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Who Do You Think You Are? Ruby Wax's colourful family history made ideal fodder for this consistently absorbing series - review

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 04/10/2017 By Michael Hogan
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Mouthy comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax was the latest celebrity to rummage around in her ancestry for Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC One). What unfolded was a gut-punch story of Jewish persecution and mental illness. 

Knowing little about the early life of her late parents, Wax travelled to Austria to learn about their flight from Vienna in 1938 to escape the Nazis.

An experience that her father had airily described as an adventure turned out to be a grim ordeal of torture and terror. 

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Following her family line into the Czech Republic, Wax discovered two relatives who were both sectioned in the same asylum for the “agitated”.

She was deeply moved yet took a curious comfort from it. Her own long-term depression wasn’t some sort of weakness, it was in her genes. Her “basket case” mother’s hysteria wasn’t war trauma but inherited. Wax determinedly traced similar symptoms down through generations of women. 

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It was an affecting tale, sensitively told. The camera settled for lingering on telling details: Wax tottering unsteadily in high heels, pouting to hold in her tears, absent-mindedly stroking her grandfather’s gravestone. 

Wax made ideal fodder for this consistently absorbing series. Not only did she have a colourful family history but she was an open book herself. I guess that’s what being American and undergoing decades of therapy does for you. Making this fine programme was clearly cathartic. As she concluded: “Rather than doing therapy, I should’ve done genealogy.” 

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