Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Who Do You Think You Are?: Sue Perkins goes back to the past to trace hard life of orphaned grandad

© BBC/Wall To Wall Media Ltd/Stephen PerrySue Perkins visits London Bridge as she explores her family’s past
Sue Perkins visits London Bridge as she explores her family’s past

Who Do You Think You Are? has, in its 18 years, brought us a procession of tales of lost connections and extraordinary histories.

Celebrities go on an incredible journey through their own family tree and often the result is emotional; Alan Cumming discovered his maternal grandfather died during a game of Russian roulette, Emma Willis’s grandfather was revealed to be a murderer and Danny Dyer was found to be related to two kings.

The moments can be deeply personal but, for Sue Perkins, trust in the makers of the show left her with no reluctance to take part.

“I’m very emotional and sensitive, and private,” said the former Bake Off host. “But I have huge respect for this programme. I knew that they always handled things in an incredibly well intentioned, decent and thorough way.

“I did it knowing that I might get emotional, and I have no shame in that. It’s very important, whenever you’re in television, to show the truth of something. But it was so overwhelming. My own story just reminds me to try and have better agency.

“They could take you all over the world and to very different parts of the world, but they’d be the same thing: somebody would have got caught up in some terrible circumstance that wasn’t their fault, and paid the price for it because of their class, or status, or religion, whatever it might be.”

Perkins’ grandfather was an orphan and ended up experiencing the worst of Victorian deprivation in a workhouse.

Her journey through the archives, she says, brought her closer to the time period.

“I associate the Victorian period with something remote – it’s something I studied, something we read, and it’s not touchable,” added Sue. “Because my grandfather was 60-plus when my dad was born, of course, he’s very much a child of that time, but I never really fully embraced the fact that that was where he was from.

“The workhouse, where he was an orphan, is an unimaginably antiquated thing, and yet just two generations back, there he was.

“It was incredibly shocking. Just the word ‘workhouse’, is emblematic of a level of poverty and suffering that you hope we’re beyond, though perhaps not.

“Just two generations back, that’s how people were living. And that’s the degree of pain they just had to become immune to.”


Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC1 Scotland, Friday, 10.40pm (Rest of UK, Thursday, 9pm)