A Summer of Family History on TV

A Summer of Family History on TV

The coming months promise to make excellent TV viewing for us family historians!.

Nick Thorne, Writer at TheGenealogist

Nick Thorne

Writer at TheGenealogist

The coming months promise to make excellent TV viewing for us family historians!

Actress Una Stubbs stars in the first episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
Actress Una Stubbs stars in the first episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

The tenth series of Who Do You Think You Are? starts on BBC One on Wednesday 24 July for a 10 week run. The celebrities featured include a number of actors and people from the world of business, sport and television news in what promises to be another fascinating series.

In contrast to this factual series, the BBC are also airing a comedy ‘mockumentary’ called ‘Family Tree’ which looks at family history in a more light-hearted manner. Starring Chris O’Dowd, it tells of a ‘directionless’ 30 year old man who rediscovers himself whilst embarking on a quest to discover more about a box of belongings left to him by a great aunt he had never met!

Who Do You Think You Are? starts with the well- known actress Una Stubbs, who has featured in film and TV productions including ‘Summer Holiday’ with Cliff Richard, ‘Til Death Us Do Part’, ‘Fawlty Towers’ , ‘Worzel Gummidge’, ‘Eastenders’, ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Casualty’.

Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire proves central to her story. She was born near there and her father worked there. During the programme we find that her great grandfather, Sir Ebeneezer Howard, was central to its planning and design. He also founded Letchworth Garden City as part of his vision for a suburban town in pleasant countryside surroundings.

Here is Ebeneezer Howard in the 1901 Census, listed in his main profession as a ‘shorthand writer’. He was a renowned journalist and had worked as a reporter for the Courts and Newspapers in the United States. Back in England, he recorded parliamentary discussions as a long-standing career. His connections with politicians no doubt helped his vision to create his ‘New Towns’.

There is also an element of sadness to the tale as we discover family estrangements on her father’s side, which were never resolved.

Actor Nigel Havers stars in the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
Actor Nigel Havers stars in the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

The second episode features another actor, Nigel Havers, who starred in the films ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Empire of the Sun’, and TV programmes such as ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘The Charmer’.

Nigel is descended from a number of very successful legal professionals who were involved in a number of high profile legal cases. The family have strong links to Norfolk on his father’s side.

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Nigel’s father was Michael Havers, who had followed his father in a successful legal career. He successfully defended Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on drugs charges and prosecuted Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Michael Havers became Lord Chancellor in 1987.

Here is a copy of the birth record of Nigel’s grandfather, Cecil Havers, on TheGenealogist.

Cecil Havers was the trial judge in the conviction of Ruth Ellis for murder in 1955, the last woman to receive capital punishment in the United Kingdom. He later recommended a reprieve to the Home Secretary but this was not successful. In a highly unusual step, he subsequently sent money annually for the upkeep of Ellis’s son.

However, despite his immediate family history being one of wealth and privilege, it was not all high society success in Nigel Haver’s family history. There proves to be a real contrast. There are tales of scandal, including illegitimacy on his mother’s side in rural Cornwall, and on his father’s side, links to an ancestor who went bankrupt.

Samuel Franklin Cody, aviation pioneer
Samuel Franklin Cody, aviation pioneer

The line-up for the rest of the series includes Minnie Driver, Lesley Sharp, Gary Lineker, Nick Hewer, Sarah Millican, Nitin Ganatra, Marianne Faithfull and to round off the series there is the colourful tale of John Simpson’s family and his links to the former wild west cowboy, aircraft and balloon pioneer and general showman, Samuel Franklin Cody.

The family history theme continues with the start of a new comedy series on BBC 2 entitled ‘Family Tree’. Starring Chris O’Dowd and Nina Conti, ‘Family Tree’ is an improvisational comedy series in the style of a documentary, based on a family’s search to discover more about their ancestors.

Chris O’Dowd plays Tom Chadwick, who inherits a box of belongings from a great aunt he has never met. It gives him a new sense of purpose in his life as he traces the eccentric past of his family.

The series has already begun screening in the U.S. to good reviews and promises to be a light-hearted take on the trials and tribulations of researching ones family history! The series starts on BBC 2 on Tuesday 16th July.

Enjoy your summer of family history entertainment! Hopefully there is something to make all family historians laugh, learn and lament!

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