Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who Do You Think You Are?

Who would have thought a genealogy programme on TV would be a hit? Tevye and I are engrossed in the second series of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are. The programme has a simple premise - take a "celebrity" (mostly actors, actresses and other TV personalities), trace their family tree, and try to piece together the individual stories behind the names. Without exception the subjects have moved during the course of the programme from mild curiosity - or even cynicism - to complete emotional involvement with their family story. Several times we have shed tears along with them. Last night's subject was the actor Stephen Fry (best known in this household as the narrator on the Harry Potter story tapes!). First they unearthed the skeleton he suspected existed in his paternal grandmother's past. Turned out her father came from a family of Victorian paupers, was raised in the workhouse - where he contracted the TB that later killed him - and had a brother who ended up in gaol for some unknown crime. They then traced the family of his Hungarian Jewish grandfather, who escaped the Holocaust by a quirk of fate that sent him to England in the 1920s to manage a sugar beet factory. Sadly the rest of the family were not so lucky, and on discovering the records confirming the suspicion that his great-aunt and her family had died in Auschwitz Fry wept unashamedly. When he assembled three generations of his family to tell them his findings and read aloud the biographical account of the sole Jewish survivor remaining in his grandfather's hometown (where the pre-War Jewish population was over 1,000) there was not a dry eye in the house. Filmed with real sensitivity, this series is one of the best examples of human interest TV I've seen. Well done, BBC! I only wish Angel and Star were old enough to watch and appreciate it.

Aside: I have to admit to the tiniest twinge of jealousy of the historical researcher for the series, an old friend of mine from my student days (we studied for our Ph.Ds under the same tutor). While I'm thoroughly happy in my role as mother and homeschooler, if life had taken a different turn I can't imagine a job I would enjoy more. All that rooting round in archives, unearthing information and solving mysteries - and getting paid for it too!

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