Royal author, actor and Celebrity Gogglebox TV personality Gyles Brandreth has opened an exhibition in Petersfield showing off his famous colourful knitwear.
Petersfield Museum and Art Gallery plays host to a display of items of knitwear designed and worn by the former Bedales School student.
Gyles, 75, the vivacious raconteur, TV and radio celebrity, royal author, actor, politician (the list goes on) started this knitwear legacy 51 years ago with the Scrabble jumper.
The jumper was given to him at the Scrabble competition he’d organised.
Gyles said: “It is bright yellow with a Scrabble board on the front, and on the board written in Scrabble tiles, all hand knitted, are the words GYLES BRANDETH LOVES SCRABBLE.
“There’s a mistake. My surname is actually Brandreth. But I didn’t mind the mistake because I know those Middle Eastern carpet weavers would often include a deliberate mistake in their weaving because no-one but the Almighty can create any work of art that is perfect. It’s imperfect but I don’t mind that.”
The exhibition also features the jumper design worn by the late Princess of Wales which said ‘I’m a luxury’ on the front with ‘few can afford’ on the back.
He continues: “You are what you wear. So if you wake up gloomy on a Monday morning, give yourself a bit of heart, cheer up your life and put on a novelty jumper.
“The jumpers couldn’t be anywhere but in Petersfield. This is my kind of space,” he said, referring to the museum.
“There’s also my childhood, the connection to poetry and costume, and a tearoom here.”
At the exhibition opening, he made a speech in the courthouse to more than 60 guests including local dignitaries and the chairman of the museum, former town mayor Vaughan Clarke, 82.
Gyles told funny stories and tales of his life, from his early days of learning to play Scrabble with his headmaster John Badley, founder of Bedales School in Sheet, to how Maurice Saatchi, the 1970s advertising executive, told Gyles people would remember him because of his memorable jumpers.
Gyles hopes people will come and visit the exhibition and enjoy the display.
“I have three achievements in public life – introducing the Marriage Act in 1994 so people could marry in venues other than the registry office, putting in a rotation of displaying artwork on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, but maybe this ‘iconic knitwear’ will be my legacy.”
He shot to fame with his famous jumpers in the 1970s and 1980s and created a range of designs with late designer George Hostler.
I have three achievements in public life – introducing the Marriage Act in 1994 so people could marry in venues other than the registry office, putting in a rotation of displaying artwork on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, but maybe this ‘iconic knitwear’ will be my legacy.
During the pandemic, fans took to Twitter, demanding Gyles bring back his jumpers.
One fan tweeted: “Desperate times call for desperate measures. We need cheering up, bring back the jumpers.”
Gyles said he went down to his basement and found all his old knitwear he hadn’t worn for 30 years.
Every day, for the first 150 days of the pandemic, he wore a different jumper while performing a short poem – and the tweets went viral.
What was once a collection of thousands is now reduced to 365, one for each day of the year. Many were sold at charity auctions before his stint as city of Chester MP, where Gyles swapped colour for his grey parliamentary attire.
Miraculously, the only jumper in the exhibition that has any moth damage is Gyles’ teddy bear design.
His advice for moth management is: “Line your drawers with charcoal and place paper down on top to prevent that getting on the jumpers – and the moths don’t seem to come near.”
Enjoying the exhibition, Mr Clarke said: “My favourite jumper is the Scrabble board because it’s spelt incorrectly. It must have sent the knitter apoplectic to discover the mistake.
“Having Gyles as a patron gives us a much wider coverage than we’ve ever had before. And he’s a chap with such good humour and very light-hearted.”
Petersfield resident Haden Dodd, 88, who attended the event, said of the jumpers: “I like them all. I’ve just come to see what they look like at close quarters and they are very nice indeed.”
His wife Edna, 83, said: “My favourite is the flying pig because it’s different, and I quite like different.”
Louise Weller, the head of exhibitions and collections at the museum, curated the content of the show.
She said: “I’m only an amateur knitter – a pair of gloves and a little teddy bear. It’s quite inspiring to think up an idea that would go on a jumper.
“On display in the exhibition there are three knitting design books Gyles co-wrote.
“There is a strong engagement project running alongside the exhibition. One thing close to Gyles’ heart is an initiative called Poetry Together. It uses the idea of poetry to bring old and young people together by learning a poem and then performing it.”
After the summer, the display will change for an autumn collection, with more wild and outrageous jumpers.
Gyles also admits he still has his eye on the local news.
“I’ve been reading the Petersfield Post since about 1961 and it’s about my favourite newspaper... almost. Certainly, my most favourite local newspaper.”