Last Night's Viewing: Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC1
The Flowerpot Gang, BBC1

 

I don't know about you, but on discovering that the first subject in this new series of Who Do You Think You Are? was Samantha Womack, my immediate thought was, "No, really. Who are you?" Turns out she's the actress formerly known as Samantha Janus, most famous for playing baby-stealing Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders.

Now in its ninth series, Who Do You Think You Are? might lack the star power of the more recently launched US version, which untangles the lineages of the Hollywood elite such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Susan Sarandon as opposed to former Albert Square residents, but celebrity is hardly the point of the show. Having an Academy Award in no way assures a fascinating back story, just really good teeth.

And while it was not quite as animated as an EastEnders plotline, Womack's story certainly didn't disappoint. Speaking movingly of her father's unexpected suicide two years ago, she had a natural curiosity about his side of the family; the suggestion being that Womack was looking for anything that might better explain his actions.

On the hunt for clues about her great-grandfather, Alexander, she travelled around the UK, discovering more about his military career, which included desertion and lying on his CV (or the military equivalent) to be allowed to fight in the First World War, during which he was shot in the lung. Formal records confirmed that Alexander was also a musician, as Womack's own father had been. Along with the fact that Womack's grandmother described Alexander, her father, as "a sad man" who felt he had "missed the boat", and it was hard not to be moved by the apparent echoing across the generations.

But it was investigating Womack's great-grandmother, Beatrice, that brought the most questions. And the very real chance that when you go digging like this you might not like what you find. Both Beatrice and her brother, it turned out, were left in orphanages as infants while their mother, Jessie, started a new family in America and tried to make it as an actress on the stage. The brother, Anthony, died from burns in the orphanage. He was just six.

Struggling to comprehend such selfish choices, Womack prodded further, travelling to America, where, ultimately, she found her happy ending. Not only did Jessie return to the UK to collect Beatrice from the orphanage a few years later, but Jessie turned out to be a talented and in-demand actress. Womack wanted to better understand her father, but in looking, came away with a fresh understanding of herself, too.

After a self-imposed hiatus lasting 17 years, Anneka Rice returned to primetime television in The Flowerpot Gang, which might sound like something you find on the CBeebies channel but is actually a new makeover show that aims to transform neglected gardens. Along with co-presenters Phil Tufnell and Joe Swift, the trio travelled to Woodland View, a nursing home for people with dementia on the edges of Sheffield, where their large green outdoor area couldn't be used because the paths were too dangerous for the frail and elderly residents.

While it was certainly for a good cause, I couldn't help feeling a little short-changed that after 10 full days of gardening and building (as well being tuned in for a whole hour), the big reveal turned out to be little more than a highly functional yellow path and a gazebo. Boring! Where were the Linda Barker-style bonkers features? The lacklustre, kind-of, sort-of makeover, along with the relentless and insultingly literal soundtrack (it rains: "Singin' in the Rain"; they dig: "Can You Dig It?"; they require volunteers: "Holding Out for a Hero") meant The Flowerpot Gang was a bit of a disappointment. Not to mention the absence of Anneka's famous jumpsuit.

twitter.com/gillian_orr

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