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Monday 20 August 2018

Larry's generation game

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (BBC1) STUART'S KITCHEN (TV3)

FIRST June 'Dot Cotton' Brown, and now Larry 'Archie Mitchell' Lamb. Two EastEnders actors on Who Do You Think You Are? in the same month might seem like excessive barrel-scraping.

But Lamb's journey, which took him from the fairgrounds of 19th-century London to the suburbs of 1950s California, was one of the best in the current series: a real humdinger of a story with a fantastic feelgood final act.

Too often with this series you get the nagging feeling that some of the subjects know a little more than they're letting on. Not here, though.

The twist was that Lamb's mother, Jessie (84), found out only recently that she was adopted, so everything he encountered here was completely new to him.

"I feel no different about them at all," said Lamb, referring to the couple he'd always called his grandparents.

"I'm just curious to find out about the real ones. Half of me is missing."

Jessie's real mother, Catherine, was just 17 when she had her out of wedlock.

In order to legitimise Jessie, she married the child's father, Albert Day, whose family had been big noises in the fairground world since the 19th century and toured Britain with their own travelling menagerie.

Lamb visited previously unknown cousins, who still work in the fairground business and live in caravans, and was thrilled to discover an ancestor called Jimmy 'Wildbeast' Day lurking up the family tree.

But Catherine and Albert soon split up, and Jessie was given up for adoption.

Lamb could find no trace of Albert in the records after 1926.

Catherine, not having heard from Albert in seven years and presuming he'd died, married a Jewish man called Louis Rosen -- ironically, in a synagogue on Walford Road, of all places -- and converted to his faith.

Curiously, she put herself down as "spinster" on her marriage certificate, which might or might not have been bigamy. The couple had a son called John (Catherine had been four months pregnant when she married Louis) and the Rosens moved to California during the booming 1950s.

When Louis died in 1967, Catherine married for a third time -- or a second, if you rely on the records. She herself died in Glendale, California, in 1991, at the ripe old age of 83. Ironically, recalled Lamb, he'd been filming in Los Angeles shortly before her death.

The big payoff came when Lamb visited his new-found uncle, John Rosen, who was startled to learn the family's hidden history. "I've always been an only child," he said. "At 72, I got a sister!" EastEnders couldn't match a plotline like that.

I was moaning recently about how, what with Jamie Oliver wagging his finger at fat Americans, Gordon Ramsay grumpily chasing shark hunters, and Heston Blumenthal trying to build a nuclear device using only hydrogen, snails and puppy dog tails, the food seems to have taken a backseat to the personalities in modern TV food shows.

Not so in Stuart's Kitchen, where the grub is right out there at the front. And it looks delicious. Forget good enough to eat; this stuff is good enough to make you lick your television screen.

Still, I suspect that for the laydeez in the audience, the real dish of the day here is Stuart O'Keeffe himself. Already an acclaimed chef and familiar TV face in America before he started this series, Tipperary-born Stuart is the Steve Silvermint of cookery: cool, clean and, unfortunately, as anodyne as an Ikea fitted kitchen.

Should your tongue accidentally brush up against Stuart's head while making a dart for his beef tenderloin, I fear the taste would be pure vanilla. Cookery shows have lost the knack of balancing colourful food with colourful hosts.

It makes you yearn for the good old days of the late, great Keith Floyd spraying the pan with wine and spit while picking up prawns with his fingers.



WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? HHHHI STUART'S KITCHEN HHIII

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