Ralf Little made his name as 'Our Antony', part of the bickering but tight-knit Royles in much-loved sitcom The Royle Family, but his real-life relatives proved just as compelling as the actor explored his ancestry for Who Do You Think You Are?
The episode of the genealogy show, airing in the UK on BBC One on Thursday, June 30 at 9 pm, sees the Death in Paradise season 12 and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps star uncover some footballing roots as he learned how his maternal great-grandfather Albert Lockley was a star player for Chirk FC and Wales in the 1890s.
Meanwhile, Ralf also found out about the World War Two service of his beloved maternal grandad Arthur Bailey and examined how his paternal four-times great-grandfather John Woollam helped to improve social conditions in Manchester.
What To Watch caught up with Ralf Little to find out more about his fascinating episode of Who Do You Think You Are?...
Why did you want to take part in Who Do You Think You Are?
“I've always loved it and wanted to do it. I said, ‘I'm sure I have a boring family tree!’’ But they said, ‘We think there are some interesting stories.’ And what an amazing family I've got that I had no idea about. It gives you so much insight into who you are and where you came from.”
How did you feel when you found out your great-grandad, Albert, a Welsh miner, was a successful footballer?
“My family has always been sporty, I’ve played every sport under the sun. And now there's this genetic line from an international sportsman straight through my mother! He was right there at the birth of professional football as we know it.”
Your grandad Arthur was sent to the Orkneys where he worked on naval bases during the war as a sick berth attendant and later with the Fleet Air Arm as an air mechanic. What was it like to see where he had been based?
“It was freezing! I had no idea that Orkney was the hub of the British Navy. There was still a hut, which used to be a medical bay, where he’d have been stationed. It was extraordinary to visualise what his life would have been like and how cold and tough it would have been. He was an incredible man doing incredible things, along with so many others.”
Arthur was then sent to the Pacific and was at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Did you know he’d been there?
“No, the fact that he never talked about it is poignant. He came home and went, ‘That's something I never want to revisit.’ This was the first time a Japanese kamikaze pilot hit a British vessel [Arthur’s ship HMS Indefatigable] and he was either on the deck or in the hangar — the worst places to be. What he must have seen. With everybody's grandparents, their life before you knew them and what their hopes and dreams were is unimaginable. But this humanised history in the most extraordinary way.”
On your paternal side, you also traced John Woollam, who made his fortune as a cotton trader in the 19th century and then, while in local government, tried to bring better sanitation to Manchester. Were you pleased to hear that?
“Yes, he was one of the founding fathers of Manchester really. I was proud that this man who made a lot of money then went, ‘How can I improve things for people?’ It’s extraordinary this idea of civic duty. I’d never found any interest in political engagement until about 10 years ago but throughout my family, there’s a sense of social conscience going back to John Woollam. It's made me who I am.”
Is there anything about your family you would still love to find out?
“I had three characters in my story that have had very 'big' lives. But I also think that there are fascinating stories in a ‘smaller’ life. My gran [Olive, Albert’s daughter, who married Arthur], was just this incredibly kind, sweet woman who was one of 11 siblings in Wales. What was that like? Why did she move to Manchester when she was 15? That's a story I would love to know more about as well. Was it daunting? Was it scary?”
How is filming going on Death in Paradise? And are the rumours about a return for Two Pints of Lager true?!
"I'm filming a Christmas special and Death in Paradise season 12 now. And with Two Pints, [co-star] Will Mellor keeps going, ‘It's definitely happening!’ Susan Nixon, the creator, has written a script. It's really funny and there's a lot of interest. Who knows? I think it would be good fun!"
And what are you enjoying watching on TV at the moment?
“A few years ago, when it came out, I tried Better Call Saul and I gave up after a few episodes, it just felt like it was in the shadow of Breaking Bad. And then I tried it again recently after I’d finished Ozark, which got me in the mood for a bit more of that sort of tone of things. Now I think it's absolutely magic. Plus Bob Odenkirk goes on record about once a week saying that The Royle Family is his favourite TV show of all time. So I feel like I've just returned the favour!”
Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.
Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.
Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.
In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.
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