Who Do You Think You Are: Minnie Driver learns more about her father’s side of the family in this moving instalment
In my last review of Who Do You Think You Are, I noted that the programme is at its best when the celebrity subject is focused on one person’s story in particular. Minnie Driver is a case in point as her reason for taking part in the programme is to learn more about her father. Though she had a good relationship with her dad, her parents were never married and Ronnie had another family. It was because of this secret family that Minnie knew very little about his past, though she did now he’d had a major impact during World War 2. Now she’s a mum to a four year old, Minnie really wants to give her son Henry an idea of who his grandfather was and learn more about the Driver side of her family.
Minnie starts her journey by visiting her mother Gaynor who tells her a little bit more about living life with a man who was already married. She also tells her daughter that Ronnie never really opened up about his past but she knew that he’d been involved in a prominent battle in World War 2 and that he’d thrown away a medal into the River Thames. In addition Minnie discovers that her paternal grandparents weren’t married when her grandmother gave birth to Ronnie while it later transpired that Ronnie was born in Swansea. Wanting to learn more about her father’s war medal, Minnie goes to Brooklands Museum and meets historian Robin Holmes who lets her see a partially restored Wellington Bomber – the same plane that her father was gunner of back in 1939. Ronnie was instrumental in the Battle of the Heligoland Bight, a poorly judged aerial battle, where he saved the Wellington Bomber he was in by putting the fire out wearing only a pair of gloves. As Minnie reads from an account of the battle, she learns that her father’s actions saved the lives of many men and for his bravery he was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Medal. Robin has another surprise for Minnie as he introduces her to the only surviving member of her father’s RAF squadron – Derek Alloway. Derek describes Ronnie as a happy young fellow who he enjoyed many drinks with. However, Derek didn’t see Ronnie at all after the Battle and felt that Ronnie had become depressed following the death of his best friend Walter Lily.
Wanting to know more about what happened to her father after the Battle, Minnie travels to the RAF Museum in Hendon where she is able to read several press clippings relating to her father. Through these clippings, she learns that her father wasn’t Welsh but rather the son of a Scottish mother and a Yorkshire-born woolbuyer. Museum curator Peter informs Minnie that this information about Ronnie would’ve been printed in the paper to present this war hero as just a normal man which in turn would encourage other normal men to join the RAF. Minnie is delighted to find the article, if only to see the first glimpse of her grandmother who is standing with her father in the picture. However, there is tragedy for Minnie as she discovers that, following this press attention, Ronnie ended up in an RAF Psychiatric Hospital in Matlock. Minnie meets military psychiatry expert Edgar Jones who informs her that Ronnie was brought into Rockside Hall Hospital suffering from anxiety. This was thought to have stemmed from him suddenly being thrust into the spotlight due to all the media attention as well as the fact that he never truly recovered from Walter Lily’s death. Thankfully, by 1943, it transpired that Ronnie was out of hospital and was now a pilot officer in the RAF while he’d also married Ann Wilshaw wearing his full officer’s garb on the day.
Minnie’s next quest was to find a picture of her grandfather Charles Driver and to discover just why he wasn’t married to her grandmother Jessie when Ronnie was born. Heading to the archives in Stockton-on-Tees, Minnie discovers that Charles and Jessie were married in 1936 but she’s not able to find out more without the marriage certificate. However, using the library’s archive system, she is able to trace Charles Driver’s family and finds a second cousin living in Doncaster. She meets Eileen Wiper who tells her that, while Jessie was an outgoing and fun person, Charles was a reserved gentleman. However, it is only later that Minnie discovers that both of her grandparents were married before and both had other lives before marrying. She finds out that Jessie’s first husband Robert was killed during World War I and tragically died in one of the final battles of the conflict. The more shocking news is that Charles was still married to his first wife Ada when Jessie gave both to Ronnie while Minnie was even more surprised to learn that Charles already had a son from his first marriage. However, Minnie is overjoyed when she realises that Ronnie’s half-brother Leslie was an actor who had an incredibly big following on the repertory theatre scene in Stockport. Leslie, who used his mother’s maiden name of Stancliffe, was known for his huge repertoire and started as a junior in silent films. Tragically, Leslie died at the age of 38 however he did give birth to a daughter, Jean, who agrees to speak to Minnie over the phone as she doesn’t want to appear on camera. This final phone call is lovely to hear as the two bond over having the same grandfather. There are more celebrations for Minnie back in America when she receives a packet from England containing a photograph of Charles which she is able to show her son Henry.
I have to say that this was definitely my favourite episode of Who Do You Think You Are this series as Minnie had a clear objective from the get-go. Her mission was simply to find out more about a father she knew very little about and see pictures of the grandparents she’d never met. This instalment was full of the sort of secrets the show is known for as Minnie finds a cousin she never knew about as well as uncovering several traumatic events in her family life. I found Driver to be a gracious host who was thoroughly likeable and seemed genuinely interested in everything she was told. Though she did cry several times during the programme, I didn’t feel she overdid the waterworks like some others have done when appearing on the show. I found this episode to contain some real emotional scenes and it also had a satisfying conclusion namely Minnie receiving a picture of her grandfather that she was then able to show to her son. This episode was definitely Who Do You Think You Are at its best and I’m hoping for more instalments like this throughout the course of the series.
What did you think to tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Did you enjoy Minnie Driver’s story?
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