January 31, 2023|Reports

“Behind the Scenes of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’” – Nick Barrett

There was a real treat for members who Zoomed into the January meeting when Dr Nick Barratt joined about fifty members of the History Society to tell us the story behind the celebrity family history series Who Do You Think You Are?

Nick, who is President of Hampshire Genealogical Society, has an amazing number of different academic roles as well as his work on the programme and was babysitting his daughters as he ‘zoomed’ – sadly they didn’t make any guest appearances! Nick, as you would expect from a broadcaster, gave a great talk – without PowerPoint slides or other ‘props’ – that kept us all engaged.

Nick explained his PhD was in 13th century state fiscal policy – a subject not in demand for a working life so joined the Public Record Office – now the National Archives.

This led his involvement in the hugely successful Who Do You Think You Are?  series, first broadcast 19 years ago, with Nick leading the research in the first four seasons of the programme.

The concept of the programmes was to have ten historical subjects that would be illustrated by the stories of a celebrity’s ancestor.  For the initial series, they started with 150 possible celebrities which became 20 – 30 after sifting for 10 programmes.

A one-hour programme involves about 100 hours of filming over 10-12 days, followed by 6-8 weeks editing. The programme has no script – much to the surprise of many of the celebrity guests who expect to have to be learning their lines! The guests don’t know what they will learn about their ancestors until the programme is filmed – the ‘reveal’ has to be a genuine surprise!

Nick gave us some of the background stories to the programmes involving Bill Oddie, Lesley Garrett, Ian Hislop and Jeremy Clarkson and their different reactions to family revelations.

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