d be…
Sophie: And what he’d say…
Zak: I’d say “People like the palace – but they’re just talking about you being fat …a lot.”
Sophie: Maybe you’d put him on a diet?
Zak: I dunno, I’m just looking at this guy – King George IV. From looking at that period of history, it’s hard to relate to these people, I feel like, sometimes. Because we’ve moved on so much. Like one thing one of my colleagues was talking to me about, was the etiquette that people needed to have in the Banqueting Room – where they would do Fine Dining and stuff. And, quite often, the servers had to be told not to pick their nose …so when they’re standing there. And I was thinking: We’ve come so far …because that’s the head – that’s the top of society, of that period – and the staff around the table need to be told not to pick their nose. And, in this etiquette book my colleague was telling me about, the guests were apparently just as bad, if not worse. I look at it and I just take what I’m interested in, and then, maybe ignore some of the rest – and I think we all do that, don’t we?
Sophie: It was an absolute pleasure speaking with Marcus, Sue, Clare, and Zak about their experiences. They are a testament to RPM and I’m sure you’re now thinking the same thing as me – where can I sign up? My sincere thanks go to them all – for taking us on such a rollicking, unpredictable, and alternative tour of Brighton’s museum service. Most significantly, their enthusiasm demonstrates how having a one-team mentality in a museum – however difficult to initially embed – is vital; for both the happy workforce, and more engaged audiences.
Sophie: Next time, I’ll be speaking with Rachel Hemingway-Hearst, Curator of World Art at Brighton Museum, and Edith Ojo, Arts Consultant. You may remember in Episode 6, I spoke with Helen and Sarah about the ‘Fashioning Africa’ project, which culminated in a new collection of textiles and outfits reflecting African fashion and design, from 1960 to the year 2000. This time, Rachel and Edith – two other key figures in the ‘Fashioning Africa’ project – will discuss the role of the museum in showcasing material culture from across the world. Notably Ashoke fashion from Nigeria. I’m looking forward to seeing you next time, at Voices of the Royal Pavilion & Museums.
Sophie: Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode hit ‘like’, and subscribe, and please leave us a very nice five star review. Find out more about the Royal Pavilion museums at brightonmuseums.org.uk and more about this project at one-by-one.uk. On Twitter I’m @soph_frosty and RPM is @BrightonMuseums. I really hope you can join me next time. Till soon, Goodbye.
Narrator: The Voices of the Royal Pavilion and Museums are supported by the one-by-one research project, the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, The Keep, Arts Council England, and produced by Lo Fi Arts.