Keith Brymer Jones writes emotional memoir on his rise to stardom from Great Pottery Throw Down



It was the first task in the first episode of The Great Pottery Throw Down that Keith Brymer Jones did something unusual for a television judge: he started crying.

Tears have now become his hallmark, the equivalent of an appreciative handshake from Paul Hollywood in Bake Off.

But it’s no wonder the host is so emotional as he reveals an undercurrent of tough love, his battle with dyslexia, watching his grandfather die, and finding his beloved mother dead.

Recalling his first tears on television, the master potter said: “I was crying because someone in the studio couldn’t get something to the drying room in time.

“I was as shocked as anyone else.

Keith, 56, takes it all in his new book about his life behind the wheel
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“I remember hearing the director or someone in the monitor room say, ‘My God, KBJ is crying, one of the judges is crying, hurry! Put some cameras on it!’”

Keith recounted how he struggled more to control his emotions in the first series finale with co-host Sara Cox, but was told to let the floodgates open.

He said: “I remember turning to Sara Cox and saying, ‘I hope I don’t start crying again because even it’s making me nervous, I can’t say what I want to say!’

“I remember the director running out of the monitor room and saying, ‘Whatever you do, Keith, don’t stop crying, it’s television gold.'”

Keith, 56, is the beating heart of one of Britain’s most beloved shows, in which amateur potters take part in a Bake Off-style competition.

Keith with Sara Cox, left, and Kate Malone – They were the hosts and judges for the first two series of The Great Pottery Throw Down
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Keith’s new memoir is titled Boy in a China Shop: Life, Clay and Everything
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He is publishing a memoir on how his delicate craft led him to international recognition and succession.

In it, Keith reveals how his life went from ballet dancing to being in a punk band, all the while finding solace in pottery.

Growing up in Woodside Park, North London, Keith showed an early passion for the arts.

Regularly appearing in dance competitions, there was even talk of Keith attending ballet school until his teenage years molded his body into the “wrong shape”.

But before he left dancing at the age of 16, he was very willing to suffer for his art.

Keith says, “In a way I compare dancing to pain, especially when you do it with such intensity.

“I’ve never really struggled with physical pain at all, I think it’s probably because of my father.”

To illustrate, he says his dad pulled his big toenail off with pliers in the garage because Keith thought it would help him stand on his toes more easily.

Keith also remembers his first swimming lesson when his father threw him in the deep end when he was three or four years old.

He said: “My dad said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m here, just swim to the side.’ It would probably amount to child abuse these days, but it did.”

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Keith, now living in Kent, did not discover pottery until a difficult period in his young life.

At 11, she was still in her first year at St Mary’s Church of England Secondary School in Hendon, north west London, when she witnessed shocking trauma seeing her grandfather fall down the stairs to his death.

Says Keith, “It wasn’t surprising that it didn’t really take me to high school, I felt like it was scary and unnerving.”

But it was at St Mary’s that his love affair with ceramics began, finding a safe haven in Mr. Mortman’s art room.

Within days of first trying pottery, Keith was behind the wheel of the classroom during lunch and after school.

He says: “It was like a religious calling.

Subsequent series of Throw Down have seen Keith joined by Siobhan McSweeney and Rich Miller.
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“This is in the 1980s and ceramics departments in schools were about to disappear; often the equipment was there but no one was using it.

“That was me. I still remember to this day touching clay for the first time and it was an epiphany moment.

“I was dyslexic, and clay is the perfect medium for a dyslexic. I often give talks to schoolchildren and say, ‘If I hadn’t been dyslexic, I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now.’

Keith pursued his passion throughout his teenage years and took an apprenticeship at Harefield Pottery at the age of 18.

Serious potters there, Alan Pett and Robert Hudson, had Keith shoveling clay and brewing tea for months before allowing him to cast his first simple shapes.

His apprenticeship also involved taking criticism for his family’s Welsh heritage, as well as enduring some pretty extreme practical jokes.

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On one occasion, Keith had pepper spray sprayed into his nose. In another, he was tricked into drinking magic mushroom tea.

Says Keith, “It was definitely a college of life, let’s put it that way.

“I’ve never had magic mushroom tea before, or since, actually, maybe because of that experience.”

While working long days sitting at the potter’s wheel, Keith spent his nights in the spotlight as the leader of a punk band, a million miles away from the father figure you see on screen today.

His group, The Wigs, wowed music critics with their out-of-control live shows.

A characteristic routine at his concerts involved Keith jumping through the crowd and pretending to bite willing participants in the groin. He suffered many injuries, but he said “the pain was worth it.”

After parting ways with Harefield Pottery, Keith was able to open his own pottery in Highgate, north London, in 1990, the same year The Wigs last played and broke up.

Throw Down contestants compete in a Bake Off-style challenge
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It was at Highbury Pottery in 1994 that Keith answered the phone and heard his neighbor tell him that his beloved mother had died.

Rushing home, she found her mother in the kitchen, sitting lifelessly in a chair against the refrigerator door.

When the police arrived on the scene, Keith was determined to make them tea, but realized he couldn’t get milk out of the fridge.

He explained the situation to his neighbor, who kindly left him some, but the strangeness of the situation struck him deeply.

Says Keith, “Obviously it was shocking and tragic at the time, and it really affected me.

“There are certain situations in life where you think, ‘Wait, this is weird.'”

It wasn’t long after that that she met Dom Speelman, with whom she founded Make International, a pottery and homeware design company.

It was with Make International that Keith’s work life was transformed from making pots all day to designing objects of pure desire, with the production part of his work moving to factories in China.

And she caught the eye of Bake Off producer Richard McKerrow when she donned a dress and beehive wig for a memorable YouTube video to promote her company.

She sang a parody of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep – ‘Rolling Clay With Keith’.

Richard cast Keith as a judge on a new TV show, The Great Pottery Throwdown, which started in 2015 and is currently airing its fifth series on Channel 4.

Keith became a TV favorite after being seen in a parody video.
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Since then, Keith has become a fan favorite for his displays of excitement as potters transform balls of gray clay into bowls, tea sets and vibrating clocks.

Keith says, “You have 12 people in a room. They are very passionate about what they do.

“They’re on national television, for God’s sake, and they’re judged for what they do.

“That requires tremendous bravery.

“When they’re standing on the other side of the judges’ bench, and, oh, I’m going to start crying now…”

He takes a moment to collect himself, then says, “When their creation actually works for them, I can’t help but delight in it.

“Let’s put it this way, it’s not like Matt Hancock is crying.”

Boy In A China Shop: Life, Clay and Everything by Keith Brymer Jones is now available to order (Hodder & Stoughton)




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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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