As a born and bred Stokie, I’ve an instinctive affinity for pottery. Whether it’s plate turning in restaurants to check the backstamp for a local label, offering guests a brew in one of my collection of Emma Bridgewater mugs, or arranging a bouquet in my Wade gluggle jug, there’s something that has always drawn me to the Staffordshire heritage.
As such, imagine my delight when Channel 4 announced a brand new show, The Great Pottery Throw Down, filmed right here in the fair city of Stoke-on-Trent. Immediately hooked, I fell in love with the show, and of course, grew extremely fond of head judge Keith Brymer Jones.
I had the pleasure of meeting Keith at an awards night in 2022, and he is truly one of the loveliest people I have ever met. He quickly became an adopted Stokie, having held an exhibition in Newcastle-under-Lyme, judged the Your Heroes Awards, and was even a guest speaker at a TedX talk at Staffordshire University, where he earned an honorary doctorate.
Shortly after Christmas, I purchased Keith’s autobiography: Boy in a China Shop: Life, Clay and Everything, and began reading it during the launch of the Great Pottery Throw Down season six.
And I have to say, it’s one of the most beautiful, funny, emotional and heartwarming reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of picking up.
Keith is a man who isn’t afraid to wear his passion on his sleeve – but it hasn’t always been that way. Born in London, the story documents the cornerstones of his life, from the moment he held his first lump of clay and the possibilities he held with it.
The blurb reads: “Ballet dancer. Front man in an almost famous band. Judge on The Great Pottery Throwdown. How did all that happen?
“By accident mostly. But I always say we make our own luck. What if an art teacher hadn’t given me a lump of clay? What if the band had been really successful? What if I hadn’t taken a photograph of a bowl to the buyer at Heals in London? What if she’d hated it? Or hadn’t seen it… What if I hadn’t agreed to dress up as Adele to make a crazy YouTube video?”
Every chapter of Keith’s book is based around an object (usually a pot) that’s been significant in his life. He sifts through memories and tells heartwarming stories, touching on his family, career, his struggle with dyslexia, and every curious moment and person he’s happened across that touched his life in one way or another.
Keith adds: “So here it is – my pottery life with some very loud music and some pretty good dancing. And a lot of throwing, fettling and firing. Oh …and a good dose of anxiety.”
His often too-honest account of his life makes for a comical and entertaining read. Like me, Keith Brymer Jones often chooses to deal with trauma through humour, and it’s a superpower to be able to see that light in the dark.
But between his personal and incredibly interesting stories about himself, Keith also indulges his readers with quickfire history lessons on the pottery industry and process, which I found particularly fascinating, such as Clarice Cliff being the first woman in Stoke-on-Trent to buy her own car.
I am also fiercely proud of how Keith loves our city as his own, and there’s a quote from the book that has really stuck with me.
“I am hopeful for the future of Stoke-on-Trent,” he said. “There is so much history there for the industry simply to disappear.”
Down to earth, utterly hilarious, insightful and at times, emotional, Keith’s autobiography is as wholesome as an episode of the Great Pottery Throwdown, offering all of the ups and downs, but ultimately, light relief and an escape from reality we all crave and find comfort in.
There is no denying that he has lived his 57 years to the brim and at break-neck speed, and between that Adele video and psychobilly punk band, the master potter has worked unimaginably hard to get to where he is today. And this book has been crafted like a vase that shows every indent, every turn, every accidental or intentional flourish that has made him the person he is.