Anne Reid: 'I had the first family convict on Who Do You Think You Are?!'

(Image credit: BBC/Wall To Wall Media Limited/S)

Before climbing her family tree in Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1, Thursday, September 17), Anne Reid was expecting a Marquess, but she ended up with a disgraced headmaster...

Greatgreatgrandfather John was sent as a convict to Tasmania, Australia in 1842, after being found guilty of forging a signature in a desperate attempt at financial fraud.

TV Times spoke to the Last Tango in Halifax star Anne, 80, about John, his downfall and why she was left feeling angry about his fate.

Had you always been interested in your family tree?

“Oh yes, I’d been researching it. My dad used to say, ‘We’re descended from the Marquess of Cholmondeley’ and we always used to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’. He’s a bit of a fantasist, my father!

"Then I started to research it myself and found out that my greatgrandmother was actually born in 1832 at Cholmondeley Castle, so I want to do that bit as well!”

Your greatgreatgrandfather John was convicted of fraud and sent to Tasmania, Australia in 1842, but you’re quite proud of him aren’t you?

“He sounds like a man who was fun. In the show, the two incidents that they talk about him being drunk were a year and a half apart. I mean, you know, it’s quite a long time between drinks, February one year and November the next!

“I can just see all these people in black, saying, ‘Such a dreadful man, appalling behaviour’, and I can just see him thinking, ‘Yeah, shut up!”

At the beginning of your episode you say, ‘I’m not going to cry’, but you were quite angry.  Did that surprise you? 

“I didn’t feel sad; I was overcome with a desire for revenge! It’s silly really, but I did understand how you would be very unforgiving to the heirs of the people who convicted John because you get very involved in the story; it’s like reading a book.

“You think, ‘I want this to happen to them, I want that to happen to them’. I wanted him to have revenge on them and come back rich and say, ‘Well, stuff you!”


You visited Convict Road which was built by the prisoners in Tasmania. That must have been quite a comedown for a headmaster…

“When you look at all the people who were with my greatgreatgrandfather, some of them were 11 and 12. My grandfather was 49, which was quite old at that time, and he was a school teacher; he didn’t murder anybody, and he was a man who had a reasonably respectable life.

"He wasn’t like some sort of lad from a gang that was going round coshing people. When you think of putting somebody who’s had a decent life and got three kids there, it was absolutely appalling.”

So are you going to be on set secretly researching everything?

“I think you have to get genealogists on to it and try and contact some people. It’s having the time; I’ve just been so busy. I’m going back to Australia.

“That filming in the court [where the fate of John was revealed], was 16 days before Christmas! When I was told it I was going to Van Diemen’s Land, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t remember what it was, and then I said, ‘I’m going to Tasmania!’ The producer nodded and I said, ‘but it’s 16 days before Christmas, I haven’t done my shopping!’ A few days later, we were on the plane and off to Tasmania!”

Sometimes the people on the show don’t get to leave the country, but you got to go to the other side of the world!

“And they’ve never had a convict apparently; I’m their first convict!”