British actor Danny Dyer was responsible for several moments of TV gold this past week as he delved into has family’s past for the first episode from Season 13 of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘ In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this hilarious and emotionally-charged hour may be the best bit of television I’ve watched this year.
If you’ve never seen the show, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ revolves around celebrities researching their own family trees, with the likes of David Tennant, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, J.K. Rowling, Martin Freeman and Jeremy Clarkson all appearing on the U.K. version. It has since been exported to countries all over the world, with the American version attracting the likes of Spike Lee, Lionel Richie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kelsey Grammar, Bryan Cranston and Steve Buscemi.
But there’s never been an episode as funny, surprising, heartwarming, or downright jaw-dropping as Dyer’s. Playing lovable rogues in films like The Business and The Football Factory and TV’s EastEnders, Dyer admits at the start of the show that he’d like to be related to aristocracy, or “something completely left-field to what I’m known for.”
It’s an understatement to say he gets his wish, but in recounting my favourite seven moments from his journey back in time, I have to delve into SPOILERS, so if you haven’t watched the episode yet, remedy that on iPlayer right now (it’s there for another month if you’re in the UK).
And as well as SPOILERS, be prepared for some SERIOUS COCKNEY ahead…
1. “Fascinating Boat”
To kick off his journey, Danny heads to East End boozer The Palm Tree to peruse photos of his grandparents over a pint with his Dad. “She looks nawty” he says of his great-grandmother. His great-great grandmother meanwhile, has “a fascinating boat.” The revelations he learns about these ladies are heartbreaking, inspiring Dyer to wish that his journey “gets a bit more jolly.” It does Danny. It does.
2. “Cako Bako”
As he climbs his family tree, Dyer learns that his 10 x great grandfather Robert Gosnald was landed gentry who even had his own coat-of-arms. “I’m hoping he’s cako bako” Danny exclaims. “Which in cockney means really rich. I need to find out more about this geezer. I’m hoping he’s a proper geezer. Like proper-proper.”
3. “Hopelessly in Love”
Danny heads to Oxford to meet a Civil War historian who reveals that Gosnald was a royalist who fought for Charles 1st, and in spite of the fact that his side was being pummelled and there was little in the way of hope, refused to surrender. “We’ve definitely got that in our family – it’s about heart and spirit” Dyer explains, adding “He’s a powerful, powerful man, and I’m hopelessly in love with him.”
4. “Severe Reddies”
“This is the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen” exclaims Danny when he claps eyes on his ancestor’s beautiful country pile. But being on the losing side, Gosnald lost the house and all his money after the war. Or as Dyer puts it “They’ve hit him for severe reddies.” This is also the moment where Danny worries that he’s going to be bitten by a peacock roaming the grounds.
5. “The Geezer’s Got a Drawbridge!”
Danny learns that while the Gosnald’s might have lost everything, Robert’s mother was a Tollemache, and they are still a land-owning family in the next village. Dyer heads there to, as he puts it, “cause some chaos.” As the house – and his distant relative Lord Tollemache – come into view, Danny says “The size of this gaffe’s ridiculous… the geezer’s got a drawbridge. F**king hell! How can these people be my relatives?” He then has “a bit of bunny” with the Lord, telling him “This is another level of house. Is it a house? It’s got a moat!”
6. “I Am a Direct Descendent of Thomas Cromwell!”
Dyer heads to the church that’s basically in Lord Tollemache’s back-garden, where he finds a statue of his great grandfather Lionel. Turns out Lionel’s wife was Katherine Cromwell, who in turn was the great granddaughter of Thomas Cromwell, of Henry VIII fame and more recently the central character in critically acclaimed BBC drama Wolf Hall. “I am a direct descendent of Thomas Cromwell” says Danny. Twice as he doesn’t seem to believe it himself. His journey then takes him to Hampton Court Palace (“You could have a right rave in here”) and then onto the Tower of London, where Cromwell was imprisoned on charges of heresy and treason before eventually being beheaded.
7. “I’m Going to Treat Myself to a Ruff”
And so we come to the big revelation. Danny heads to Westminster Abbey where he’s given a scroll and told he’s a direct descendent of Edward III. “I can’t be. I can’t be. A direct descendent of Edward III? So Danny Dyer is at the bottom of this scroll and Edward III at the top? It’s stupid, innit?” He continues, incredulous, “I think I’m going to treat myself to a ruff. Just get a massive ruff, bowl about with it. And if anyone questions I’ll explain why I’m wearing a ruff. Then they’ll have to walk away, won’t they. Embarrassed.” He visits Edward’s tomb, and is told that as his direct descendent, he’s also related to Henry III – who built the Abbey in which he’s standing – and William the Conquerer. Close to tears, he simply says “A kid from Canning Town – Custom House – and this is my bloodline” and heads home to tell his wife and child that they are royalty.
It’s a wonderful moment at the end of an incredible piece of television. On this evidence, not only is Danny Dyer a national treasure, but we could do a lot worse than make the next King of England. Or at least give him his own drawbridge. And if you haven’t had enough of his cockney magic, we’ll end with an outtake from the show in which the cockney Shakespeare explains why he’ll never use the word ‘face’…