The Daily Telegraph
Doctor Who star’s dismay at how family profited from strike
CELEBRITIES who appear on Who Do You Think You Are? hope to uncover stirring tales about their forebears. But Jodie Whittaker, star of Doctor Who, was forced to confront the “uncomfortable” truth that her ancestors were colliery owners who became millionaires by exploiting their workforce.
The actress said that the information gleaned in the BBC One genealogy programme was difficult for someone who leans “emotionally” to the Left.
During her research, she learnt about the General Strike of 1926, which began when colliery bosses demanded that miners work longer hours for less pay.
Her family-owned colliery was one of the few to remain open during the strike, and made significant profits by selling coal for nearly three times the rate it fetched before the stoppage, while striking miners and their families went hungry and faced a bleak winter.
Whittaker said she had grown up in Skelmanthorpe, West Yorks, knowing that her maternal family had been regarded by locals as “scabs” because they worked through the strike. Through research for the programme, which airs on Oct 12, she learnt that her great-great-grandfather, Edwin Auckland, began working down a mine aged just eight. From those lowly beginnings, he and his sons became mine owners.
When Whittaker’s great-grandfather, also called Edwin, died in 1942 he left £31,367 – equivalent to £1.5 million in today’s money. Together, the brothers were worth £7 million.
“There’s a way of looking at this that is just filled with pride because a man bettered himself and then his entire family, and that family took on that work ethic of grafting and took it to another level... That is a huge success from [being] an eight-year-old miner,” she said. “But the problem is when it comes at a cost. On your doorstep, there must have been enough families that you saw sacrificing so much just to try to have their basic rights.
“I feel uncomfortable because I don’t want in any way to sound as if I’ve been rude towards people in my family, but it ’s where you lean emotionally and [gesturing left] I lean that way.”
Whittaker, 38, told Radio Times that she did not agree with her ancestors’ actions “emotionally or politically”. But she added: “My politics represent me. I didn’t live in that time. I’ve got hindsight.”
At the outset of the programme, Whittaker said that living through the miners’ strike of the Eighties meant that the concept of defying a strike “goes against everything you’re brought up to believe in”.
Upon learning how wealthy the family had been, Whittaker was stunned.
The family wealth was not passed down to Whittaker because her grandfather went bankrupt in his 20s.