Far too many weeks since I last posted, sorry. I had promised myself to get better at setting the timer thing to post more regularly. Instead I have found myself on Yorkshire beaches, driving children to gym practice and walking the dog with ideas buzzing and no time to get them out.
However, I have managed to read Not My Father's Son, an excellent memoir by the actor Alan Cumming. I heard him reading it on BBC Radio 4 soon after it was published last year but I have only just managed to discover the conclusion.
The gist is that at the same time Alan Cumming was doing Who Do You Think You Are? in 2010 - which turned up a completely fascinating family tale - he received a call from his estranged father, saying Alan should know, in the light of the programme being made, that he, Alan, was not his biological son.
The memoir is written in a number of movingly interwoven strands - the WDYTYA shoot; the time following its completion; childhood in Scotland; and early years as an actor. The book is a great read and I really admire Alan Cumming for doing it but I won't discuss it further as I highly recommend reading it!
I watched Cumming's WDYTYA quite shocking episode when it was broadcast. It has been fascinating, though, to read about what the poor guy was going through while he was on screen and talking about his ancestors. And the childhood side of the memoir is awful but moving. Human resilience in action.
However, as someone looking forward to the start of the new WDYTYA series (next week!), I was particularly interested in the machinations of the programme makers. All the celebrities say, when asked, that they are told nothing before the shoot starts. Read in the context of someone trying to deal with a personal crisis at the same time (albeit unbeknownst to the TV company), their methods seem almost cruel. Of course, that is what makes good television. Those special or disturbing moments, captured close-up. I mean, they even squeezed a tear out of Jeremy Paxton so they must be good at what they do! Television gold usually involves a "journey" these days and genealogy gives that in spades.
I don't imagine any of us, if confronted with the sort of information given to Alan Cumming, would keep a poker face. The episode link is above. Do watch it if you have not seen it already. But read the book too. The two make a good pairing.
And when WDYTYA returns, I think we should spare a thought for the celebrities who have agreed to take part. Yes, they get top of the range (!) family trees given to them at the end but in return, they are expected to trip out their emotional reactions to whatever the producers have decided is most television-worthy. Incidentally, for an example, in my humble opinion, of when the celebrity does not provide this entertainment, please see Sarah Jessica Parker's US episode of the show. She literally had nothing to say....