23/08/2012 10:22 BST | Updated 07/12/2012 05:12 GMT

TV REVIEW: Greg Wallace Has A Tough Time In 'Who Do You Think You Are'

We're used to seeing Greg Wallace ooh-ing and aah-ing over a puffy pavlova, a walnut salad, a well-cooked cutlet, but there wasn't much to delight his palate in last night's walk through his family tree...

Greg Wallace found more than he bargained for in his family history

Wallace obviously delights in his schtick of being a "greengrocer" who just happens to be a very rich restaurateur and TV presenter - but his own admission that "the saddest thing happens to me is when someone overseasons a soufflé" meant he was ill-prepared for the catalogue of gloom that he uncovered.

It all started so well, with photos of his great grandfather, the 'cad' Henry Roland Springett, who reportedly deserted his wife and headed off to the Navy. "He's a greengrocer like me," chortled Wallace. But then it turned out Henry didn't do anything wrong - it was his wife Emily who slept on the wrong side of the blanket while he was away, and that was only the first of Henry's many tragedies.

His baby daughter died at 22 months, fatally burnt by a paraffin lamp as she slept in her mother's bed - horrific.

Greg Wallace's great-grand-father Henry and his family - not the story Wallace thought it was

After the demise of his marriage, Henry found a new family with whom he moved to Ireland, where he was serving. But not only did his pretty new companion die prematurely after being hit by a motor-car, but poor Henry saw the whole thing from only yards away.

"One person should not have to suffer this much sorrow," mused Wallace, a single father, for whom Henry's valiant efforts to live a good life and provide for his children had much resonance.

Meanwhile, Emily's mother Selena turned out to be a glove-maker... and the resident of a lunatic asylum, who was convinced "she'd sold herself to hell".

Wallace's great-grandmother Emily was an elegant lady, but the portrait was not what it appeared

The dire conditions of those living in asylums made for sobering television - and Wallace made his way to the asylum where she lived and died. It turned out that the elegant portrait he had been admiring from the start turned out to have been taken as she was leaving the asylum for the first time, before she returned there later to die.

As Wallace's tears fell, he pondered, "How can this affect you? You don't even know them."

But that's the wonder of this programme, that lives long forgotten get fresh bursts of compassion, understanding and empathy - and Wallace was a natural provider of all three.

"There's nothing you can do anything about," he said, "Tragedy happens... No wonder Emily was so needy, she was only 14 when her mother went into the asylum.

"That's the age of my daughter."


More pictures from this series of Who Do You Think You Are...

Photo gallery Who Do You Think You Are See Gallery