Friday, 8 June 2018

Who Do You What?

The latest series of the BBC1 family history show "Who Do You Think You Are" has clanked onto the screens rather like the unexpected special trains of the past to holiday resorts during the August holiday's. A mystery to all except for those in the station master's office who had not got around to announcing it.

It might well be renamed "Where Do You Think You Are" in that while the first has been screened, when the next will be, what or who are the persons featured is another mystery. The BBC is not saying, around the web no hints and the actual production company are all blank.

My box says it is one of eight but no more and the schedule listings say there will be such a programme but those forthcoming are another series. But given the lead time between selecting the people for the show, making it, editing it both for BBC screening and then commercial channel screening a lot can go wrong.

Especially, in that it has become something of a celeb' fest, picking out famous faces from popular TV shows and running the rule over their family histories, up to a point. But in the internet age etc. today's loved and much followed celeb' can be dust within hours or days if they make unwonted remarks on the social media or have their collars felt by the fuzz for their very human weaknesses.

So did Wall To Wall, the show's producers perhaps start with a series of ten or a dozen and get unlucky as time progressed to finish up with eight to go and then very late in the day lose one or more? I think we should be told.

The risks of this have become much higher not just because of the concentration on celeb's but the programmes are now High PC in their content not just in the few facts we are now given but the history in question. We do get some facts, accessible documents in archives, many now online, are what they are.

The history, however, is another matter. The programmes are let us say, flexible in their interpretation of the possibilities and way of life of long ago. One major aspect is that they do individuals. But in the past our ancestors more often functioned as a part of an extended family and its connected networks.

The lady in the programme, Michelle Keegan, was found to have an Italian way back named Parodi, who went from Genoa in Italy, who leaves his home to go to Gibraltar and does very well. This is put down simply as a poor individual making good. But there was a Parodi family in Genoa who were a local clan.

Given Genoa's status as a major trading port and a wealth centre through the middle ages up to the late 18th Century given the trading of that city along with the Portuguese mariners on a world basis anyone pitching up in Gibraltar will have had a long contacts list. Perhaps the programme did not want to get into the detail as to what trades might have been involved.

The other major part of the programme took us to Lancashire where Michelle could do the accent being a local lass. Here we had the suffragettes linked to her Kirwan ancestor, Emmeline Pankhurst's name being on the certificate. It was said she was the Registrar, which implies much of the population would have had the same connection.

But the 1911 Census has Elizabeth Kirwan as a Suffragist, hailed as being a statement of her individuality. But the return was done by her husband, John, who might just have had an Irish sense of humour. It also went against the Suffragettes refusing to be recorded on the Census. But it did not finish there.

There was the lady living in a street of rented houses, who was vital to the community of working class people there in that she knew and was told everything and even held the rent books. How wonderful. But I recall people like that. They were often put in by the property owners as a supervisor and acted as their information source and also the local copper's nark.

The programme ticked all the PC boxes. I suspect we are in for a lot more of this with swathes of real history either ignored or compressed to accord with our modern model of thinking.

If you want to clear your mind go to the Youtube Mitchell and Kenyon archive films of some of the earliest moving pictures in the UK. I knew a few of that generation, they were not what the BBC either like or want.


  1. The other major part of the programme took us to Lancashire where Michelle could do the accent being a local lass.

    Which accent - Skelmersdale or Bootle?

  2. Bootle has a certain je ne sais quoi lacking elsewhere. Michelle's was the other side of Lancashire north of a place whose name I dare not speak.

  3. I agree, the Mitchell and Kenyon films suggest a world we cannot really know unless we knew a few from that generation. Others are bound to get it wrong.

  4. All the other dozens or hundreds of ancestors are ignored. In this case even the father and all his family were ignored. If you trawl back far enough in any family you are bound to find someone interesting. Especially if the production crew can get travel to nice places.