TV Times – 03 August 2019

(Axel Boer) #1




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omedian and
actor Jack
Whitehall and
his delightfully
deadpan dad,
former theatrical agent Michael,
have already proved that funny
bones are a family trait in their
BBC talk show Backchat and
Netflix’s documentary series
Travels with My Father.
Now, the constantly bickering
pair hope to find out what other
things run in the Whitehall
genes as they become the first
celebrities to jointly research
their ancestry for this week’s
episode of BBC1’s Who Do You
Think You Are?
Here, Jack, 31, and Michael,
79 , talk us through their
incredible findings...

Do the two of you enjoy
working together?
Jack: It happened originally
because he was begging to get
on screen. He said, ‘Please can
you somehow get me on TV?!’
And I said, ‘All right.’
Michael: The true story is that
his career was struggling and
then I came up with the bright
idea that we could maybe do
something together and that
has really changed his life.

Ha! What appealed to you
about tracing your family tree?
Jack: For me, I wanted to maybe
establish that there is no biological
link to Dad! Finding out about
bad stuff in my family wouldn’t
have disturbed me, though.
I was open-minded about
finding out if there were dodgy
things in the past.
Michael: It’s nice we’re both
doing this because he’s the
next generation and I think
it’s important that Jack
knows more about his family,
because I’ll probably be gone
in about 10 years.
Jack: Your family knowledge
was rather patchy, though.
All the years of boozing have
affected his memory!

It was rumoured that
Michael’s paternal
grandfather, Richard
Ernest Baxter Whitehall,

known as REB, was
orphaned after his
father Richard was
killed in a pony and
trap accident and
that his mum
Caroline died of
grief. But you find
that wasn’t the
case, was it?
Jack: It wasn’t a
great start for little
REB. We found
out that his mother
was alive but was
in delicate health
when he was sent to
boarding school, so
he wasn’t actually an
orphan. But we then
discovered she was in an asylum
and listed as a ‘lunatic’.

Caroline had dementia that
was caused by syphilis,
possibly passed on to her by
Richard, and it’s suggested
that he was likely to have died
as a result of the disease
rather than an accident...
Michael: I was completely
speechless, which is rare for
me. I don’t really remember my
grandfather ever talking about
his background but maybe we
never asked him. He was a very
kind and sweet man and to
realise that he had had such
a bad start in life was sad.
Jack: Neither of us is particularly
emotional but reading such a
graphic and stark account about
Caroline’s health, it was difficult
not to be affected. When we saw
the word ‘lunatic’, we assumed
that the Victorians called
anyone suffering with grief
or depression that, but it was
more severe. It’s horrible. We

discovered that Caroline had
three years of suffering before
she died and the doctors could
do nothing. I suppose the idea
of the pony and trap accident
and dying of grief became the
family story instead because the
truth was so grim.

There were better times
ahead for REB, though, when
his first cousin, a woollen
merchant, left him his fortune
of £194,000 (around £10million
today). Were you glad?
Jack: Yes, if anyone deserved it,
it was him. After that upbringing
and a very modest life, all of a
sudden he inherited a lot of money.
Michael: The millions of pounds
definitely didn’t come our way,
though! But I’m really pleased
REB in the end had a good life
and died a happy man.

Thomas Jones Phillips – Jack’s
four-times great-grandfather

  • was a solicitor and magistrates’
    clerk in Newport, Wales, in
    the 1830s who fought against
    the Chartists’
    campaign to
    extend the vote to
    all working men.
    Was that hard
    to discover?
    Jack: When I found
    out we were going to
    Wales, I was excited
    that one of my
    ancestors might be
    a Welsh miner. But
    every story needs a
    villain and my best
    hope then was that
    Thomas was just a
    pen-pusher following
    orders as a mid-level
    wrong’un or just a
    supporting villain!

Michael: Yes, I saw him
with a feather pen rather than
swishing around with a wax
moustache and a cloak.
Jack: But it turned out our great
ancestor was gathering evidence
to bang up the guys fighting for
the rights of workers in Wales.
We peeled away the layers and
Thomas went from being an
officious windbag to a full-blown
snitch who tried to stop people
fighting for freedom!

In 1839, Thomas arrested one
of the Chartists’ leaders, John
Frost, who was sentenced to
death for high treason. Did
it make you feel better that
John was later reprieved?
Jack: Yes, it was great because
we were looking for light at the
end of the tunnel. There’s a happy
ending through this darkness
and despair and our scumbag
ancestor! Thomas died only three
years after John’s sentencing,
though. We went to see a plaque
dedicated to him at a church but
it was above the toilet – that was
sad and a little weird!

What will you take away from
doing the show?
Jack: Well, there’s not a lot of
light in our story. I should’ve
done it with Mummy [actor
Hilary Gish] instead. In fact,
now I know about your ancestry,
I’m going to have to sever ties
with you and focus on Mummy.
Michael: Because I’m Welsh?!
Jack: No, not because you’re
Welsh. Because your ancestors
were all wrong’uns. I’m sure
Mummy has really nice ancestors!


Who Do You Think
Yo u A re?



Family get-together: (From
left) Michael’s cousin Jennefer,
brother Barry, mother Nora,
Michael, and father Jack

Happy ending:
Michael’s paternal
grandfather, REB
Free download pdf