Ruth Jones’ journey in Who Do You Think You Are? focuses on the two grandfathers she never met. She reveals her most memorable discoveries.
On the last day of filming for Ruth Jones’ episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, people were just starting to become aware of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bridgend-born actress, writer and comedian recalls she was elbow-bumping or foot-tapping with the crew like it was a novelty – with no idea what lay ahead for the rest of 2020.
And so the 54-year-old star is aware of how lucky she was to manage to finish her exploration into her family history before the filming/living rules changed.
It was certainly an eye-opening, emotional and memorable week in front of the camera for Jones, who’s best known for creating and starring in Gavin And Stacey, one of the most beloved BBC sitcoms in recent years.
Here, she discusses what she discovered during filming of Who Do You Think You Are?, and the impact it has had.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO DO THIS SHOW?
I’m a big fan, and I’ve been asked about doing it before, but the timing’s never been right because of various work things. But this time, it just all worked out. I was thrilled.
HOW MUCH DID YOU KNOW ABOUT YOUR FAMILY HISTORY AND WHAT DID YOU WANT TO FIND OUT?
My journey was focused on my two grandfathers who I never met. I knew a bit about my dad’s father because he died in the late 50s and my dad talked about him a lot – having said that, I thought I’d find out about his military experience in World War 1. But that wasn’t the road we went down…
My mum’s father was a mystery even to her as he died when she was two. I was really keen to find out about the Welsh-speaking element in our family and to go back to a time when Welsh was spoken as a first language in our family.
YOU LEARN THAT YOUR GRANDFATHER HENRY JONES WORKED HARD FOR THE MEDICAL AID ASSOCIATIONS AND HELPED SET UP A TEMPLATE FOR THE NHS…
He was known as Richard but, because that was my dad’s name, we refer to him in the programme as Henry Richard.
I was very proud of him – he seemed to be a real defender of the underdog and was very committed to his cause. He was passionate about the Medical Aid associations and I hadn’t realised how important they were as a forerunner to the NHS.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER PARTICULAR DISCOVERIES THAT STAND OUT TO YOU?
It was all new. I didn’t know we hailed from New Quay on my mum’s side – or that my paternal grandfather was such a romantic!
I got to read some letters from my paternal grandfather to my grandmother and they were so tender and romantic. I did wonder if he was looking down, how he’d feel about my reading out his love letters on national television! It was heartwarming to discover how in love my grandparents were though.
DO YOU FEEL EVEN CLOSER TO YOUR WELSH ROOTS NOW AS BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY ARE EMBEDDED IN THE LOCAL HISTORY?
Yes, this is something I’ve been really proud to discover – the fact that my family certainly on my mum’s side were Welsh speakers.
I felt a real affinity with New Quay when I went there – it’s the original inspiration for Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.
WERE YOU EMOTIONAL DURING FILMING?
It was emotional at times. I think everyone gets a bit emotional when discussing family don’t they?
I am really grateful for the experience. It was such an enjoyable week, with a lovely production crew, and the people I met en-route were so interesting – all the historians. History is far from boring.
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK IT IS FOR US TO TRY TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR FAMILY HISTORY?
Well, it gives us a kind of context doesn’t it about who we are. I think as you get older you become more interested in finding out where you come from emotionally and geographically. I’m not sure I would have been so interested in my twenties – I probably thought I was going to live forever back then!
But I wish I had been more interested, because there were people alive then that I could have asked questions – such as I wish I’d asked my maternal grandmother about her husband, and his family.
He was just this sort of mythical character, and although I’ve found out a lot about his ancestors, I still don’t know a lot about him. So I think I might make this my project – to continue the journey I’ve started with WDYTYA.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT?
Well, my new novel Us Three hasn’t long been out and I’m just starting work on my third novel. I am also co-writing two tv scripts with David Peet [her husband since 1999].
DO YOU FEEL CREATIVELY INSPIRED BY ANYTHING YOU’VE LEARNED ON YOUR WDYTYA ADVENTURE?
It’s made me want to look at a story about generations, and how the ‘old’ were ‘young’. I think it might well have had an influence on my next novel – watch this space.
Watch Ruth Jones’ episode of Who Do You Think You Are? On BBC One on Monday, October 26