Tak­ing it to heart

A fam­ily-re­union show makes adopted Jack Thomp­son cry, write Ross Brundrett and Erin McWhirter

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

JACK Thomp­son knew Find My Fam­ily was go­ing to be a hit the mo­ment he started cry­ing. The 68-year-old ac­tor, who was adopted as a child, found it hard to con­trol his emo­tions as he watched the first episode of the re­al­ity se­ries.

Chan­nel 7 had sent Thomp­son a rough cut of the pro­gram, voiced by some­one else, in the hope he would come on board as host and nar­ra­tor. He watched the show with Lee, his part­ner of more than 30 years, and it struck a deep chord.

‘‘I started blub­ber­ing and Lee said, ‘How will you get through 13 of th­ese?’ ’’ Thomp­son (above) says.

‘‘There’s some­thing about the show that strips away all the ve­neer and gets to the heart. When a fa­ther and child or a mother or a brother and sis­ter re­con­nect, it doesn’t mat­ter that they know the cam­eras are rolling. They lose their self­con­scious­ness and what you see is emo­tion at its rawest.

‘‘You would have to have a heart of stone to wit­ness th­ese sto­ries and not be moved. It says a lot about our need to be loved and to con­nect.’’

A year later, Thomp­son was proved right. Find My Fam­ily is a hit, av­er­ag­ing a whop­ping 1.8 mil­lion view­ers in its first se­ries.

Like Thomp­son, Aus­tralian view­ers have con­nected with the show, which re­unites fam­i­lies sep­a­rated as a re­sult of adop­tion.

Thomp­son says a big rea­son for the pro­gram’s ap­peal is the emo­tions on dis­play are real, not ma­nip­u­lated or man­u­fac­tured. That sets it apart, he says, from other re­al­ity shows.

‘‘A cou­ple of teenagers came up to me and told me it’s their favourite show,’’ Thomp­son says to il­lus­trate the cross-gen­er­a­tional ap­peal.

‘‘One said he watches with his mother and she al­ways tears up. I said to him, ‘What about you?’ and this ma­cho kid said, ‘Aw, some­times’.

‘‘I think this show is very re­as­sur­ing in to­day’s so­ci­ety, to know we are still moved by th­ese very hu­man things. It’s good, and this show has a real pur­pose in that.

‘‘I think it says some­thing about so­ci­ety. When my son Billy did his HSC (year-12) ex­ams, 60 per cent of the class were from sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies. There’s cer­tainly no short­age of ma­te­rial out there.’’

Thomp­son was born Thomas Hadley Pain in Manly in 1940 and was four years old when his mother died. His fa­ther, a mer­chant seaman, was un­able to care for him and his brother David, and he was later adopted by John and Pat Thomp­son.

Film re­viewer Peter Thomp­son is his adopted brother.

‘‘Be­ing adopted was no mys­tery to me. I lived with the Thomp­sons from the age of eight,’’ Jack Thomp­son says.

‘‘Back in those days, if there was an adop­tion hap­pen­ing, the Child Wel­fare Depart­ment put you on a two-year trial pe­riod, then have a look at how it was go­ing.

‘‘I re­mem­ber the day they came — a man and a woman. Peter and I were there and I think we got our hair done or some­thing. I re­mem­ber pretty dis­tinctly them turn­ing up and we were sit­ting on the floor play­ing with a toy train set.

‘‘They had a look around the house, had a chat to my adop­tive par­ents and had no doubt I was a happy boy in a happy home. I think for peo­ple for whom it’s a mys­tery, it’s dif­fer­ent.’’

Does Thomp­son be­lieve there is still a taboo about speak­ing about adop­tion?

‘‘In the 1940s or ’50s, if you were adopted, then you must be a bas­tard,’’ he says.

‘‘There is no longer that stigma.’’

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