Tag Archives: bbc one

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.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Jason Donovan

31 Aug

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Jason Donovan was an enjoyable and interesting programme, but not outstanding. For me this series has so far lacked any really memorable (for the right reason) episodes.

I was a little surprised to find Jason Donovan on the UK version of the show rather than the Australian version, but that didn’t really matter as I was keen to learn a bit more about Australian family history. Whilst we learnt quite a bit about convicts (was anyone really surprised that he had at least one convict ancestor?), I would have liked to learnt more about everyday records, like those of birth, marriage and death.

That being said the stories uncovered were interesting, focusing mainly on three individuals, the two earliest ancestors being different sides of the same coin, convict and guard. It was the second of these, William Cox, that provided the most interesting story, travelling to Australia with his family and ending up as a pioneer paving the way for the growth of the Australian nation.

I was a bit confused by the preview of programme which said that they uncovered a miscarriage of justice, sure the punishment of transportation was harsh, but there was no indication why this should be seen as inappropriate for the time or any irregularities in the trial.

This episode did produce my favourite line of the series so far, when Jason told his first cousin once removed that he had been “too interested in myself for too long”. I don’t think it is just Jason that feels this, I think many people at one time or another realise this is case and wants to find out more about where they came from.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Alexander Armstrong

24 Aug

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring comedian and actor Alexander Armstrong was another enjoyable episode. It was good to see mention made of his appearance in a spoof of Who Do You Think You Are? from the Armstrong and Miller Show, which has been doing the rounds since it was announced he would be appearing on the show, at least the producers of WDYTYA don’t take themselves too seriously.

Initially I was a little disappointed by the fact that so much seemed to rely on published genealogies and pedigrees, in fact after they opened up a copy of Burke’s Irish Landed Gentry in the first few minutes I was beginning to wonder whether there was going to actually be any need to do any new research.

I think I tend to forget that published genealogies can be a valuable source in themselves, maybe not a primary source and not always 100% accurate, in this respect it makes them much like many other sources. Just because my ancestors do not appear on them doesn’t make them any less important.

There did seem to be a little bit of background research going on, but I felt this episode was more about Armstrong actually following his family tree rather than tracing it. So although most of the work had already been done it was interesting to watch the branches of his family tree creep back further and further, and his ancestors get wealthier and more influential/powerful.

Armstrong was quite enthusiastic about the whole exercise, although perhaps more as a spectator than an active participant, with him being given things to read next rather than him asking the questions and deciding which branches to follow. I got the impression it was a very well mapped out journey he was taking, but an interesting and enjoyable one nevertheless, with a couple of interesting twists.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Rupert Everett

27 Jul

To be honest I was a little disappointed with last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? I must also confess that I still have no idea who Rupert Everett actually is (I obviously don’t waste enough time watching TV and films), although I did miss the first couple of minutes which would probably have told me more about his career.

The story was more interesting to me than last week’s episode, there at least appeared to be some proper research research going on, but my first complaint was that there were too many loose ends left dangling.

It appeared on screen that virtually no effort was put into finding out what happened to the wives of Frederick William Cunningham Everett when he sailed off into the sunset. I am sure some more research must have been done, but if the only searches were the two census searches that we saw on screen then I am not surprised that his first wife wasn’t found.

It was almost as if they were leaving that avenue of research open for some audience participation, but they weren’t quite bold enough to say it. I am sure there will be plenty of people online today looking for her, trying to prove they can do a better job than the show’s researchers.

What really frustrated me the most were Everett’s ‘flights of fantasy’. He seemed to have a very vivid imagination and lack of hard evidence seemed to allow him ample opportunity to fill in the gaps. The informant on Frederick’s death certificate “must be some old sailor hag”, even though all he knew was a name (not even a first name just initials and a surname) and address.

I can’t let the use of the word “navvy” go unmentioned. Someone please correct me if I am wrong but merchant seamen, or any other type of sailors, have never been called navvies. I always thought navvy was short for navigator, and that navvies were the labourers responsible for building canals and railways.

Two episodes into this latest series and it is starting to seem to me that it has reached the end of it’s life. It will be interesting to see what the ratings say, but this avid genealogist is beginning to wonder if it is worth watching the rest of the series.

Who Do You Think You Are? Bruce Forsyth

20 Jul

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring the entertainment legend Bruce Forsyth, was the first of the nine episodes in the new UK series.

Whilst the story of Bruce’s great-grandfather Joseph Forsyth Johnson was quite an interesting one, a successful landscape gardener with a wife and family on both sides of the Atlantic who died poor, the way the story was told seemed very long-winded to me.

The way the research was carried out seemed incredibly laboured, or at least that was the way it seemed on screen. I was left with the feeling that given access to the right online database (and a trip to the Family History Centre) I could have done most of the search in a couple of hours. They didn’t seem to stray very far from census returns, passenger lists and directories, most of which are easily accessible these days.

I am sure there was more research going on behind the scenes. One of the first things I would have done is contact the American ‘cousin’ to see what she knew. I expect the researchers probably did, but just didn’t show it on film. The overall impression was that they were dragging the story out to fill the full hour.

I feel the story surrounding his two wives was not really explained, but to be fair probably it never would be satisfactorily (through lack of records), but the fact that Joseph was coming back over to England to visit his children suggests that the split with his first wife may have been amicable (from the diary some of his children certainly didn’t seem to bear him any bad feeling), rather than him running away to America and abandoning them, which was the impression that I got from watching the show.

I even found the ending of the show rather predictable, the saccharine closing comments of the narrator about the cemetery, were not unsurprising and I would have been disappointed if Bruce hadn’t made some effort to have the grave of Joseph marked in some way, after all I am sure he has the money to be able to afford it.

Overall it was an interesting story, but it probably could have been told in half the time. Alright perhaps for the casual viewer, but for a demanding (impatient?) genealogist it fell short of previous episodes.

Who Do You Think You Are? US – Brooke Shields

5 Jul

Sunday night saw the screening of another episode of the US version of Who Do You Think You Are?, this one featuring actress Brooke Shields.

At the start I was beginning to wonder if there was going to be any genealogy, as it seemed to take ages to get moving and away from the fact that she was from New York.

The first part in Newark was quite interesting, not only because of the obligatory ‘celebrity trying to work a microfilm reader’ shot, but also because of the picture that the historian was able to paint of the neighbourhood.

I did feel that the programme left this side of the family a bit prematurely. I would have liked to find out where the (probably) immigrant ancestors had come from, but I guess the travel budget was being saved for the other side of the family.

The other side of the family was the rich and famous side, and as such there was no genealogy seen on screen, other than the handing over of a scroll with her father’s ancestry already laid out for her.

We have seen this several times on the UK version, where the show moves away from researching and interpreting the lives of the ancestors, to capturing the reaction of the celebrity as he/she is revealed to be the descendant of increasingly wealthy/powerful/pious individuals.

Brooke Shields seemed genuinely interest and enthusiastic as she was shown paintings and sculptures of her illustrious ancestors and it certainly made for great television. Like the previous episode, the best place to find out more details is on the NBC website, not the BBC website.

Coming up next week is Susan Sarandon, on BBC One at 10.35pm on Monday 12th July 2010.

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