Made In Great Britain: New BBC TV series celebrates Sheffield steel and cutlery​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Corin Mellor with the four crafters of Made In Great Britain.
Corin Mellor with the four crafters of Made In Great Britain.

When the team behind a new TV series about the UK's manufacturing prowess needed an expert steeped in the past and present of Sheffield's knifemaking industry, one cutler was more than happy to share his knowledge.

Corin Mellor, creative director of the Hathersage-based David Mellor Design company, helps to lead the first episode of Made In Great Britain, a BBC programme that promises to explain how craft skills shaped the nation, turning it into the 'workshop of the world'.

Corin Mellor, seen in Made In Great Britain.

Corin Mellor, seen in Made In Great Britain.

He guides four makers - a ceramicist, a blacksmith, a cook and a leatherworker - around Sheffield as they learn how the place transformed from a rural market town into the Steel City, internationally renowned for its premium cutlery.

During the hour-long documentary, the makers visit Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet to try forging a scythe, create crucible steel with original methods and go to a surviving factory to make silver-plated items using machine power.

They also meet two of the last generation of 'buffer girls' - women whose job was to sand down cutlery - as well as finding out how stainless steel was first put into commercial use at Portland Works near Bramall Lane.

Finally the group drops in at Corin's factory, housed in the distinctive Round Building, to produce high-end forks from one of his firm's ranges.

"Originally I was only involved in the capacity of making the fork, and then they asked me if I would be willing to do a little bit more and be the Sheffield expert," says Corin, who was born here and in 2005 took over from his father, David, a renowned cutler from Ecclesall who founded the family business.

Corin, who has also just appeared on TV's Grand Designs and Flog It, found the filming 'quite an eye-opener'. "It's incredible how much work goes into a few minutes of television. It was really enjoyable and good fun. The makers themselves were all fantastic - they had different personalities and skills, but they were incredibly enthusiastic."

Opening with impressive shots of the Sheffield skyline to a soundtrack of High Green band Arctic Monkeys, the show has an upbeat tone, arguing that the city has reinvented itself and is still at the vanguard of steel, albeit with an emphasis on quality and complexity these days.

"Sheffield has moved away from mass production and has specialised really in two areas - technology, and the area I'm more familiar with, craft skills," says Corin. "It has a vibrant industry - it's nothing like the scale it used to be in the 50s and 60s, but those skills are still there, and we are still using them."

One of the makers, Jason Stocks-Young, switched careers from digital marketing to get hands-on making leather goods like bags and purses.

"He's great," says Corin. "I think there is a big interest in craftsmanship, how things are made, and materials. I think that's something that's changed over the last 10 years. People are interested in how things are made, and what goes into them, which is great and as it should be."  

He admits he could not envisage a life outside design. "I've been making things since I started off with Lego. I just love doing it."

Made In Great Britain is hosted by Steph McGovern and was shot over six weeks. The other five instalments celebrate cheese in Wensleydale, chocolate in York, hats in Luton, shoes in Northampton and pottery in Stoke, demonstrating both early and modern-day methods of production.

In Sheffield the group of crafters cover all bases - grinding and hammering raw metal, electroplating cutlery and more. But what a worker especially needs, Corin says, is patience. "Many of those skills take years to get the hang of. But if you're a maker anyway - whether you're making cakes or leather belts - you are good with your hands, so you've got a bit of an advantage."

Corin came away having learned that Sheffield's ingenuity with steel, developed over centuries, shouldn't be taken for granted. "It's incredible really how the city has moved on from those early days. It is good we are seeing a bit of a resurgence in craftsmanship. People love to go and buy a special handmade Bowie knife made in Sheffield - even more so, I think, when people can see slightly behind the scenes and how things are made, rather than just buying an object."

David Mellor died in 2009. Corin believes he has successfully moved the design company on, while 'still keeping it small'. Alongside the Hathersage factory there is a café, a shop, and a museum showcasing Mellor classics such as Pride cutlery. An outside ‘street scene’ has examples of David's designs for traffic lights, a bus stop and a post box.

"I suppose I've perhaps tried to put a little bit more context into the company, rather than it just being a shop," says Corin. "The other thing I've got involved in is actually designing things and getting other people to make them, and finding other craftspeople to make things other than just knives and forks, which is obviously what we're known for. That's been very interesting."

Made in Great Britain: Sheffield Steel and Cutlery will be shown on Friday, October 26, on BBC Two at 9pm.