Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1), TV review: A rip-roaring story from Brian Blessed - with some surprising miner details

 

There weren't enough reaction shots in the Brian Blessed episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1). When the 77-year-old actor was bursting into song on the train from London to Doncaster or projecting poetry to the metaphorical back row of a busy city street, we could only imagine the looks on the faces of the people passing by. Let the impressionists try to do justice to his rambunctious good humour, no one booms like Blessed, and in real life he's the fruity-voiced thesp exactly as advertised.

It came as more of a surprise to learn that this Shakespearean actor is the son of a miner raised in the South Yorkshire town of Mexborough and, moreover, that the name Brian Blessed was no Equity card invention, but given to him at birth. Blessed's father was a miner, and his father's father before him, but what of the rest of the line? Did they live up to their wonderful surname?

Who Do You Think You Are? often requires some imaginative input from the celebrity descendant. A few lines from the parish birth register, a grainy black and white photo and from this we must conjure up a whole human lifetime. Blessed had no trouble on that account, however.

As he stood in St Pancras Chapel, where his great-great-great-grandfather Barnabas Blessed had married in 1801, he put his dramatising powers to work on the scene, casting himself in the roles of both groom and bride, naturally: "BRAAAAVOO, Barnabas! Oh you MAAARVellous man!"

Alas, the good fortune of this ancestor was short-lived and Blessed, a man of obvious empathy, was deeply moved by a tale of infant mortality, orphaned children and the horrors of the workhouse.

At least by the mid-19th century, things were looking up. Jabez Blessed, his great-great-grandfather, had moved to Lincolnshire and fathered a total of 13 children, all of whom lived to adulthood. This virility Brian took as a personal compliment: "He didn't need the purple pill, did he? He was a RAAAANDY man! He served his country well!"

When our journey finally came to an end at Jabez's gravestone, he looked down at the ground and addressed his ancestor directly: "You lived life, Jabez! You lived it!" A merely symbolic gesture, perhaps, but then again, if anyone has a voice to wake the dead, Brian Blessed does.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum