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24 September 2014
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Who Do You Think You Are?
Amanda Redman

Who Do You Think You Are?

Amanda Redman

Award-winning actress Amanda Redman admits that she was terrified about delving into her family's past - and totally unprepared for the secrets which emerged.

"I knew there were these things my family didn't want to talk about, but I wanted to know what makes me me," she explains.

"What I discovered was that my grandfather William was not only a drunk, but very abusive and violent towards my grandmother.

"I was fairly shocked by what relatives had to say - their lives have been so affected by all this."

Redman's search began with her mother Joan, at home in Brighton where the details of William's life as a soldier in the Indian Army are revealed.

"He is the key to the family secrets," she says. "My mother was born in India and her father was a strict disciplinarian and everyone was in awe of him."

But the At Home With The Braithwaites star is less at home with the level of violence he had shown.

"The Army wanted to send my grandmother and her children home, away from him," she says. "But she didn't go."

The film then focuses on one child left behind when the family goes to defend the Empire - Redman's grandmother's first-born son Cyril.

Records show that he was born before she got married, but there was no trace of who his father was.

The trail of Cyril leads to revelations about reform school - for stealing a train! - followed by a career in the Merchant Navy and a double life worthy of any TV drama.

Cyril had a long-running affair with a married woman and fathered a son - while leading a double life with another woman and fathering a daughter.

"I have a huge, extended family in Falmouth," says Redman proudly, "but they all came from my great, great-grandfather James who was a mariner and plied the trade routes between Ireland and Cornwall. That's why there was always a rumour going round the family that we had a castle in Ireland…"

Digging into her Irish roots brings Redman face to face with another surprise - her Protestant heritage came at a stroke, when a poor Catholic ancestor was sent to a Protestant charity school.

"I have learned so much and met so many people from the past," says Redman. "This whole exercise has been fascinating."

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