Who Do You Think You Are? with Sue Perkins

Thursday: Who Do You Think You Are? - (BBC1, 9pm)

Sue Perkins, London Bridge
Sue Perkins, London Bridge

Anyone in the public eye knows – and largely accepts – that their celebrity comes with an elevated level of interest in their daily lives and activities.

While in some instances it can be a toxic thing, programmes like this prove that a little bit of exposure can be entertaining, informative and emotional.

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For 18 years, this gentle genealogy series has probed the histories of some of our most beloved stars, taking them and us on many surprising journeys.

Some of the biggest names in the British firmament have allowed a team of researchers to dig around their families’ pasts, from national treasure Barbara Windsor, and Sex and the City actress Kim Cattral to Bee Gee Robin Gibb, to name but a very few.

One of the most memorable episodes was served up in 2016 by EastEnders star Danny Dyer, when his connection to England’s medieval monarchy was revealed in all its glory, 10 years after we’d all sobbed alongside Stephen Fry as he explored the tragic fate of his relatives during the Second World War.

WDYTYA has given us insights into some of our most beloved celebrities that couldn’t be grubbed up on social media or in the tabloids, which is why the 19th series makes such a welcome return to the schedules.

It kicks off with much-loved actress, broadcaster, comedian, presenter and writer Sue Perkins, who the nation first adored for her partnerships with Mel Giedroyc in Channel 4’s Light Lunch, and later on Aunty Beeb’s The Great British Bake-Off.

She’s gone on to follow in fellow WDYTYA alumni Babs Windsor and Stephen Fry’s shoes, and become something of a national treasure on the radio and telly. Who else could hold their own alongside Giles Coren in a variety of period costume while scoffing historical menus in the Supersizers’ series, or bestride the classical music world like a Colossus by winning the BBC Two conducting competition, Maestro?

Sue has also turned her hand to travelogues, exploring some of the world’s most dangerous roads, as well as and wrote and starred in the sitcom Heading Out. She even finished fifth in last year’s edition of The Masked Singer, performing as Dragon.

As a witty woman who has appeared on a slew of panel shows both on the radio box and television, it will come as no surprise to learn there’s plenty of humour in her family tree, even among the poignant stories of an orphaned grandfather and a great-grandfather who was interned as an “enemy alien” during the First World War. However, the programme takes a turn for the sombre when Sue delves into the German branch of her family, who were living in Eastern Europe through the Second World War. She uncovers a harrowing tale of refugees who were fleeing back and forth across borders between Nazi and Soviet control, a story that serves as a stark reminder for Sue that history is full of real people who “always pay the price for the decisions that the big guys make.”