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Insights: An interview with Sue Pryke

As part of our new series of insights into the life, business and practice of Design-Nation members, we asked ceramicist Sue Pryke some questions about her time as the new judge on The Great Pottery Throw Down.

Design-Nation asked: How did the Throw Down opportunity come about – did you apply or were you approached?

Sue Pryke answered: Love Productions, who produce the show contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in being a judge.  I hadn’t envisaged myself in this role or in fact any role on TV, it hadn’t crossed my mind. They arranged a screen test with some of the production team and Keith and ran through some mock up situations and of course, talking about ceramics, especially with Keith, came easily.  I felt at ease with the team as soon as I walked into the room so everything just fell into place.

D-N: How long did filming take for each episode? Can you describe a typical filming day and what’s involved?

S.P: The filming took about 10 weeks altogether, each episode has different requirements, some challenges need more time for building and for firing, drying times are really important and time was allocated to account for longer times for some larger scale and complex work and others needed a shorter amount of time, so episodes were arranged around each process and material.

D-N: Did you know Keith before you became a judge?

S.P: I’ve known Keith for a long time, we’re more or less the same age and we both make ceramics, and we’ve both been doing the same trade fairs for more than 20 years.  Pottery is a small world.

D-N: Did you see the completed episodes before they were screened? How do you feel about seeing yourself on tv?

S.P: The only snippets of the show I saw were play backs during filming, the edits take so long to complete as they have to fit several day’s worth of filming into a 50 min show… so it really is quite exciting every Wednesday to sit down at 9pm and see the episode for the first time.

I suppose my screen persona is different from how I see myself, but everyone perceives themselves differently to how others view them.  So it wasn’t a massive shock, it’s just a slight adjustment of how I think of myself.

D-N: How difficult was the judging in terms of selecting who leaves each week and an overall winner? Did you have fixed criteria to work to?

S.P: Judging was really difficult! The potters are all home potters, self-taught and with limited experience. Matt for instance was inspired to take up pottery because he saw the Throw Down.  But, the standard is extremely high, they are all talented makers. Some weeks the deliberation is endless!

As with any brief there is a fixed criteria, we have to have clear outlines to follow in order to judge and the potters need clear objectives as well.

D-N: Were all the clothes you wore on the show your own (you look fab every week! or did you have a stylist ?

S.P: There was a stylist for the show to style me, Melanie and Keith, but mostly we are wearing our own clothes just with a few extras and a bit of balancing so it works well on screen… some colours and patterns just don’t work well on camera.

D-N: What do you think the impact of Throw Down has been?

S.P: I love the Throw Down as it’s been really instrumental in getting people interested in ceramics.  With ceramics disappearing within schools and single honours courses at higher education depleted to just 2 courses in the UK, it’s been great to see that there is an interest in the craft and with more courses evolving within communities it’s just brilliant!

D-N: Do you see tv programmes in a different light after being involved in Throwdown?

S.P: What I do know, is there’s an enormous amount of work that goes into each show, a lot of it isn’t seen.  There’s a whole team that produce the challenges, who do huge amounts of research into the theme for the week, the history, the current context, the materials, firing temperature, clay bodies, and best practice which are all there to support everyone including the potters.

There’s a format to each episode and a lot of what we record doesn’t make the edit.  The Bake Off and Sewing Bee have similar formats, they are all made by Love Productions so I have an insight into how these are put together.  It’s a real feat too, the directors and production team are so talented to be able to capture every moment and knit it altogether for viewing into something really engaging, it’s a joy to be part such an amazing show.

D-N: Will you be back as a judge for the next series?

S.P: We haven’t heard about a further series yet, but I have loved every minute of it, what’s not to love!

D-N: Did you get inspired by the contestants?

S.P: The potters are lovely, so determined, I think their tenacity is something that really shines through, you’ve gotta be inspired by that!

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Laura Jacometti


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