Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of watching some of Roy Underhill’s earliest episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” – a PBS show he’s been filming since 1979 at UNC-TV in Chapel Hill, N.C. The photo to the left is a screen capture of Roy from what I think is the first season – possibly even the first episode, because in it, he’s introducing the overarching objective of “The Woodwright’s Shop,” and telling viewers what they’ll be seeing as the season progresses. It’s awesome; I wish I could share it with you.
In 1979, I was 11 years old and cared a lot more about soccer, horseback riding and reading Susan Cooper than just about anything else, but I have hazy recollections of turning on the television as a pre-teen only to see Roy’s smiling face (I must have been misbehaving though, because I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV – or maybe I was visiting with my grandparents; my grandfather trained as a cabinetmaker when he was a young man, and took up woodworking as a hobby later in life).
Since I’ve become keenly interested in woodworking in the last decade, I’ve tried to catch as many episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” as possible (except episode 3107; that one…I just can’t). And now, having seen (or perhaps re-seen?) some of the earliest shows, I’m astounded by how very little Roy, his love for traditional craft and his on-screen demeanor have changed. He’s now filming what I think is the 33rd season, and he remains every bit as enthusiastic as he was when he started. And he’s still wearing the same hat.
But I have to say, my absolute favorite episodes aren’t about woodworking. I guess it’s because I like learning about new things – and while no doubt every expert he has on the show (not to mention from Roy himself) has something to teach me, I’m most intrigued by the tinsmiths and lock makers and blacksmiths and seat weavers, because I know nothing about those crafts. Or maybe I just haven’t see the absolute best woodworking episodes yet.
So I’m interested in hearing in the comments below about your favorite show(s) – especially if you’ve been watching for three decades. Do you have a preferred season or a favorite guest? Do you prefer Roy when his hat was still pristine or now that it has (more than) a few miles on it – or somewhere in between?
Heck – maybe it’s impossible to narrow it down. I have yet to see an episode I didn’t enjoy. Roy’s sheer joy at sharing traditional craft always shines through, and that’s a delight to watch – no matter what the topic.