Who Do You Think You Are? Sir Patrick Stewart learns what made his violent father tick after the WWII but we were a little bored by it all!

by Matt D

Traditionally on Who Do You Think You Are? the famous face researching their family tree tries to discover the mystery behind two or three different relatives, mainly because there’s an hour of airtime to fill. Occasionally there’s an exception to this rule such as in one of my favourite instalments of the programme which featured Kim Catrall trying to find out what exactly happened to her maternal grandfather who left the family home when her mother was very young, however this mystery story was long enough to fill an hour. This week’s subject Sir Patrick Stewart is also interested in one family member that being his father Alfred, a man who he remembers for his wildly vivid stories of serving in World War 2 but also unfortunately for his bouts of violence towards his mother Gladys. He hopes to uncover why the war had such an impact on him and why he often reacted violently towards Gladys ,with Stewart having to intervene from a very young age.

The Star Trek star starts by going to the Imperial War Museum and tracking down Alfred’s war record which reveals that he first signed up as a lance corporal and was party of the military police, fairly unpopular with the majority of the soldiers although he never took any lip from them, being described as a fairly intimidating person. Stewart then journeys to France where his father spent the start of the second world war with the British Expeditionary Force as he led a group of men building railway bridges, however with the German invasion of France occurring the men had to spring into action as the town where he was based was being bombed. Though many of the Brijtish soldiers were being evacuated back to Britain via Dunkirk, Alfred was part of the squadron who were tasked with pursuing the enemy but eventually retreated becoming one of the last group of evacuees to leave this time via Cherbourg before the Germans took control of the entire country.

As Patrick went on he discovered that during this time his father had been made a sergeant and was also suffering from shell-shock but despite this he volunteered to join up with the parachute regiment. This was unusual because as Alfred was thirty-eight he was at the age where most military men would consider retirement rather than joining a regiment which was in its infancy at the time. Patrick travelled to Southern France to meet 92 year old Dick Hargreaves, a man who served alongside Alfred, with the pair journeying up in a helicopter to the area where the regiment jumped from. Also during his time in France he visits the house where the allied forces stayed during their time there meeting another woman who vaguely remembered Alfred, she was a girl of 12 at the time of the war, and he was shown around the farm where they would keep prisoners-of-war often putting them in with the chickens.

After going over his father’s war history in some detail there was still about a quarter of an hour left of the programme to go so he wanted to have a look at his family’s formative years and in particular the relationship his eldest brother Geoffrey had with Alfred, as the two were constantly at odds. As he is guided through the Petty Courts records he sees that because Geoffrey was born out of wedlock there was a question of who is father was and Gladys essentially had to drag Alfred to court to make him pay his way while he was away in the army. Patrick also wanted to investigate more of what was known as ‘shell-shock’ at the time and came to the realisation that a lot of what his father had seen would’ve contributed to a form of post-traumatic stress disorder which would’ve lead to his drinking and subsequent violence towards the woman who dragged him to court all those years ago. The final scenes of the episode see him meet up with his brother Trevor and the pair talk about hindsight and regret the fact that they didn’t know their father in the way Patrick does, now he’s been through this process.

It seems to me that the BBC convinced Stewart to participate in this series on the proviso that he be allowed to only look at what made his father the way he was. In that regard then this is a very personal journey for Stewart which does come across throughout the programme as does his very stoic nature, as we don’t see the obligatory tears as we have done in most previous episodes. My issue though was that though Stewart was thoroughly engrossed in his father’s tale, I found it fairly dull for the most part as I never really emotionally invested in the story of Alfred and found the constant history of World War II a little dull as it has been covered several times before. While I’m aware that this programme helps celebrities come to know their relatives a little more and uncover previously unsolved family mysteries I felt that the fact that Stewart’s sole interest was his father meant that the episode went at a snail’s pace. While Stewart himself was a captivating figure, with some of the best parts of this instalment being when he got to use his powerful voice to read out various accounts of the war, this episode dragged too much for me to really get that much interest from it though I can see that it helped him understand the relationship between his parents in a lot more detail.

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