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23 February 2003, 03:18 pm
Obituary
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Barry Bucknell (GBR)

Barry Bucknell, who died last week aged 91, was television's first DIY expert and later went on to design the immensely popular Mirror dinghy.
Bucknell was often given credit for having spawned an industry; he was much in demand to open DIY stores. His series Do It Yourself attracted seven million viewers, and at one stage, during his renovation of a house at Ealing, west London, he received 37,000 letters a week. Although the BBC employed 10 people to answer them, and sent out more than a quarter of a million leaflets, there was frequently a backlog of six sacks of post.

During the transmission of Bucknell's House in 1962, five and a half million watched such unappealing features as Victorian fireplaces, panelled doors and cornices give way to plywood, melamine and headache-inducing wallcoverings. "I've since been accused of being responsible for the disappearance of all those original fittings," Bucknell said, "but I never told anyone to modernise or tear something out just for the sake of it. I always wanted things to be tasteful."

Part of the appeal of Bucknell's earliest shows was the element of suspense; his first programmes were live, and Bucknell would rehearse at his house in Hampstead, while his wife Betty stood by with a stopwatch. "Even with all the rehearsing, there were still disasters," he conceded. "I oversoaked the paper for a ceiling and it fell down on me. I had to say 'This is not the way to do it', but the viewers loved all that."

Technicians had their own difficulties. Bucknell became known as the "hesitant hammer" by sound operators, from his habit of beginning a sentence, and then preparing to hammer in a nail. The sound would be faded down, whereupon Bucknell would finish the sentence, inaudibly; the sound would be swiftly faded back up, and the nail would be struck, deafening the viewers.

In late 1960, Bucknell demonstrated anti-theft devices for cars which would set the horn blowing in the event of any of the handles being touched. The next week, he returned to his own vehicle to discover that it had been broken into. "I cannot have had the device set sensitively enough," he said. "I am hopping mad. Everyone is telling me I should pay more attention to the advice I dish out to the public."

After Bucknell's House finished, the BBC put the property up for auction. The Corporation had paid £2,250; 39 weeks later, they were inundated with 40,000 viewers keen to buy the two flats. One offered £12,000, but they were eventually sold at auction for £7,000. Bucknell undertook more work after it became clear that the balcony and steps he had created for the upstairs flat had not been weatherproofed, and had created a damp patch 8ft by 4ft. "It was my mistake," he sportingly declared. "I will put it right for the new owners and pay for it myself."

Barry Bucknell was born on January 26 1912 and educated at William Ellis School, north London. Young Barry soon showed an enthusiasm for design and gadgetry. His father Arthur had inherited the family building and electrical business at St Pancras, and diversified by opening a garage in 1920. Barry joined the firm after serving an apprenticeship with Daimler.

Betty Bucknell had, meanwhile, taken a job as presenter of a cookery programme on the wireless, and a conversation with the producer led to her husband getting a slot on a television show aimed at women, in which he demonstrated how to put up a shelf and make a reading lamp.

Bucknell was a hit at once, although he worried about the consequences. "Plenty of husbands find they have enough to do without coming home to the odd jobs around the house," he mused. Even so, another series, About the House, went on air on St Valentine's Day 1957. His charm won over many in the audience, and Bucknell was, for the rest of his life, seldom free of enquiries about the correct way to build a tea-trolley or a radiator cover.

In 1966, he appeared in The ABC of Do-It-Yourself for ABC TV, but thereafter confined his television work to commercials and small slots on other programmes. He concentrated his attention instead on boat design, producing the Mirror dinghy, named for the newspaper which sponsored it. A family boat, which proved ideal for introducing young people to sailing - the Bucknells had been enthusiasts for years, sailing at Putney, Chichester and off Cornwall - it sold more than 90,000 models.

Bucknell, who kept a workshop at his house at St Mawes, Cornwall, relaxed with gliders, and skiing.

He married, in 1944, Betty Pearn, who survives him with their daughter and two sons.
David Millward
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