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'Secrets Of The Museum' Season 2 — all you need to know about the new BBC2 series

Secrets Of The Museum.
Secrets Of The Museum goes glam rock! Inspecting the famous red suit worn by Jim Lea in Slade. (Image credit: BBC)

Secrets of The Museum is making a welcome return to BBC2. Cameras are back behind the scenes of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A), one of the most famous museums in the world, to uncover the secrets of its greatest treasures. But it’s not all about ancient artefacts and dusty old relics. As we'll find out, there's pop memorabilia and TV nostalgia catered for too, with 1970s glam rock band Slade and classic comedy Fawlty Towers getting exhibits.

So here's a guide to all we know about this second series of Secrets of The Museum...

Secrets of The Museum Season 2 release date

Secrets Of The Museum Season 2 is a six-part series starting on BBC2 from Tuesday 20 July at 8pm. Each episode launches on BBC2 weekly but all six are now available on BBCiPlayer. 

Secrets Of The Museum Season 2 highlights — the Slade red suit

Secrets Of The Museum will reveal how among the museum’s eclectic collection are thousands of stage costumes, including a red lurex and velvet suit recently donated by Jim Lea, bass guitarist for the legendary Slade, which he wore back in the band’s 1970s glam rock heyday!

"I think the first time I wore it was for performing our big hit Cum On Feel the Noize," says Jim in the first episode of Secrets Of The Museum (and see the Youtube clip of the performance below). 

"It was my calling card in the band. The trouble was it looked great but as soon as you started doing anything it would rip. I must have bought 12 or 15 over the time I was wearing it!"

Jim’s museum donation is the only one of his red suits that’s survived Slade’s raucous gigs. But it’s still ripped and faded, so textile conservator Jo is tasked with a tricky repair before it can be exhibited alongside costumes worn by other pop legends.

With the 50-year-old lurex fabric too weak to hold stitches, Jo must reinforce it with a silk patch before using a thread that’s so fine it’s almost invisible to the naked eye.
She’s not the only conservator hard at work in the first episode, though. We also get to see the restoration of a rare Renaissance watercolour, and the painstaking installation of a 500-year-old wax sculpture by Michelangelo.

But as Jim’s trademark outfit is finally mounted on to a mannequin, he makes a special visit the V&A to see it before it goes on display. "When I told my mum, who’s 95, that the red suit was going to be given to the V&A she was over the moon," says Jim. "And it looks fantastic — it’s like meeting an old friend!"

Jim Lea rocking away with Slade in the 1970s, wearing his famous red suit.

Jim Lea (on left) rocking away with Slade in the 1970s, wearing his famous red suit. (Image credit: Getty)

Secrets Of The Museum Season 2 highlights — Manuel's Fawlty Towers costume

In episode 2 of Secrets Of The Museum, there’s a new outfit at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum that curator Simon Sladen hopes will deliver a big laugh — the costume worn by the late actor Andrew Sachs when he played Spanish waiter Manuel in the 1970s comedy series Fawlty Towers (do give it a watch on BBCiPlayer, BritBox, and Netflix)!

The costume has been recently donated to the museum by Andrew’s daughter, Kate – and, although it’s in great condition, it still has some soup stains from filming! 

"For us, this is gold dust," says Simon, senior curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance. "The icing on the cake is the little bow tie, and I also want to retain the soup splattering because it’s part of the story, it’s part of the history of comedy."

Textile conservator Nora has been given the very tricky task of cleaning the costume before it goes on display, without removing the all-important soup stains.

Meanwhile, it’s all go elsewhere in the museum, too, as 112-year-old bear Tommy Tittlemouse is checked for insect damage, and a new exhibition on Iranian art means somehow installing the longest paintings ever shown at the V&A. 

Finally, Manuel’s famous outfit is unveiled at the museum’s Laughing Matters display and Kate Sachs is there to see it in person, as she recalls fond memories of her dad, who died in 2016. "On Sundays I’d go with him and watch episodes of Fawlty Towers being recorded in front of a live audience," says Kate. "Yes the sets would wobble but it didn’t matter. It was just such a special thing to go to those rehearsals and see why people loved Manuel so much. 

"Dad also introduced me to the V&A. We used to come together so this is a special way of honouring him. I wish I could bring him with me to see it, but I’m just thrilled that people are going to get a chance to get to know him a bit more."

Fawlty Towers cast - Andrew Sachs in Manuel's white jacket.

Fawlty Towers cast — Andrew Sachs (on right) in Manuel's famous white jacket, alongside John Cleese, Prunella Scales and Connie Booth. (Image credit: BBC)

Secrets Of The Museum Season 2 highlights — Dame Shirley Bassey's sparkling catsuit

Further episodes of Secrets Of The Museum Season 2 will feature the world of author Lewis Carroll, and the amazing dresses worn by legendary Welsh singer Dame Shirley Bassey.

Join curator Kate from the Theatre and Performance Department as she embarks on a new ambitious exhibition celebrating Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books. At the heart of the exhibition Kate hopes to recreate the famous Mad Hatter’s tea party by bringing to life director Jonathan Miller’s inventive film adaption of the book from 1966. To help her pull off her bold plans, Kate has enlisted world-renowned theatre designer Tom Piper.

There’s a new addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s eclectic collection of stage costumes – a jewel encrusted catsuit created in 1969 for Dame Shirley Bassey! The skin-tight ensemble featured on her iconic Diamonds Are Forever album cover, but it was also the Welsh singer’s personal favourite, which she even wore in 1997 for her 60th birthday extravaganza. But after almost 50 years of performances, the cherished outfit is losing its sparkle. Some of the glass beads and crystals are missing and there are tears in the silk chiffon.

"We were very lucky to acquire the outfit for the collection," says Theatre and Performance curator Simon. "It’s always a joy for a curator when you see something from one of the most significant recording artists of all time, and for us to have a piece of that history is very special. But this is incredibly intricate, delicate material and probably one of the most complicated items I’ve ever worked on. The team really have their work cut out."

Over two weeks senior textile conservator Susana painstakingly refastens the beads and fixes each tear using a specially adapted needle and a magnifying glass. But the material is so delicate it could rip at any time. Meanwhile, there’s also some time consuming work for conservator Susan, as she begins a conservation project to restore a rare set of ancient Chinese paintings that will take 20 years to complete! Finally, all the hard graft on Shirley Bassey’s extravagant catsuit pays off, as it’s fitted to a mannequin and finished off with a lavish cape trimmed with blue ostrich feathers. "It’s astounding, it almost feels like staring at Dame Shirley Bassey herself!’ says Simon. ‘It’s certainly a showstopper – and it’s such an honour to have this amazing piece go on display for visitors to enjoy."

Secrets Of The Museum experts work on Shirley Bassey's famous catsuit.

Secrets Of The Museum experts work on Shirley Bassey's famous catsuit. (Image credit: BBC)

Shirley Bassey wearing the catsuit in her heyday.

Shirley Bassey performing in the catsuit in her heyday. (Image credit: Getty)