The phone call came out of the blue… “Hello, Patricia? This is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ – yes, the BBC series.”
Sitting at my desk at work, in the middle of a project, on an ordinary day, I considered this for a moment. “Yes, of course you are,” I replied, absolutely certain that it wasn’t. I looked around to see if anyone was giggling in the office.
“No, really, it is,” insisted the voice. “And we’re looking for an expert on the Ladies Land League.”
Right, I thought, this is definitely someone at work pulling my leg. I decided to play along, and see how long the caller could keep it up. “I know of a few experts who could help,” I replied. “Have you spoken to Nancy Smyth or Myles Dungan?”
“Um, we want to talk to you,” said the voice. “We came across your book about the Ladies Land League, ‘Petticoat Rebellion’. Would you be free to meet with our director and researcher in Dublin? We’re planning to shoot part of this episode in the National Library of Ireland.”
Realising this was for real, the rest of the conversation felt surreal … and even more so when, in the summer of 2013, I found myself in the National Library of Ireland with a documentary crew and Julie Walters. Having seen the show, I was determined not to say “Well, Julie, let me show you this document…”, and I am grateful to the editing team for cutting out the hundred times that I actually said it.
Julie was so much fun to work with – in between the serious bits about a potential famine in 1880s Ireland, and the tenants’ struggle for land rights, we scoured the small ads in the vintage newspapers. One ad which quite captured Julie’s imagination was for a mysterious ‘Hair Destroyer’. We asked the archivist, who was there to safeguard the massive bound volumes, which had been taken out of storage for the day, what this Hair Destroyer might be. She said that it was either an electrical device which you plugged in to make your hair fall out, or some kind of potion which did the same. Julie got a fit of the giggles at this. If you watch the episode, you can see that she was clearly having a LOT of fun that day in the Library.
There’s a photo and more information about Julie’s brave ancestor, a treasurer in a local Ladies Land League branch, Mrs Maria O’Brien, on the Who Do You Think You Are? magazine website.