Known to millions as the ‘bearded one’ from The Goodies and now acknowledged as the country’s best-known bird watcher, Bill Oddie bravely turns his inquiring gaze into the tangled and sometimes obscure
branches of his own family tree – unprepared for the surprises it contains.
“This isn’t curiosity – it’s self-help,” he says candidly, revealing that his research began after he had suffered two severe bouts of clinical depression.
“I was an only child, brought up by my father and his mother, with no extended family.
“I sensed I didn’t know the truth even about the people I did remember.”
Oddie’s research uncovered the tragic truth about the mother he saw only four times in his young life.
“It was like only seeing the trailer, never the whole film”, he says.
“In the 1950s she was put in a mental institution – she disappeared out of my life in slightly mysterious circumstances and the rest of my family was a big blank.”
But the lonely, only child who sought solace from the strictures of his Birmingham home by escaping to the countryside, also often longed to have a sister.
“Not a brother, a sister,” he insists. “The irony was – I did have.”
Oddie discovered that, a couple of years before he was born, his mother had suffered a miscarriage at seven months, then later given birth to a baby girl – who had survived for just five days.
“My mother had heard her crying and wanted to go to her – but my Granny had stopped her. In her head she must have had to live in the same house as someone she blamed for her baby’s death.
“It’s very unreal and very sad,” he admits.
The trail continues back into the flourishing textile industry of Oddie’s Lancashire roots, where his family had earned a precarious living, with long hours, poor housing and high infant mortality.
“The 1891 census shows my grandmother working in the mills at the age of 13,” he reveals, “and an inquest in the local paper reveals that my grandfather died of cancer of the tonsils, probably brought on by the work he did.
“This programme has allowed me to put everything into an historical context and realise how lucky I am.”