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Potters prepared for influx as the BBC Great Pottery Throw Down returns with Sara Cox

By Angela Cole

They’ve thrown pots on each other’s heads, made some of the biggest, wackiest clay creations you can imagine, and one of them was a record breaker.

Just pipped at the post to be judges on the BBC’s Great Pottery Throw Down, Aylesford master potters Mark “Billy” Byles and Alan Parris are expecting an influx of would-be potters wanting to try their hand at the wheel of throwing fortune with the series returning.

It was a close call for the experts’ role on the show, which has started a second series.

Billy Byles and Alan Parris, master potters at Aylesford
Billy Byles and Alan Parris, master potters at Aylesford

The modest pair, based in an idyllic spot in the grounds of Aylesford Priory were invited to audition. “We were close to being judges,” said Alan. “We went and had interviews and tried out for it. We didn’t get it but we’ve watched the show and think it’s good for pottery, that’s for sure. Everyone wants to throw a pot! There were some interesting tasks that they were set.”

Following the last airing in 2015, they were inundated with people wanting to have a go – and there’s been no let-up.

“A lot of people rang us for classes – people that had never been before. To be honest the demand for it hasn’t lulled.

“People say to us ‘I just wanted to throw a pot because I’ve never done it before’. People just want to come along for a day – they have no dreams of becoming a potter or anything. They have a go and they’re absolutely hooked.”

For Alan, he became hooked at school. “It is like learning to play an instrument really – you’re always improving. I look at all the stuff I made last year and I think I could have made that a different way."

There’s no doubt throwing is therapeutic, although if you’re heading to the pottery for a class, expect a few laughs, too.

Have a go on a potter’s wheel
Have a go on a potter’s wheel

Alan says: “When they are sitting there concentrating, it takes all the worries out of them. You go into your own little world. I find throwing and turning very therapeutic."

The pair run classes through the week. Billy has been a record breaker, having held the Guinness World record for making the most pots in an hour – 150 and their classes include fun sessions like Raku – which means “enjoyment” in Japanese – where people can make a pot in a day and it is fired outdoors in an open fire, with Alan or Billy putting on full protective gear to handle the hot pots.

Alan has encouragement for all, regardless of ability. “If you are completely cack-handed and you don’t feel you have an artistic bone in your body I can show you a few things that you can make simply and get amazing results from.”


With Alan and Billy, beginners are in safe hands. They hold classes for all abilities and ages – there’s a kids’ club on a Saturday once a month which you can drop in to.

Classes are generally for 10 people – enough for one potter’s wheel each – and have a relaxed atmosphere. Beginners are given a tour of the workshop and shown every stage, from wedging (“like kneading dough but taking the air out, not in”) through to glazing.
It takes three weeks to complete a pot.

“There’s always plenty of laughter,” said Alan. “People always come out with something.
“They all go home with a big smile on their face, covered in mess. Some people are very tentative about it when they arrive but later when they’re covered in it, they’re loving it.”

For details of all courses, call 01622 790796, email enquiries@aylesfordpottery.co.uk, or visit aylesfordschoolofceramics.co.uk

Sara Cox has presented the Great Pottery Throw Down Picture: PA/ BBC/ Mark Bourdillon
Sara Cox has presented the Great Pottery Throw Down Picture: PA/ BBC/ Mark Bourdillon


A sister show to The Great British Bake Off, The Great Pottery Throw Down is going nowhere, unlike its edible counterpart, and is back on the BBC, with Sarah Cox again on hosting duties.

Made by Love Productions, the company behind Bake Off, series two sees another 10 plucky amateur potters compete to become the champion of clay.

For this series, there’s a good mix of contestants ready to be judged by master potter Keith Brymer Jones and ceramic artist Kate Malone.

The potters are given three creative challenges each episode, designed to test skills and showcase craftmanship.

The Great Pottery Throw Down is on BBC Two on Thursdays at 8pm.

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