David Dickinson’s years of ‘fear and despair’ in prison before Real Deal breakthrough

Michael McIntyre's The Wheel: David Dickinson puzzled by answer

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The much-loved presenter, who has been a fixture of daytime television for decades, turns 80 years old today. Mr Dickinson found success in the noughties with hit BBC show Bargain Hunt before making the switch to ITV in 2006 to host daily antiques show Dickinson’s Real Deal. The TV star was an antiques salesman before a chance meeting with a BBC producer at a barbecue led to a two-part documentary about Mr Dickinson preparing for an antique show at the Olympia.

He subsequently became a favourite among viewers thanks for his regular appearances as an antiques expert on This Morning and BBC Two’s the Antiques Show before landing the presenters role on Bargain Hunt.

However, before his television success, Mr Dickinson served three years of a four-year prison sentence for mail-order fraud at just 19 years old.

The scam saw the future daytime star buy goods on credit, before selling them and recycling the money back into the business to gain a better credit rating.

He was charged with conspiring with others to defraud several firms in a two week trial at Manchester crown court.

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Mr Dickinson, who served the majority of his time in Manchester’s Strangeways prison, opened up about his experience in 2003.

He told the Mirror: “It didn’t seem real.

“In those first days, shock was the overriding experience, then, gradually, I accepted this was my own fault.

“When I embarked on the venture, I knew it to be wrong. I had been greedy, I wanted too much.

“I hated every moment, but I knew I had to get through – I vowed I would never do anything to put myself back in this position.

“I had brought shame on my family; I’d been a cocky young thing.”

The Dickinson’s Real Deal star was locked away with murderers, gangsters and spies, including Peter Kroger, the Briton who spied for the Russians in the 1950s and stole atomic secrets.

Mr Dickinson said: “The only way to survive each day was to take it on the chin.

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“It was like facing the bullies at school, but far worse – every day there was a new dragon to defeat.

“The biggest ones were despair and fear – there are men who have nothing to lose by hurting or killing.”

Like other ‘white-collar’ criminals, Mr Dickinson was sent to work in the prison canteen and spent his earnings on chocolate and stamps.

He was later transferred to Liverpool’s Walton jail and said: “The place was run by men who were so hard it was like an island where warlords ruled.

“At the top of the prison hierarchy was the criminal elite.

“They were violent men but there was also another side to them.

“Many had come from generations of criminals who had always lived outside society.

“A few couldn’t read or write – they would approach me to write a letter for them to their loved ones, and in turn they would befriend me, keep an eye out for me.

“Oddly enough, it was against their code to pick on weaker men. In their language this was a liberty.

“Within the prison environment these hardened men get your respect.

“I learned to mind my own business and I vowed when I got out I would leave it all behind me – I went to the library, got books, started to study.”

Of course, Mr Dickinson dragged himself back from shame upon leaving prison and his career took off in the mid-nighties after the TV legend began working with antiques, selling 18th and 19th century furniture.
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