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Who Do You Think You Are? on the BBC TV Blog

14 Aug

I still haven’t got around to watching the first episode of the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring June Brown, so I will withhold judgement on that, but if you want to found out more about the making of the series then check out the following post on the BBC TV blog.

In the post Tom McDonald, the executive producer for this series, describes some of the work that goes into making the series and discusses some of the issues faced when dealing with some of the more difficult topics covered in the this and past series.

What really comes across in this blog post is the amount of work that goes into producing each series, with 30 celebrities being researched to produce a series of just ten episodes. It sounds to me as if a programme about the making of each episode would be just as interesting, documenting the research process and sharing the breakthroughs that are made along the way, many of which I am sure that we never see on the finished episode.

Thanks to Gary Andrews of the BBC TV Blog for bringing this to my attention.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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Who Do You Think You Are? is back for another series – but am I really bothered?

4 Aug

I noticed yesterday that J.K. Rowling was on the front cover of the Radio Times, heralding the start of the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? in the UK. Of course I have seen various announcements prior to this, but to be honest I haven’t really taken much interest in the upcoming series.

I suppose I should be getting excited about the new series, after all it is bringing genealogy to the small screen, but really is it going to be worth the effort to watch it? A couple of years ago I would have been getting excited about the prospect of a new series, but this year I couldn’t really care less.

What are the reasons for this?

  1. Quality – the last couple of series have on the whole been rather disappointing, most of what I can remember about the last couple of series is how annoying/uninteresting/dull I found a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, there were some high points, but I am struggling to remember them.
  2. Time – I don’t have a lot of spare time, so taking sixty minutes out to watch television is not something that I do lightly. There are probably much more enjoyable and productive things I can do with my time.
  3. Past my bedtime – I know it starts at nine o’clock only lasts an hour, but I have to be up at 5:15am the following morning (and every weekday morning) so I like to be in bed by 9:30pm. I know I could also watch it on the BBC iPlayer, but I know that I am never going to get around to actually watching it.

Having said all that, it is my “reviews” of WDYTYA? that attract the most visitors to my blog (which sometimes annoys me because they are not coming to read about my ancestors but to read about celebrities), but they are visitors nevertheless. So I really ought to be writing about the series, in fact no self-respecting genealogy blogger should be missing out on it.

So I really ought to give it a try, but if I find myself shouting angrily at the television in the first episode or starting to nod off then that will be it.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
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More BBC Domesday Project information

16 May

For those of you able to access BBC iPlayer there is the opportunity to find out even more about the BBC Domesday Project.

An hour-long programme in the Archive on 4 series on BBC Radio 4 was devoted to the story of the project and was broadcast on Saturday 14th May 2011 and is available on the BBC iPlayer until the 21st May 2011.

It is a fascinating look at the origins of the original project and it’s resurrection, the challenges faced in gathering the data and working with the technology. It features interviews with those responsible for different aspects of the project including some of the children involved in gathering data.

It also features archive recordings from news reports at the time, and for people of a certain age just hearing the theme tune to John Craven’s Newsround will bring back memories of time spent sitting in front of the TV after school, watching the “boring” news before something more entertaining started.

Even if you can’t access the BBC iPlayer the programme’s website gives you a taste of what the programme was about. Even if you are not interested in the contents of these Domesday disks, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt in data storage, preservation (or lack of it) and recovery.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.
Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
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Thirty minutes well spent

6 Jan

I don’t watch a lot of television, apart from Who Do You Think You Are? there is not much else that I would make the time to watch. This evening I put aside 30 minutes to watch the first episode of series two of Great British Railway Journeys on the BBC iPlayer.

I didn’t watch the first series and very nearly missed this one. In this episode former MP Michael Portillo travels by train from Brighton to Crystal Palace via Godstone (although Godstone is a bit of a way out if you are travelling from Brighton to Crystal Palace) armed with a copy of George Bradshaw‘s Tourist Guide.

The programme was is a travel documentary with plenty of history (and historic film) and discussions with historians thrown in for good measure. It helped of course that the places featured were familiar to me.

Starting at Brighton on the Sussex coast we saw the Brighton Aquarium (now the Sea Life Centre) which I think I have only visited once, probably about 30 years ago whilst still at school, I really ought to go back again this year. Then we heard about the long destroyed Chain Pier and took a ride on the Volk’s Electric Railway.

Heading up the railway line towards London we saw briefly the magnificent Ouse Valley Viaduct, which I believe at least once of my distant relatives helped to build. In fact I would imagine that plenty of my relatives were involved in the construction of the London to Brighton railway, if only there were records to prove it.

Portillo took a detour to spend the night at Godstone, Surrey. I have been through Godstone on the train several times, but have never actually visited despite have connections there with my GASSON ancestors. I certainly had no idea that there were underground quarries there and wonder if my ancestors had anything to do with them.

The programme finished at Crystal Palace, an intriguing place with a fascinating history. I paid a brief visit to the park and the remains of the Crystal Palace last year as part of my Capital Ring walk. It was one of several places on that walk which I hope to be able to visit again to explore the park and museum further.

This programme seemed very personal to me, it was almost as if the programme was made specifically for me, truly thirty minutes well spent. Now where can I get hold of one of Bradshaw’s Guides?

“Tracing Your Roots” is back for another series

23 Sep

The genealogy radio programme Tracing Your Roots is back for another series on BBC Radio 4, in fact it started last week but I am only just catching up with the news. This is series five and there are five episodes in the series.

Each week presenter Sally Magnusson and genealogist Nick Barratt look at a different aspect of genealogy, mainly focused on investigating particularly tricky or unusual stories around a particular theme. For example the first episode of this series was based around tracing ancestors who vanished without trace.

The programme usually focuses of four or five stories, and features interviews with those carrying out the research and then Nick Barratt will discuss possible avenues of research or the results of his investigations. Unlike the TV series Who Do You Think You Are? this programme features ordinary people not celebrities and each story is quite brief.

Nick Barratt is probably the UKs best known genealogist, so the programme it is a great place to pick up hints and tips to help in your research and to discover new sources and where to find them and how to use them.

One of the best things about the series is that it is available as a podcast, which is great for people like me who can’t be listening to the radio at 4pm on Tuesdays when the programme is broadcast. The other good thing (for listeners in the UK at least) is that you can currently listen to all the episodes from series four online at the BBC website.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Alan Cumming

14 Sep

The producers of Who Do You Think You Are? were certainly saving the best for last. Last night’s episode featuring actor Alan Cumming was without doubt the best episode of the seventh series, and probably one of the best episodes in the show’s six year history.

Alan Cumming was an enthusiastic participant and one that I had heard of previously (although my memories are of The High Life rather than any of his more acclaimed performances). At the start seemed to be enjoying hearing about the stories his grandfather’s bravery a little too much, but my heart really went out to him at the end with the story of his grandfather’s tragic and needless death.

He certainly didn’t seem prepared for the shocking details and I certainly felt more than a little uncomfortable watching his reactions on screen. In an episode that focused very much on the effects that war and killing can have on someone’s mental health, I couldn’t help but wonder what effect the programme might have on Cumming himself and ultimately his mother, and wonder if perhaps the programme went a little too far.

Ironically I had earlier in the evening written (in a private email) about how I felt there had been a lack of any real emotion in this series and I can safely say that this was the only episode where I personally felt any real emotional reaction whilst watching the series.

As well as being an excellent episode in itself, it has also served to highlight just how mediocre some of the previous episodes in this series had been. The “shocking” story of Bruce Forsyth’s bigamist great-grandfather that opened the series was nothing in comparison to the truly heart-breaking story of Cumming’s grandfather.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Hugh Quarshie

7 Sep

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC One was in my opinion probably the best of the series so far (and we are almost at the end now). It featured Hugh Quarshie, an actor who I had never heard of until Who Do You Think You Are?, although once again this is a reflection on my viewing habits rather than his ability or “celebrity” status.

I would admit that I was not really expecting to find this story very interesting, I have no experience of African research and thus no real interest in the subject, but as it turned out the story produced what for me has been the most memorable, engaging and emotional episode of the current series.

The most notable feature was the difference in the research process from other episodes. This episode relied mainly on oral history, tradition and unofficial sources, with most of the archival research taking place almost the very end of the programme. It was great to see this method being used so extensively and only being followed up with documentary research later on (although I am sure the researchers had done their stuff earlier on).

It was good to see a participant who was so actively involved in the journey, and showed real enthusiasm and passion for the story. It was truly heart-warming to see Hugh being introduced to so many relations as the story unfolded. In truth much family history research bears little relevance to everyday life, but here was an example where being descended from a particular person really meant something in the present day.

The final closing piece to camera produced another memorable line, “It’s not only that there is no black and white, but there is so much colour in this story”. A truly wonderful sentiment on which to end the show.

On a more personal note, many years ago at school I was forced to study Ghana as part of my geography lessons, and it was this aspect that turned me off the subject of geography so entirely. In retrospect I think now that it was probably the teaching that was putting me off rather than the subject itself, as I am sure I learnt much more in this one hour than an entire term of lessons.

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