The day Paxman shed a tear

Bucks Free Press: Jeremy Paxman discovered his family was very poor Jeremy Paxman discovered his family was very poor

Jeremy Paxman explores his family tree and discovers his roots lie in a tough working class background in the TV documentary Who Do You Think You Are. Sitala Peek takes a look at what's in store.

JEREMY Paxman, Newsnight's most tenacious interviewer, is placed under the spotlight in a new BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are.

The six week series explores family histories and is kick started by Paxman who frequently loses his rag with the interviewer and demands him to: "Ask me a sensible question."

At the outset the BBC's award-winning investigative reporter, who lives in the Chilterns, is reluctant to delve into the lives of his ancestors and says: "I've always thought you have to live life looking forwards not backwards, and I have had no interest at all in finding out who my ancestors are, but I suppose there's a bit of a sense you might find something interesting out."

In Paxman's case the truth reduces him to tears.

He continues: "Most television is just complete and total rubbish.

"The chance to get something on television with a bit of social history might be worthwhile, but I can't say it's a burning issue for me. Should it be?

In the course of his investigations, the public school educated 55-year-old, discovers that his great grandparents on both sides lived in abject poverty.

Paxman's search starts with an annotated Bible given to his maternal grandmother Mabel by her mother Mary Mackay, (Paxman's great grandmother.) When quizzed about his views on religion he answers hotly: "I really don't think you should ridicule people's religious convictions. I strongly believe that.

"I may privately think they are misguided and may detest some interpretations of their religious belief but I do respect their religious convictions.

"It's the only important thing, whether we are here for a purpose."

Religion, it transpires, played a life saving role in his great grandmother's life in the form of the Salvation Army.

The religious organisation took her in and offered her practical and emotional support after her husband, John, died prematurely from kidney disease, aged 42, leaving Mary to bring up 11 children in a one room tenement flat in Glasgow, without any income.

Paxman is humbled when he learns of his family's hardship when Mary's poor relief application is revoked by the parish following the birth of an illegitimate daughter, Dora.

He says: "She committed the great sin of having a child and was faced with the decision to keep her family together and risk starvation or split them up and live in a dreaded workhouse.

"She chose to stay with her children, and I admire her decision."

Paxman's grandmother, Mabel, went out to work to support her new baby sister, Dora, while she was only a child herself.

"I don't know what she thought about that. I hope that she felt generous."

Happily the family's fortunes take a turn for the better and Paxman's great grandmother lived past middle age.

Her daughter Mabel also joined the Salvation Army and was ordained as a full time vicar at 20.

She married a Salvation Army bandsman and settled in Yorkshire where she gave birth to Paxman's mother Joan and there ends the maternal line.

On his father's side too, Paxman's family suffered great hardship.

His dad Keith emigrated to Australia, so the search begins with his auntie Margaret who recalls their father Arthur as jolly man. Arthur was a travelling salesman, and generous when he could afford to be.

Margaret recalls: "He gave us a present every night when he came home from work."

Arthur was orphaned at 12, when his parents (Paxman's great, grandparents) Thomas and Mary Paxman died from TB and exhaustion.

At this point Paxman breaks down in the interview, and openly cries, but carries on and with tears running down his face.

He says: "Thousands of people must have lived like this, but when they are just numbers like that, it doesn't mean anything.

"I wouldn't recognise these people if I fell over them, but it's that possessive thing.

"God, we have it easy."

At age 12 Arthur joined the same woollen company his father had worked for. He too became a successful sales rep which started the Paxman's on the road to prosperity.

Paxman mistakenly believes his family "are Yorkshire folk", but a historian soon corrects him and records show that Paxman's great, great, great, grandfather Thomas migrated to Bradford from Suffolk.

Records show that Thomas went cap in hand to the parish for poor relief virtually every week to support his seven children.

Paxman admits: "I expect if it had been me, I would have hated it and felt humiliated, it's quite humbling really."

The Paxman's story is a tale of extreme poverty on both sides.

He says: "I am very glad it was them and not me. They managed in the end and I admire them for that. I feel quite proud of them."

But as to whether the knowledge has changed him, he says: "I don't care whether people see me differently after seeing this. You are just who you are, are you not?"

Who Do You Think You Are starts on BBC 1 on Wednesday, January 11 at 9pm

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