Page last updated at 08:10 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 09:10 UK

Charitable OAPS on being famous

Mary Portas (c) and the volunteers
Since the first show was broadcast takings at the charity shop have increased

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Opposite a bakery at the end of Orpington's busy high street is the UK's most famous charity shop.

The Save The Children store, which has been open for 20 years, has recently undergone a complete revamp as part of a three-part BBC series.

Mary Queen of Charity Shops has seen retail expert Mary Portas work with the elderly team of volunteers to revitalise the layout and improve stock.

But the shop assistants, mostly aged between 60 and 80, proved hard work for Portas, clashing with her as she fought to change the way they had been running things for years.

So far, it seems her work has paid off with takings up from £600 a week to more than £3,000.

Now, four months after cameras stopped rolling, the programme has been broadcast - and the staff are clearly revelling in all the attention they have received.

New found fame

Jean Page, 83, who has worked in the shop since it opened, says she is now stopped by strangers who want to say hello.

"We've been asked for our autographs too," she says laughing raucously.

Graham Harrison
I don't think they portrayed me fairly, but it's one of those things isn't it?
Graham Harrison

Despite her new-found fame, Ms Page is very clear about why she continues to volunteer.

"I do it for the friendship and to know the effort you put in helps to save the children," she says.

Wendy Bailey, 82, who has worked for the organisation for more than 20 years, says she, too, is recognised when out shopping.

"You meet people in the street who now greet you," she says steaming a white cardigan at the back of the shop.

In fact, she is in the stock room - the scene of more than a few heated arguments during filming, as Portas demanded the area, which resembled a teenager's bedroom, be sorted out.

Although the trestle table, which Portas set up to help organise the donations, is still there, it is laden with garments, toys and various knick knacks.

Rails and rails of clothes hang around the perimeter of the room and there is a huge wooden frame stacked almost to the ceiling with unsorted bags of donations.


Graham Harrison - the shop's only male volunteer at the time of filming - admits it is not as tidy as it once was.

"When you have stuff coming in all the time in bags, it's very difficult to keep it neat and pristine," he says.

But, he adds, it is still "much, much better than it was before".

Today, Mr Harrison is a valued member of the team and was encouraged by Portas to take on the role of temporary manager.

But not before the retail guru gave him a dressing down over his Christmas window display, which she said failed to showcase the best stock in the shop.

"She had a go at me," he says, "but her intention wasn't to come in and upset people".

Brenda and Mary
Initially, Brenda did not agree with Portas' plans

"I was a little bit disappointed with the way it was put out. I don't think they portrayed me fairly, but it's one of those things isn't it? That's TV."

The 55-year-old admits he enjoyed making the series, even though the cameras "were always in your face".

And he, too, is getting "used to the attention". People he has not seen for years have dropped into the shop to say hello, he says cheerily.

According to Save The Children, the documentary has been a great success, raising awareness of their high street shops and improving the quality of donations.

However, despite the huge drive to get people to donate better goods, the odd grey bra does still slip through.

And on the morning of the interview, staff were forced to clear up a pool of vomit that had been left on the doorstep.

But there is an upbeat and excitable atmosphere in the shop.

'Tea and biscuits'

An almost brand new Lacoste shirt found in a black binbag causes delight amongst the team, who claim designer clothes are being left far more frequently.

Lots of people come and go and many customers are keen to chat to staff about the TV series and, especially, what Portas was like.

From a viewer's perspective, it has been intriguing watching pensioners take part in a reality show.

The stock room
The stockroom was one of the first things Portas sorted out

Mrs Bailey thinks the experience has been positive because it has shown viewers how active her generation can be.

"I think people now realise that we're not just old ladies sitting and waiting at home for people to call us up," she says.

Mr Harrison adds that they all take their work very seriously.

"The first programme showed tea and biscuits being handed out as though that was happening all the time," he says.

"That's a very very minor part of the whole thing, we probably have a cup of tea for 10 minutes during the whole day."

For some though, the show became a bit too much - and several volunteers left.

But Ms Page says that, despite the moaning, most have come round to the changes.

"They're all happy and we've all adjusted. We were stuck in a time warp and we needed to move up-market."

And there are no hard feelings towards Portas - although Ms Page concedes that she occasionally needed to be put in her place.

"I stood up to her," she says proudly. "But most of the time she was lovely."

For manager Jo Khalef, who was employed by Portas in January, the show's success has come as something of a surprise.

"I didn't really expect all this, it's so much bigger than I thought," she says.

"Since the show began we've been getting busier and busier. We've been run off our feet."

The final episode can be seen on BBC Two on Tuesday at 2100 BST.

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