Secrets of the Museum is a six-part BBC Two documentary about the V&A, showing the work of the museum’s curators and conservators. The long-anticipated third series is airing on BBC Two tonight (7 April) at 20:00 and will take viewers out of London to the V&A's family of museums and partner institutions.
The films explore the variety of the V&A's collections, and the complexities in preparing them for display in their galleries. UK audiences can watch the previous two series for free on BBC iPlayer. Of special interest to textile enthusiasts is Series one, episode one, covering both the care of a perennial favourite from the V&A Museum of Childhood, Pumpie the Elephant, along with a look at the preparation for the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition.
Pumpie, as he is known, was made in 1890s for the children of the Cattley family, Maud, Donald, Constance, Helen and Gilbert, who lived in Ealing. The children were all born in Estonia, then part of the Russian Empire, to a British merchant. Due to age and moth damage, Pumpie needed significant restoration by conservator Jo Hackett, who stabilised him so that he can be enjoyed by more generations of children.
Episode three includes the acquisition of Quant objects for the museum's recent Mary Quant exhibition, which was helped by the public #WeWantQuant campaign, and the conservation team’s work on a 19th-century jama. They carefully clean and repair the jama – a style of garment worn by men in India for centuries - which is embellished with gold and pieces of jewel beetle-wing cases. The garment needed delicate conservation before it could be put on display.
Image: Lace dress labelled 'Mary Quant’s Ginger Group', 1964, UK. Museum no. T.58-2018. Given by Jenny Fenwick.
Episode five features a mysterious Louis Vuitton trunk, owned by American socialite Emilie Grigsby (1876 – 1964). Emilie’s dress collection went to the V&A in the 1960s, and includes garments made by some of 20th century fashion’s biggest names.
Other highlights include the acquisition of two items of major contemporary fashion resonance: a Molly Goddard dress (similar to ones worn by Jodie Comer in Killing Eve, Beyoncé in Black Is King and Rihanna) and JW Anderson’s crochet cardigan worn by Harry Styles, which sparked a global crochet phenomenon after it was duplicated on Tik Tok by a social media influencer in LA.
The third series will tell an even broader story of the V&A’s activity across the UK, taking viewers out of London and across the V&A’s family of museums and partner institutions – from V&A Dundee, and V&A Wedgwood Collection in Stoke-on-Trent, to the development of new sites V&A V&A East and Young V&A. It will also follow objects on loan to Blackpool’s new Showtown Museum and trace new acquisitions back to their creative origins. For the past 8 months, cameras have followed V&A experts across these sites as they research, plan and prepare for upcoming exhibitions and acquisitions.
Episode 5, to be broadcast on Thursday April 21st at 8pm, will feature the conservation of a 19th century Jamdani at the V&A and will include interviews with some of the people who contributed to Muslin Trust's Bringing Jamdani to England.
Every object tells a story, and each programme follows the V&A’s experts at work. Told through the day-to-day lives of the dedicated and world-class team, the hidden history of each object is uncovered, from how it was made and why it matters, keeping these stories alive for future generations.
Watch the latest series on BBC Two from Thursday 7 April at 20:00, or watch the series 1 and 2 on BBC iPlayer.