The first series of the British-made Who Do You Think You Are aired in Australia on the UKTV Channel. It was fascinating to watch Stephen Fry, Julia Sawalha, Julian Clary and other Brits tracing their family tree.
Watching celebrities uncovering secrets and mysteries of their personal fabric stripped them of their fame and generated moving reactions. Who would have thought genealogy could make for such inspired storytelling?
The series has since aired on SBS and this weekend the Australian version launches with a look at the ancestry of Jack Thompson, a salt of the earth Aussie if ever there was one.
Thompson, we learn, was adopted and knew little of his true genealogy. So he embarks on an ambitious task with eyes wide open.
The premise of the show is always to draw upon an elder family member who imparts some initial history and clues on their background. In the first episode, Thompson meets an American-based aunt at Thompson’s Katoomba pub, a venture he runs with his son.
From there Thompson is clearly guided by behind-the-scenes experts who reveal one of his descendants was the Captain of a cutter who sailed from Cardiff to Sydney in the 1800s. Thompson is clearly in awe of this detail.
Archival records and DNA provide the stepping stones of Who Do You Think You Are’s detective work. It is expertly crafted and lovingly told.
The reactions of Thompson, who is at once flawed and reduced to tears is moving stuff. And that’s just what the show is. A great, big, personal puzzle that tells us more about people we thought we knew, and our social history at the same time.
Other candidates in the series include Kate Ceberano, Geoffrey Robertson, Dennis Cometti, Ita Buttrose and Cathy Freeman. It will be followed by the remaining eps of the British series.
Forget about stars dancing, singing or doing Reality TV. Truth is a much better reality. Don’t miss it.