Who Do You Think You Are: Gary Lineker unearths secrets about two relatives who worked on very different sides of the law

by Matt D


While watching Who Do You Think You Are, I often get a better idea about the subject’s personality than I ever have done before. For example, last week Lesley Sharp came across as a warm and intelligent woman who shared some similarities with the characters she played. In tonight’s episode, I found Gary Lineker to be full of good humour and genuine passion to know about his ancestors. As I’m not a particularly massive sports fan, I didn’t really have any preconceived ideas about Lineker, other than that he loves crisps. So, while the episode wasn’t overly exciting, I still enjoyed this hour because of Lineker.

Lineker’s search was harder than most, as the majority of his family’s information was destroyed during a flood in the attic. Thankfully, Gary is able to seek some help from a professional genealogist who is able to cobble together a family tree for him. Though Gary is aware that his grandfather and great grandfather were greengrocers, he doesn’t know anything about his family line prior to that. He is interested in one of his grandmother’s ancestors, Thomas Bilingham, a man who is described as a professional law writer. Gary’s equally interested in James Pratt, a man who was arrested for larceny and theft. Gary’s eager to find out exactly what James was arrested for and more importantly what he actually stole. While I felt that Gary chose a couple of random relations to follow, I found that the lack of a narrative structure didn’t matter too much as our genial host’s curiosity proved fairly compelling.


We next see Gary as he travels to his hometown of Leicester as he journeys to the central records office in order to learn more about James’ crime. He discovers that James was arrested for stealing six chickens, while it later transpires that he had four of them in the pot by the time the police arrived. Gary meets criminology professor Barry Godfrey at Leicester Prison and, after Gary is thoroughly frisked, Barry informs him that James was a repeat offender. All of his offences revolved around poaching, trespassing on private property and essentially stealing game in order to eat it. Though Gary initially finds James’ story fairly comical, he soon changes his outlook when he sees the sort of cell that James would’ve had to have stayed in. Wanting to know what drove his ancestor to become a repeat offender, Gary travels to a local church where Barry meets him armed with more information. Here it transpires that James and his wife Maria, who were both stocking makers, suffered through a rather harsh time for those in the hosiery trade. When Maria had a baby, it appears as if James felt that he had to provide for his family and this obviously meant regular trips to prison. Meanwhile, Maria and James’ first two children passed away before the age of one, which again caused him more heartbreak. Luckily there were happier times ahead as they had another eight children together who all survived while James himself lived till the ripe old age of 83. Summing up his time getting to know James, Gary felt that this story was incredibly poignant and it shows that most of us would do anything for our children.

After some incredibly staged banter between himself and Alan Shearer, Gary went on to research the term legal writer and found out that his relative Thomas Billingham was in fact a stationer. He discovered that stationers was the name given to professions such as manuscript writers, bookbinders and illuminators, with Thomas specialising in hand-writing legal documents. Delving further into Thomas’ background he discovers that Thomas’ father was a gardener and had applied for a grant so his son could to the prestigious Christ’s Hospital School. As his father was a poor man, Thomas needed some sort of benefactor and he had that in the form of Edward King, who employed Thomas’ father as his gardener. Gary goes to visit the modern day version of Christ’s Hospital, a boarding school where the pupils still wear the same uniform as their Victorian counterparts. Gary discovers that King’s philanthropic gesture towards the Billighams may have been due to the fact that he himself didn’t have any children. The curator of the school’s museum lets Gary have a look at some of the work that Thomas would’ve done at the school while also informing him that the school would’ve been a different world from the one in which he grew up. Gary then partakes in a game of football with the current crop of pupils, which to me just came off as a complete filler segment that really did anything to the show. Luckily the programme ended on a high as Gary went over to Tottenham to see the modern day home of Witherby Stationers and view some of Thomas’ work first hand. Gary concludes his journey by summarising the fact that he feels an emotional connection to both James and Thomas and finds their stories to be incredibly Dickensian.


In terms of episode structure, I found this instalment of Who Do You Think You Are to be a little pedestrian. Instead of having any clear focus to his mission, like Minnie Driver did, Gary just picked two interesting relatives and set off on his merry way. Though everything that we heard was fairly interesting, I never really felt that Gary’s mission was that important to him. In addition some of the moments in the episode felt like filler, especially the sections on the Match of the Day set and the football game at the school. Thankfully, the episode was saved by Lineker who I found to be a charming and witty host who was readily able to make fun of himself. Gary seemed genuinely interested in both the stories here and seemed to really empathise with James’ story. While I could’ve done without seeing him embarrassing himself while having a kick-about with some kids, I suppose it was only harmless fun. Overall this wasn’t a standout episode of Who Do You You Are, but one that was saved by the engaging nature of Linker himself.

What did you think to tonight’s Who Do You Think You Are? Did you enjoy the stories involved?

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