The last in the present series before a break over Christmas, a look at Ricky Tomlinson’s family tree delves more into social history.
The star of The Royle Family concentrates on his father’s side of the family, where he learns that his grandfather, great grandfather, 2x great grandfather and 3x great grandfather were all in the same profession: carters, working in Liverpool’s docks, going as far back as the 1830s. Rather than going back any further, he decides to look into what their jobs entailed, the dangerous side of their work, and how they protected their jobs – the last one of these being of importance to him as Tomlinson is a passionate support of trade unions.
Things soon start to go badly: his two eldest relatives were both crushed to death, while his 2x great grandmother had to look after a huge family that was made smaller when her two-year-old son died of diarrhoea. Meanwhile his 2x great grandfather underwent an illegal autopsy. By the 1880s there was a class divide and a religious divide, and the start of the trade unions which Tomlinson’s grandfather was most likely a part of.
This has been one of the more enjoyable episodes of the current series. For starters, while Cheryl last week may have been talking about coming from a Geordie background, most of her more interesting ancestors traveled away from the area, while Tomlinson’s ancestors were actually properly local, all living in Liverpool, albeit different areas of the city depending on their circumstances.
It is also interesting to look at the conditions of the workers in Liverpool at the time, how the trade unions formed and how there was a divide between the mostly Protestant carters and mainly Catholic dockers. It also feels rather appropriate that this episode is going out, while at the same time there are strikes in much of the country.
Who Do You Think You Are? will return later in the new year. Previous episodes are on the BBC iPlayer.