The Daily Telegraph
Stirring wartime stories with, as ever, a dash of 007
Essentially Who Do You Think You Are? minus the bits where relatives end up in a Victorian poorhouse, My Grandparents’ War (Channel 4) is a well-made show. This edition featured Kit Harington, an actor you may know from Game of Thrones. The series usually has actors as its subjects, which is a smart decision. They know what makes good television, and in the absence of a presenter they are able to carry the whole thing.
Harington was a likeable guide and subject as he explored the backgrounds of his grandparents. His paternal grandparents, John and Lavender Harington, were colourful figures. They met in the Caribbean while working for British intelligence during the Second World War. John was a high-ranking officer whose duties included keeping tabs on the Nazi-sympathising Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
This was all great stuff, so there was really no need for the programme to throw in some guff about James Bond, but it is somehow law that anything relating to British spies must include 007. The tenuous link here was that John Harington was based in Jamaica, and Ian Fleming spent time there too, and so could John have been Fleming’s inspiration?
“I’m now going to go and tell everyone that my grandfather was actually Bond!” said Harington.
The actor’s maternal grandparents had a more ordinary war, in the sense that they did not cross paths with the rich and famous, but their experiences were just as worthy of note. Mick Catesby served as an officer in the Royal Artillery and fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino, for which he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. His wife, Pippa, became a nurse in Exeter, a career which she loved but gave up when Mick returned home. His time in Italy left him with what we would now name as PTSD, and their marriage sadly broke down. Harington said that his grandfather never spoke about the war and did not even want to acknowledge that he had won a medal.
Amid the sadness, though, it was the lovely written accounts of the courtships that illuminated the stories. Pippa fell in love with Mick when, as a patient in her hospital, he gave her his tin hat during a bombing raid; or Lavender telling her family that she had become engaged to John after only a week: “not goodlooking”, she informed them, but “delightful sense of humour… loves shooting, fishing and sailing. Loves me into the bargain.”
Broadcasters have been choosing their schedules with care over these past few days. But Channel 5 knows it has a programme that provides comfort to the nation:
All Creatures Great and Small, back for a third series.
The focus of this episode was the wedding of Helen and James. Now, Helen has form in this area, having jilted her last fiancé. And if this show were Eastenders the following exchanges would be alarming. Helen, the day before the wedding: “I’ll see you tomorrow.” James: “You can count on it.” And Helen to her father, as the ceremony approached: “I’m marrying James this afternoon. Nothing’s going to get in the way of that.”
In soaplands, these lines can only be portents of doom. Not in this show, where the writers know their audience. What we wanted was a heartwarming wedding, set against the backdrop of the glorious Yorkshire Dales, and that’s what we got.
Not that things went according to plan. This is TV, after all. So we had the well-worn devices of a dog eating the rings, and the groom waking up confused after a well-oiled stag do, then arriving at church at a sprint. And a plot that could only appear in this show: the groom and his best man spending the morning of the wedding testing a herd of cattle for TB.
This time it was James (Nicholas Ralph) who appeared to have cold feet, but he turned out to be preoccupied with the war and a nagging feeling that he should sign up. “His sense of duty will be the death of him,” Tristan said of James, and one wonders if the writers do plan to send James off to war (Alf Wight, aka Herriot, did join the RAF in 1942 but returned safely).
The emphasis here, though, was on happier stuff. James and Helen (Rachel Shenton) are a delightful couple. But where All Creatures Great and Small
really excels is in mixing the heartfelt stuff with laughs. Both Callum Woodhouse as Tristan and Samuel West at Siegfried are deft actors, and the pair of them trying to squirm out of responsibility for losing the rings was a joy. As was Pekingese Tricki Woo with a star cameo on his velvet cushion.
My Grandparents’ War ★★★★
All Creatures Great and Small ★★★★