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TV: Rick Stein on Who Do You Think You Are?

February 17, 2009

Last night saw something of a present-day curiosity in terms of TV, a loosely termed family consisting of a married couple and their newborn baby, me and my significant other all sat around the kitchen table. Once we’d finished our meal, one of us piped up:  “Rick Stein is on that Who Do You Think You Are? this evening, isn’t he? Anyone fancy watching it?”

On paper, bipolar sufferer Rick Stein’s appearance on the genealogy show wasn’t guaranteeing anything other than doom and gloom. Precious little light relief was on offer. And yet, Stein shows physical signs of emotional damage which makes him and his story alluring.

That may sound deeply insensitive on my part, but it is honest. Mental health is an interesting subject and one which I’m immediately drawn to. It’s feeding a part of my brain I’m not necessarily very proud of.

The programme did spend a good twenty minutes exploring Rick’s condition, his relationship with his father and the possible causes of his and his father’s bipolar condition.

But although there were some surprises revealed about the success rate of electro-convulsive therapy in the 1960s, the implied answer to Stein’s nature versus nuture question about bi-polar was disappointingly predictable even if it did reinforce a by-now demystified view of what the condition really is.

Stein’s mother’s story provided some interesting observations especially about women at universities in the first half of the twentieth century. Learning that women studying for degrees in the 1930s still faced an uphill struggle seeking employment was interesting. So too her origins in Canton as a daughter of a Methodist missionary on the conversion trail in China.

I wanted him to delve further into the past and to be in pursuit of an answer to a question he hadn’t asked himself. That said, I wonder whether this maybe a symptom of someone who by virtue of his condition will probably have asked and possibly answered a great many unanswered questions already.

If anything the episode demonstrates how accustomed a TV viewer is to a TV format like this, so much so that when certain things are different the likes of us notice instantly. It seems I’m not the only one who thought that.

In comparison to the other celebrities in this series, this has been the only episode I’ve watched and on that basis the episode is still worth a watch. And of course .. if you’ve got HD, those shots of Cornwall are, frankly, to die for …

Watch Rick Stein on BBC iPlayer here.

Recap on previous episodes of Who Do You Think You Are here.

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