Blowing smoke

Wellcome Collection team at QI
Back row (l-r) David Mitchell, Jeremy Clarkson, Alan Davies. Front row (l-r) Wellcome Collection’s Sophia Austin, Valerie Brown and Poppy Bowers

It’s not just artworks like Bernal’s Picasso that go on the road. Sometimes even the humblest object from Medicine Man is called forward for its hour in the limelight. Valerie Brown recounts what happens when the BBC called with an unusual request…

In Visitor Services we like to accommodate the unusual and the unexpected, as well as encouraging exchanges with visitors that can range from the extraordinary to the quite interesting.

In the vein of ‘quite interesting’, some months back we received a request from the BBC asking if we could provide a tour of the permanent galleries on the theme of the letter H for an episode of QI with Stephen Fry.

Naturally, we decided that this task should fall to the only member of the VSA team whose name began with H, the lovely Honor Prysor Jones, who sadly has since moved on to other things. Amongst the items included in the tour were talismanic hands of Fatima, paintings depicting haemorrhages, and a variety of heads and healers. After much scratching of heads, the theme of ‘Health and Safety’ was alighted upon by the QI team and in due course a request was received for the loan of our wonderful tobacco resuscitation kit.

The resourceful Poppy Bowers from Public Programmes was detailed to ensure the health and safety of our precious artefact, monitor its condition, record its vital signs and generally note any indications of over excitement brought on by the outing. Together with Sophia from Communications and myself (currently researching the practice of tobacco resuscitation for a dissertation) we set off for the TV studios.

On arrival Poppy instructed Stephen Fry in the very careful handling techniques necessary for precious artefacts and we watched the rehearsals and recording, reflecting on how we would run our own version of QI. The tobacco resuscitator was then duly returned to its usual habitat in the ‘End of Life’ case in Medicine Man.

The episode can be seen on BBC next autumn, but if you would like a preview, please do come and visit Medicine Man!

Valerie Brown is a Visitor Services Assistant at Wellcome Collection.

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