Long Lost Family, TV review: Grown men weeping makes for good television

Crack open the tissues, Davina McCall and heart-tugging television is back

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You know those “Mansize” tissues favoured by granddads? Well, a box, dated as they are in name, would have been the perfect accompaniment to this fifth series opener of Long Lost Family.

The Bafta-winning show, fronted by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell, is always a tear-jerker. The programme’s methods to reunite family members – old-fashioned sleuthing, face-to-face meetings, and hand-written letters – hark back to a non-digital age and are packaged to yank hard on the heart-strings. This episode was no different.

Davina met Ontario-based couple Susan and Chris Ellerton, who as teenage sweethearts, gave up their son Anthony for adoption. Then there was Paul Wright, a former soldier who had lost contact with his German-born daughter Karina. Adoption red tape and name changes had thwarted obvious channels, so the families had given over their stories.

All shared their tales with admirable frankness: “You can look back at your life and mine’s got this little piece taken out. It’s just missing,” said Paul. “I need to know that he’s been OK and that he forgives us for what we did,” Susan told us. We willed the reunions to go the right way. And they did, no thanks to the presenters whose role at times felt voyeuristic. “You’re clearly thinking it through,” said Campbell, unnecessarily, as he told Andrew (Anthony’s adopted name) about his parents’ search. Brow furrowed, speaking in quiet monotone, Campbell (adopted himself) came across robotic in efforts to give his subject the floor.

Likewise, as Chris sobbed off camera on hearing news of his first-born, Davina’s huggy mum persona felt intrusive. Then again, grown men weeping made good television. What we were watching was raw, human drama. Yet that clearly wasn’t enough for producers. They tried to inject more with the filming: freezing landscapes, moody sunsets and subjects staring into the bleakly picturesque distance had something of the Nordic noirs about them. But none mattered, really, this was about the families. “I have waited so long for this moment. A weight has lifted from my heart,” said Karina after meeting Paul. I bet 99 per cent of viewers shed a tear.

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