Art-stopping drama! As Fake Or Fortune returns for a seventh series its hosts Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould reveal the secrets behind the show’s success

Fiona Bruce and her telly husband, the art expert Philip Mould, share personal history.

The pair – who teamed up first on Antiques Roadshow, then on art sleuth show Fake Or Fortune? – became close when they holidayed together many moons ago.

‘We didn’t actually go on holiday together,’ Fiona recalls. ‘We were in the same place, so our families met up. And we became firm friends.’

I point out that holidaying with your co-host is quite unusual, and she starts to giggle. ‘I’ve holidayed with Peter Sissons, too,’ she laughs.

‘I’d never met him, even though I presented the Six O’Clock News then and he presented the Nine O’Clock News. I was in awe of him.

‘But when we got off our flight, there was Peter. It turned out we were in the same hotel. It was hilarious.

‘We’d come down with armbands and rubber rings for the kids, and we’d meet Peter – armed with a bottle of Champagne and an ice-bucket. We had a real blast.’

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that adding some Fiona Bruce to your life is always a good idea. But she wasn’t part of the original pitch for Fake Or Fortune?.

‘Art history can be pretty arcane, and is the sort of stuff you normally think about putting on BBC4,’ admits Philip.

But the pitch, he reveals, ended up ‘in that wonderful curious sort of way in which the BBC works’ on the desk of Jay Hunt, then-controller of BBC1 – who immediately saw it could appeal to a mainstream audience.

With one proviso – it needed a Fiona Bruce (authoritative, with the right ratio of gravitas to giggle).

‘It was exactly right,’ admits Philip. ‘She brought that adroit questioning and journalistic vigour which, frankly, the art world can do with, because there is an awful lot of unnecessary mysticism there.’

In the show – now hurtling into its seventh series – viewers are introduced to an artwork, that may or may not be an original, and its owner (who often wears a pained expression, given they may be about to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds if the authenticity is in doubt).

Philip and Fiona frequently cross the world to find the truth.

What does the viewer get – apart from the urge to root around their loft to see if there might be a lost Picasso lurking? The satisfaction of seeing a real old-fashioned mystery solved, says Philip.

‘It’s very much a whodunnit, where you don’t know the answer until the last minute.’

The original working title for the show was Sleuth (‘though it would have had to be Sleuths,’ says Fiona, a stickler for detail). When the BBC said they wanted the title Fake Or Fortune?, Philip and Fiona were aghast.

‘They thought Sleuth sounded vague and elitist,’ says Philip. ‘But Fake Or Fortune? sounded like a game show. Echoes of Family Fortunes.’

Fiona also thought it was low-brow, but had worked for the BBC long enough to know not to throw her toys out of the pram over it.

‘There are some things you don’t question – titles and scheduling among them,’ she says. ‘They wanted a title that does exactly what it says on the tin.’

The show was a runaway success. And while Fiona and Philip admit the art establishment was sniffy at first about a TV show muscling in on their world, the mood has mellowed.

‘It’s lovely that big galleries and organisations are coming to us now for help – a real turnaround. We’ve shown we’re meticulous in our research,’ says Philip.

The methods the team uses to establish authenticity are mind-blowing. Tiny fragments of paint are analysed to see if that particular blue is in any other of, say, Constable’s paintings, while X-rays can examine what is underneath it.

And just as in non-art detective work, the science is always improving. ‘In the seven years we’ve been doing it, the technology’s come on in leaps and bounds,’ says Philip.

‘But the fakers have become more expert too. They work hard to get around every advance.’

The new series kicks off with quite a biggie in art-world terms. A viewer called Lyn is distraught because a painting she bought in 2006 for £165,000 suddenly seems to be worthless.

The still life, of a jug and some pears, was thought to be by British artist William Nicholson and was once displayed in the London gallery of Lyn’s aunt, Lillian Browse, a doyenne of the art world.

But in recent years the ‘catalogue raisonné’, the official list of all known works by an artist, was published and this painting was left out, meaning its validity was questioned. ‘It’s one of the frustrating things about the art world,’ admits Fiona. ‘The opinion of one person holds tremendous sway.’

For Lyn, the opportunity to prove the Nicholson is bona fide is highly personal as well as financial. Would her aunt, who once convinced the Queen to loan her paintings for an exhibition, really have had a fake Nicholson in her gallery?

The quest to find out takes us to Canada and involves a forensic examination of the painting, and Nicholson’s life. One intriguing contribution comes from a self-confessed art forger.

Has he ever forged a Nicholson, he is asked. Much hangs on the outcome, and there is high drama involved.

‘That’s why the show works so well,’ says Philip. ‘It’s an emotional human story.’

What other whodunnits do we encounter? Fiona and Philip head to France to examine two sketchbooks found in a garden shed, given to a teenager, Alain, by his grandmother in 1965.

Remarkably, she said they were by French Post-Impressionist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. But when Alain presented them to the committee that authenticates Toulouse-Lautrec’s work, they said they were by René Princeteau and worth far less.

Another episode investigates a sheet of watercolour sketches said to be the work of British 20th-century sculptor Henry Moore. The sheet was in a Nazi hoard of around 1,500 works discovered in Germany in 2012, and now housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, Switzerland.

The Museum, needing to authenticate every piece, has asked Fake Or Fortune? for help.

Fiona and Philip need to establish two things: firstly, is this a genuine work by Henry Moore and, if so, how did it end up in a Nazi art hoard? The answers will decide its fate.

The show has made Philip a household name and has proved life-changing for Fiona. Art is now a real passion for her. Does she dabble in buying art now too? ‘Ah, yes, she likes to have a little flutter,’ says Philip.

She laughs. ‘I do buy paintings but I’m not in Philip’s league. If you go to his gallery, then come to my house, it’s a very different thing.’

How much does she spend? She squirms. ‘Hundreds, not thousands. But I love them. I love looking at them. I love buying them.’

And does she seek Philip’s opinion before brandishing the credit card? Of course she does.

‘I’ll send him a picture and say, “What do you reckon?”. Once I bought one he said he could sell, which I was chuffed about.’

She also confided in him about one-that-got-away (she was outbid) and he sprang into action. ‘It rankled because it was a lovely picture.

And Philip said, “You’ve got to have that. Let’s make a counter offer”. So we did – but to no avail.’

Fiona isn’t a regular at the art auction houses. Afraid of being spotted bidding, and sending the price soaring, she often puts a bid in beforehand.

‘I wouldn’t want anyone to say, “That’s the woman off that art show. She’ll know what she’s doing”.’ That would be priceless, but for all the wrong reasons.

Fake Or Fortune? returns tomorrow at 9pm on BBC1.