Magazine article The Spectator

Family Fortunes

Magazine article The Spectator

Family Fortunes

Article excerpt


Family fortunes

I hate the modern world so much at the moment that all I want to do is retire to the Welsh Borders, listen to classical music and go on long walks. Unfortunately, as you may have inferred from my hysterical dirty bomb review the other week, I'm now trapped in London by the plummeting property market, so unless one of the two books I'm working on - one is on commandos, the other is on being right-wing - comes good, I fear I'm stuck with this poxy 20-articles-a-day-but-nowhere-near-as-many-as-Boris-Johnson-or-Rod-Liddle journo gig for a good while yet.

You needed that autobiographical intro, I think, because you've been rather deprived on that front of late. I was going to give you even more. This week, I'd chosen to review the BBC's new genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC2, Tuesdays) expressly so that I could spend the first half talking about my interesting surname, speculating on its origins and telling you amusing stories about my abject failure to discover that I am in fact the long-lost heir to a vast dukedom. Instead, though, I'm saving it for the slot I've just been given in the Times on Saturday standing in for Giles Coren while he goes off to the Lake District to finish his novel, and, I'm sorry, but it pays much more than the Speccie does.

So, the TV programme. The first one starred former-Goodie-turned-mildly tedious-birdwatcher Bill Oddie, which I wasn't looking forward to nearly as much as the Jeremy Clarkson one and which I nearly didn't watch at all when I discovered it was about depressing things like mentally ill mothers and the decline of the northern cotton industry.

But you can tell from the way it has been advertised that, like British Isles: a Natural History, this is going to be one of those megabuck flagship series that the BBC will not allow to fail. Even if Oddie had traced his ancestry to a man called Mr Boring, the Greyest Man of Basingstoke, you can bet that the specially commissioned theme music would have been so alluring, the photography so sumptuous, the direction so zappily post-modern that we would have been gripped by Mr Boring's life from first to last. (Mind you, now I think about it, he docs sound quite interesting.)

Anyway, Oddie's episode was tastily prurient. Apart from gleaning the useful Hello!-style snippet that he has a home overlooking the ponds on Hampstead Heath, we learnt that he hardly knew his mother, whom he had always resented for having abandoned him as a child; that he was manic-depressive and that four years ago he'd had a nervous breakdown probably induced by the death of his father. …

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