Sunday 2 August 2015

John Bolans: The great-grandmother of genealogy shows. . .

The Genealogy Roadshow RTé1 Who Do You Think You Are? USA RTé1 The Day Mountbatten Died TV3 O'Gorman RTé1

Published 27/08/2011 | 05:00

The Genealogy Roadshow (RTé1) is exactly like Antiques Roadshow except that it deals in dead people rather than mouldy artefacts. Just as in BBC1's long-running knick-knacks series, it invites the public to come along to a posh location (Adare Manor for the opening episode) and make their submissions to a panel of experts -- or, as host Derek Mooney insisted on calling them, "our genealogy SWAT team".

These consisted of "top genealogist" Nicola Morris; "top of his game" historian and author Turtle Bunbury; and John Grennan, so awesome in his expertise that he had Derek marvelling: "What he doesn't know about genealogy isn't worth knowing." Derek himself was content with the role adopted by Fiona Bruce in her antiques show, beaming effortfully throughout and making the odd fatuous remark as he roamed among the assembled throng, as if the whole thing were a bit of a lark.

The programme, though, was more obviously studied than its antiques counterpart, which has always liked to give the impression that its experts are summoning up their knowledge and assessments on the spot. That level of apparent nonchalance isn't possible when you have to consult a variety of historical records and so a great deal of emphasis was placed on advance research and on pre-filmed material.

As with any such series, a lot of its success depended on the particular interests of individual viewers. Just as I sit up and take notice when paintings are discussed on Antiques Roadshow and fall into a coma whenever porcelain figurines are being discussed, I found myself alternately riveted and bored by this genealogy show.

Thus, while I couldn't summon up any interest in the search for a great-grandmother's grave in Limerick and was similarly unmoved by a woman's bid to discover if she was related to a 19th-century Irish cardinal, I was engrossed by a family's link to Charlie Chaplin's fourth wife, Oona, and by the story of a girl's great-great-grandfather who defended his Cork barracks against a Fenian attack -- the former tale made vividly interesting by Nicola Morris and the latter by Turtle Bunbury.

Not a bad effort overall, then, though hardly worthy of the clapping that Derek bizarrely insisted on requesting from his assembled audience after the completion of each item.

The genealogical theme continued on RTé1 with two episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? USA, though a more apt title for this American incarnation of the BBC original would be The Wow Factor.

"Wow!" exclaimed singer Lionel Richie as he learned some humdrum aspect of his family's past, while the following night's Ashley Judd succumbed to such an uncontrollable torrent of wowing that I feared for her wellbeing. What an excitable lot American celebrities are and how impressed, too, by anything that happened more than 10 years ago.

Sarah Jessica Parker demonstrated these traits to a frightening degree in the previous series of this show, though Ashley proved to be almost her orgasmic equal in this week's episode -- the only difference being that Ashley manages to look gravely beautiful while Sarah Jessica looks like a distressed victim of severe over-dieting.

Unfortunately, whenever Ashley wasn't gasping "You are kidding me!" and "That is unbelievable!" and "This is completely blowing my mind!" and then bursting into tears, she was taking herself very seriously indeed.

"My faith is really important to me," she solemnly intoned before describing herself as a "feminist activist" with a "furious passion for social justice".

And there I was thinking that she was just an actress who hasn't been in a decent film since she played Val Kilmer's wife in Heat.

Anyway, she finally found out that an ancestor on her father's side had been a religious rebel in England who'd finally sailed to America on the Mayflower. In between tears, she informed us that this man's bravery was "so validating of my own experience" because "religious tolerance is incredibly important to me". I'm sure it is, but how about making a good new movie?

The end-credits to The Day Mountbatten Died (TV3) informed me that the narrator had been Tim Pigott-Smith, while a caption at the film's opening had promised a narration by someone called Jerome Hughes. Certainly the voice didn't sound anything like that of Pigott-Smith. So what was going on here?

What was going on, as I learned at the end, was that, contrary to my assumption, I hadn't been watching a new TV3 documentary but rather one that had been made seven years ago by the BBC and from which -- for some unexplained reason -- Pigott-Smith's voiceover had been removed.

The film itself, which also dealt with the IRA's murderous Warrenpoint bombings on the same day, was absorbing, yet the way in which it had been presented in the schedule left me feeling somehow cheated.

In this week's O'Gorman (RTé1), Paddy was chatting to punters, breeders and bookies at the Clonmel greyhound track. Noticing the distinct resemblance of a visiting Mayo fireman to a certain ubiquitous RTé presenter from Kerry, Paddy wondered if the celebrity's "reputation as a heartthrob" rubbed off on him at all.

The man confessed that it didn't. So he'll probably never get the chance to sit in an RTé afternoon studio next to Claire Byrne, whose alert, professional and unshowy stint as Marian Finucane's radio replacement has been one of the broadcasting pleasures of the summer.

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