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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Moving stories of long-lost family in a time of war

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS Reviews Last Night’s TV: The Touching Stories of Long-Lost Fathers and Wartime Love

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Britain’s Secret War Babies

Rating:

Shetland

Rating: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on last nights TV

The climax in any family history series is when the host pulls out a brown envelope, slides out a photo, and the tears begin.

Britain’s Secret War Babies (C4) did not disappoint. Staring at a picture of the father she’d never known, lovely Mary, a 77-year-old Welsh woman, wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. So she did both. . . then kissed the photo.

For John, also 77, from Weymouth, the “revelation” was even more emotional. He first met his half-brother and niece when they were shooting a studio portrait. “I understand why my mother was attracted to him,” John muttered. Mary had the same reaction to her father’s photo.

To add to the impact, both unmistakably resembled their fathers – black American GIs, stationed in Britain during World War II, who had romances with local girls.

Britain's Secret War Babies has tracked down the identities of the fathers of two people who were black American GIs who were stationed in Britain during WWII

Britain's Secret War Babies has tracked down the identities of the fathers of two people who were black American GIs who were stationed in Britain during WWII

Britain’s Secret War Babies has tracked down the identities of the fathers of two people who were black American GIs who were stationed in Britain during WWII

Mary Phillips (left) holding a photo of her father, with journalist Sean Fletcher (right)

Mary Phillips (left) holding a photo of her father, with journalist Sean Fletcher (right)

Mary Phillips (left) holding a photo of her father, with journalist Sean Fletcher (right)

Mary Phillips, now 77, pictured as a child with her mother

Mary Phillips, now 77, pictured as a child with her mother

Mary Phillips, now 77, pictured as a child with her mother

John Stockley (left), 77, was able to meet his half-brother Byron (right) and niece for the first time in San Diego

John Stockley (left), 77, was able to meet his half-brother Byron (right) and niece for the first time in San Diego

John Stockley (left), 77, was able to meet his half-brother Byron (right) and niece for the first time in San Diego

This was the prize that shows like Long Lost Family always strive for. The result of years of research by journalist Sean Fletcher, this one-off documentary made the most of it by spreading the two stories over 90 minutes instead of the usual hour.

Misleading stats of the week:

Beeb executives are crowing as iPlayer is more popular than ever, with a record 1.6 billion shows viewed online in three months. That is not so surprising. . . there’s nothing to see on BBC1 all summer but flipping sport.

That gave us time to learn more about John and Mary, to meet their children, and enjoy the thrill as both flew to America to meet their unknown relatives. It also left more time to explore the history of American soldiers in England and Wales before D-Day. . . famous oversex as well as here.

It was a pleasure to hear how much Britain welcomed the black American troops in wartime. The racist segregation the US military imposed on its own men was a concept unknown in this country, and the soldiers were accepted by people all over the UK regardless of their skin color.

This caused concern at Whitehall. Officials feared senior US officers would be offended by our absence of racial division.

Everyday Brits took no notice of that nonsense and gave a warm, color-blind welcome to all GIs. . . very warm at times, which is why in the mid-1940s Fletcher saw what Fletcher described as “the first significant generation of black Britons born.”

But black troops were almost always banned by the US military from marrying British girls. Many of the soldiers did not return from Normandy. Others had what you might call “prior obligations” – John’s father already had a wife in California. It was as moving as it was fascinating to watch this history unravel and loop around the lives of families on both sides of the Atlantic.

DI Jimmy Perez fished a body in a suitcase out of the water last week, in Shetland (BBC1).  This time a corpse turned up in the back of a car at a wrecking company

DI Jimmy Perez fished a body in a suitcase out of the water last week, in Shetland (BBC1).  This time a corpse turned up in the back of a car at a wrecking company

DI Jimmy Perez fished a body in a suitcase out of the water last week, in Shetland (BBC1). This time a corpse turned up in the back of a car at a wrecking company

Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea, Inspector Jimmy Perez fished a body in a suitcase out of the water last week, in Shetland (BBC1). This time, a corpse popped up in the back of a car at a scrap yard because the vehicle was about to be recycled.

What I don’t understand is that Shetland is apparently such a small community that Perez (Douglas Henshall) was able to quickly identify the suitcase and the suspect who owned it. Are these islands so sparsely populated that each piece of luggage is unique? And if so, how come there’s a junkyard with a pile of twisted metal and a breaker that’s working overtime? Does everyone have six cars and one Samsonite?

Perez’s own flight bag looked good, as it was time for the detective to make his trip to Glasgow, mandatory on any investigation.

That gave DC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson) a chance to throw his weight around and bark things like, ‘What charity shop? Did you get a receipt for it?’ with the suitcase suspect.

He must cherish his chances of taking over if Henshall leaves. Sandy’s Shetland has a ring.

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