Thursday, 5 September 2013

WDYTYA - Nitin Ganatra episode review

I've not watched Eastenders in years. I did so for a couple of years when it first started, then realised that I really wasn't finding much solace from the mundane humdrum misery of everyday life by watching a series that dealt with the humdrum misery of everyday life. It's also factually inaccurate because I know for a fact that there ARE some happy Londoners...!

So when Who Do You Think You Are decided to make a programme about one of Eastenders' actors, Nitin Ganatra, I had absolutely no idea who he was. And so it was that I sat in blissful ignorance, with absolutely no expectations whatsoever, about what was to unfold.

For the first time ever, I think Bill Oddie just got knocked off the top spot. I think this may have been the all time classic episode of WDYTYA.

I've read a few comments about the current series so far, claiming it to be the best yet. On that I am far from agreement, as I think at least two of the episodes have been amongst its all time weakest. But last night's episode was an absolute work of art, showing exactly what the power of the series can be.

Its central theme - and one I constantly bang on about as being the one area that always generates success in programme terms - was identity. Nitin's great grandfather had moved from India to Kenya in the 1890s during a famine that is right up there with the scale of the Irish Famine, and yet one I had never heard about. His father had later emigrated to England during the aftermath of Kenya's emancipation from colonialism. Nitin was therefore a modern day Londoner, but a man without a sense of his roots. His journey to Kenya, his visit to an aunt in India, his obtaining a death cert for another aunt he never knew, and his ultimate trip back to the village where his family originated to meet a man over a hundred years old who had such a vivid recollection of his family when there, was a tour de force of self-exploration. The sequence on the bed looking at his aunt's death certificate and what it meant to him - and his responsibility in obtaining it - was one of the all time classic moments ever in the series.

I've spent roughly a third of my life living in England, a third in Scotland and the same in Northern Ireland. When in Ulster I was constantly told I was British despite living in Ireland, when in England I was constantly told I was Irish despite living in the UK, and only now, back in Scotland, am I content with my sense of who I am, because I have worked it out for myself (I'm a Paton - hang the consequences!). Family history research has actually allowed me to understand my own sense of who I am, without various muppets finger pointing and labelling me for their own convenience. Equally I suspect after his journey Nitin's sense of himself has been changed forever. He may still be a Londoner, but one with a true sense of home having finally been secured. You could feel his pride in the last sequence where he added his name to a document continuing his family's connection to India. I suspect it will continue to be a family tradition for another 200 years to come, wherever his descendants may reside. (I also suspect Ancestry's already on the blower about those documents...!).

Pure magic. But oh my God, avoid lions if you're planning any railway work...

If you missed the show, but live in the UK, you can catch up with the episode on the iPlayer at It's definitely worth it.


My wife Claire is planning to swim from the Scottish island of Cumbrae to the town of Largs on September 14th to raise money for local charity Gillian's Saltire Appeal, providing respite for families affected by cancer (Claire's mum and sister in Ireland have previously come through cancer, whilst my mum, based in England, currently has bladder cancer). Her Just Giving sponsorship page, with further details, is at If you can help to sponsor her, even by a wee amount, we'd be very grateful - many thanks!


  1. Just checked in Wikipedia because I thought the incident with the lions sounded familiar. They were known as the Man-eaters of Tsavo and the guy who hunted them down, later wrote a book that was the inspiration for a couple of films and incidents in films.


  2. Lucky for all those Irish navvies in England that there were no lions or wolves when they dug the canals and railways! But the same sort of story of economic migration whether within the country of one's birth or farther afield.

    However to be serious that feeling of being comfortable within your own skin and a better sense of identity which results from researching your tree comes I think from the resonances which you inevitably find between your family and their ancestors - if only by finding out where that particular trait seems to come from. It may be a lot more effective perhaps than going for therapy although maybe not cheaper!

    Those individual resonances are also perhaps why some people like one episode more than another. I am enjoying this series more than the last - well I haven't switched off after 15 minutes yet - but maybe I'm more patient this year or there's less competition for my interest.