Who Do You Think You Are?

Here in the UK we had our 100th episode of the highly popular Who Do You Think You Are? TV series yesterday. The celebrity featured was the 60s model and actress Twiggy (real name Lesley Hornby – married name Lawson) and for a change, this series I’ve actually recognised all the celebrities featured! The circumstances surrounding Twiggy’s ancestors’ lives were ones that were quite familiar to me and similar in some ways to those described in my post – The Mysterious Case of the Woman Who Died Twice.

The TV show has also become popular over in America, featuring celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Kelsey Grammer and Lisa Kudrow to name a few. Over here we get some of those and I’ve often found it interesting the difference between UK and US shows, and I suppose the main difference with the UK show is that it is originally broadcast on BBC1 – a channel without ad breaks. There aren’t many channels in the US without ad breaks so it’s no surprise that the US version has regular breaks in it, but it also means that everything seems to be recapped regularly, in case the viewer has forgotten in the space of the last five minutes or perhaps has just tuned in. I think if you distilled the programme down without all the recaps the show itself would be quite short! It has also taken off in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the Czech Republic too.


The thing about the show is that it tries to gather all kinds of different people, to try and feature a range of backgrounds and of course uncover some juicy stories in the process. I’ve always watched every episode whether I like the celebrity featured in it or not. Some people get on my nerves, some don’t, and some make me feel a little differently about them too. In the course of the many series I’ve seen people who are normally not seen as being particularly emotional people choked up on tears discovering the hardships and injustices experienced by family members from sometimes hundreds of years ago – a good example of that was the Jeremy Paxman episode, a man known for his hard line in interviewing politicians who seemed to be barely interested in the beginning of the show, fighting back the tears on discovering how his great great grandmother had been treated when she was poor and in need.

It got me thinking last night, if I was tasked with creating the new line up of celebrities for the next series, who would I pick?

I’d certainly want a good variety of people, ones that might have the potential for different backgrounds.

The number of episodes in each series in the UK have varied, Series 1 had 10, Series 2 just 6, 8 in Series 3, Series 4 (if you count the seven episodes and the Nicky Campbell Adoption Special) and Series 5, then up to 11 for Series 6, 9 for Series 7 and then 10 for the next  four series.

I think I’ll go for 10 in my selection!

1. I’ve toyed around with the idea of someone like the political party UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage. I am completely not a UKIP supporter in any way, but I am aware that he has some German ancestry. I think for someone who is so strongly against what he terms an ‘open door immigration policy’, I’d like him to walk in the footsteps of his immigrant ancestors. To understand that immigration is part of this country, it is what has made it what it is today. That perhaps how we treat immigrants these days is a lot fairer to how they were treated in the past. We certainly don’t lock people up in internment camps anymore if they happen to have come from a country many years ago that we are in conflict with today for example. Although no doubt that episode would feature lots of him talking loudly, having several pints and making me want to punch the TV, but sometimes that’s what makes it entertaining.

2. Perhaps someone from the BBC1 Breakfast News team. I watch this most mornings as I get ready for work. They are familiar faces to me and perhaps someone like Charlie Stayt – he has an interesting surname and I’d like to perhaps find out a bit more about that.

3. Richard Ayoade, comedian, director, writer. Most famous for his role as Moss in the IT Crowd sitcom and for directing films such as Submarine. He has a very interesting combination of parents – a Nigerian father and a Norwegian mother. He is also married into the Fox family – the acting dynasty that has already been featured in the series in the Emilia Fox episode.

4.  Maybe a musician, perhaps a solo artist or someone from a band. Maybe someone like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. According to Wikipedia his mother was of Romani descent.

5. The actor David McCallum – best known for his roles as Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and more recently as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard in N.C.I.S. I remember watching repeats of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a child and having a bit of a crush on him. These days I enjoy watching him in N.C.I.S. and think it is great that he is still working in his 80s.

6. Possibly a TV chef, like Michel Roux jnr. We know he has a culinary background with his famous father and uncle, but what about his mother’s side?

7. A sportsperson, someone who has excelled in recent years, maybe someone like Paralympian Swimmer Ellie Simmonds.

8. Maybe someone quite quirky like either of the fashion designers Dame Vivienne Westwood or Dame Zandra Rhodes.

9. TV Presenter and Zoologist Liz Bonnin. Liz is another person with an interesting parental mix, having a Trinidadian mother and a French father and brought up in Ireland.

10. And one for my husband Dr. Alice Roberts. Alice is an anatomist, osteoarchaeologist, anthropologist , paleopathologist, TV presenter and author. She is often seen on documentaries about dinosaurs, or on evolution, medical documentaries and the like. My husband also has a massive crush on her!

So who would you like to see in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and why?



10 thoughts on “Who Do You Think You Are?

  1. I had to laugh—I’ve never heard of one of those celebrities except for David McCallum, of course—I had a huge crush on him back in the 1960s when he was on Man from UNCLE. I think my list might be as foreign to you—though I think Americans are much more parochial in their exposure to things than people from almost anywhere else in the world.

    Do you know that there is a similar PBS (public broadcasting—no commercials) show here in the US called Finding Your Roots? It’s hosted by Henry Louis Gates, a professor at Harvard (who famously was arrested by a police officer leading to Obama meeting with him and the police officer in an attempt to cool the racial unrest caused in the Cambridge, MA community). It’s a little different from WDYTYA in that he focuses on three celebrities in each episode, they do not travel to to their ancestral places, and he uses DNA as well as traditional genealogical resources to unravel their pasts. In some ways it’s more scholarly but also less in depth and less colorful than WDYTYA since it’s spread over three people and there is no traveling. But it’s a good show.

    • Thanks Amy. Yeah I’ve sometimes seen the stars on the US line up and thought Who? But then I’ve had similar ones on the UK one too!

      Not heard of that other show, sounds interesting!

  2. Purely selfishly, I’d like Val McDermid and Jack Vetriano because both are from the same part of Fife as me, and I’d love to see if in the course of the programmes, any record sources were uncovered that would be useful in my searching. I also admire both of them, but it’s mainly selfish hehe 🙂

  3. I was watching Liz Bonnin on TV last night and also thought she’d make a good subject.

    I’d add: Tom Courtenay. He wrote a memoir based on letters to his mother and he think he’d be keen to find out more about them. He’s from Hull, so a bit of local interest for me too.

    Adrian Chiles. He has Croatian ancestry which would be interesting to follow.

    If I was allowing one for my husband it would have to be Jenny Agutter. Who also has an interesting surname. I’ve certainly never come across anyone else with it.

    Germaine Greer. She wrote a book called Daddy We Hardly Knew You. He lied about his background and origins and I’m not sure whether she ever got to the bottom of it.

    Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman would also be on the list. She’s a strong outspoken woman and it’s always good to see whether that’s a family trait.

    I’d like to see a scientist too: Prof Brian Cox or Maggie Aderin-Pocock maybe?

    Great post that’s really got me thinking!

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