Monday, April 18, 2011

who do you Brits think you are?

Who Do You Think You Are? may have finished its latest run of shows, but that doesn't mean that the amateur genealogist has to go without. Imagine how happy I was to discover that my love for actor David Suchet, best known for his portrayal of Agatha Christie's famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, and my interest in genealogy was combined in an episode from the British version of the series. I have loved watching the first two seasons of the American series, which it turns out is actually an offshoot of the British original, which originated in 2004 (and is still producing new episodes). Why am I not surprised — all the best television ideas seem to come from across the pond.

It was a little strange for me at first, just getting used to listening to Suchet in his own voice, own accent. I'm so used to the precise inflections he uses and slight accent for Poirot. It was amusing watching him realize that like his signature role, he would have to go on the trail for clues. At one point he was laughing as he pulled on white gloves to examine some old documents, "How many times have I done this before?" Of course this time, it's for some information that will directly affect him and his family.

Suchet found out the real source of his last name (not French, as he had been told) and travelled to England, France and the Ukraine. Thankfully, all of the episode, in six parts, can be watched on YouTube. Now that I've started watching the British version of the show, I can't stop. Other favorites I have queued up include Stephen Fry and David Tennant (both can also be watched on YouTube). The episodes I've watched have been narrated by British actor Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Stardust, Robin Hood).

Stephen Fry, as you might expect, was quite amusing in his episode. He was delighted to discover an ancestor, one of the "amazing Prings" was a pauper inmate in a London workhouse. His reaction?  "How Dickensian!" Fry had always been told that on his mother's side of the family, Jewish relatives were "killed by Hitler." This proved to be true, and he took an amazing emotional journey to Vienna and beyond to discover how tragic his relative's stories were.

My favorite Dr. Who, David Tennant, was initially also a bit surprising — to my ears — as I got used to his Scottish accent. Tennant knew next to nothing about his ancestors. He discovered a star athlete and a beauty queen and travelled from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Highlands. His quest also took him to Ireland, where he found it quite difficult at first to learn about his ancestor's involvement in "the troubles," Bloody Sunday, gerrymandering and poll-rigging.

Who Do You Think You Are is always an interesting history lesson. People find out not only about their relatives, but their relatives' part in history. I'm looking forward to digging up some more of these shows, and learning more as well. ZoĆ« Wanamaker, Patsy Kensit, Robert Lindsay, and Graham Norton's shows all seem available. Hopefully more will be put up on YouTube or become available on DVD, as some of my favorites have also done episodes — Alan Cumming, John Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Nigella Lawson.
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