NEW SERIES PREVIEW
We get the inside track on the new series of WDYTYA? plus how to research your Scottish kin
Ready for the BBC’s annual feast of family history – the rip-roaring genealogical revelations, thrilling detective work and emotional ups and downs? Get your hankies and notebooks ready, Who Do You Think You Are? is back for its 12th series on 13 August bringing the family histories of 10 of the UK’s top celebrities vividly to life.
If you can’t wait for the crackle of parchment and the whiff of velum as your favourite star opens those dusty, centuries-old documents to reveal their ancestors’ amazing stories, then read on for a sneak preview of what’s in store.
This year the stories are plucked from all corners of the globe – from Tunisia to Shoreditch, Warsaw to Liverpool – spotlighting historic themes from the past three centuries and earlier, and characters that will have you racing to the archives to investigate your own ancestors.
Kathryn Taylor, series producer, says: “We’ve managed to find stories that are a little unusual and take us to further flung destinations – stories that we don’t so frequently find – stories that push us further back in time. One celebrity finds an ancestor who started off life in Scotland and ended up in Tasmania having been convicted of a crime that we would now think of as petty, but for which they were transported.”
One of the dominant themes this year seems to be that of escape. There is a daring flight from Nazi-occupied Europe, Manchester mill workers who kicked off their clogs and risked all to start a new life in the New World, an eminent Frenchman who led a double life and sought refuge from persecution, a Leeds dyer who made an unusual career move to sidestep the life of working class drudgery the generations before him had led – and a convict who earned his freedom but never quite made good his escape.
Paul Hollywood’s episode is tipped to be opening the series at the time of going to press. It tells the story of the maternal side of The Great British Bake Off judge’s family. Paul’s roots are in Wallasey, Liverpool, and the starting point is his grandfather Norman Harman who Paul was very close to as a child. “Paul was very curious to find out about Norman’s life before he was around – and especially his wartime experiences,” explains Alice Fraser, who researched his episode.
Norman had never spoken about the war, but had a nervous tic – and Paul gradually uncovered the shocking cause of this. “Very often it’s the things that are under our noses that can tell us the most – the documents that get stuffed into boxes and hidden away in attics,”
I’d like to be the King of Ireland. But if I was, I’d be quite gracious
explains Alice. “In our case Jill, Paul’s mum, kept many telegrams and letters that Paul’s grandfather had sent to his wife. These were a treasure trove and gave Paul a glimpse into what Norman was thinking and feeling at that time.”
Other military records allowed the team to plot Norman’s movements and tell his wartime story. “Paul has a huge respect for his grandad and that drove him to find out as much as he could – he was very moved by what he learnt about what he had been through.”
Another strand takes Paul up to the Highlands for an encounter with some very spirited ancestors including his 4x great grandfather. “We were able to find some memoirs relating to inhabitants of the area of the Highlands where Paul’s family came from and that gave us some quite lively and colourful accounts of his forebears,” says Alice.
Kathryn admits to having a couple of favourites among this year’s episodes: “One is incredibly tragic – Jane Seymour’s story, which takes her back to her Polish-Jewish past. That has some real tragedy in there, which is incredibly affecting. The other story that I find really unusual is Derek Jacobi’s journey into his family’s Huguenot past. He took his family tree back to his 6x great grandfather and all the way to the court of Louis XIV. From there, it led back to England where we found relatives linked to the Protestant court of William III, William of Orange. I found it thrilling as the research fell into place.”
The series runs from 13 August on BBC One at 9pm for 10 weeks with a break on 3 September.
We learnt about the American settlerss at school. I can’t believe
my relatives actually did it