Who Do You Think You Are?: Bill Oddie, BBC2

by | Oct 12, 2004 | All, Reviews

Bill Oddie

What was it all about?

Bill Oddie embarked on a voyage of personal discovery to find out the truth about the mother he thought had abandoned him.

What to say if you liked it

Bill’s fascinating odyssey not only helped resolve his own internal demons but offered a perspicacious chronicle of mental health treatment and working conditions 50 years ago.

What to say if you didn’t like it

The unfunniest man in the history of television indulges in a self-absorbed trip to dull northern towns to justify the depression he suffered four years ago.

What was good about it?

• Bill’s presentation – which, while often capricious and egocentric, perfectly suited this very personal journey, where he often looked away from the camera while recounting the few memories he had of his late mother, Lillian.

• The way Bill evocatively remembered his childhood, whether it was scoring 428 runs in a game of cricket in his street or the frustration at not being able to have a private conversation with his dad because of his suffocating, icy grandmother who acted as a

surrogate mother for his absent parent.

• The vivid accounts and film of the therapy residents in asylums, such as Bill’s mother, received in the 50s where they were subjected to electro-convulsive therapy – a form of “remedy” designed to “correct a chemical imbalance in the brain”.

• The effective use of films that were speeded up to indicate Bill’s happy memories, while slowed to a ponderous crawl to illuminate the bad, such as a camera moving along a bare asylum corridor.

• Bill’s naked anger when he found out he had a sister, born a year before him, who only lived for five days. “They (mothers) are just a baby factory. This one’s died, have another.”

• The gradual realisation that Lillian suffered manic depression (not schizophrenia as he had always believed) over the death of her daughter as the infant had been crying but Bill’s grandmother had forbidden Lillian from tending to her.

• The utter transformation in Bill’s opinion of his mother from neglectful to simply “unlucky”.

• The Spice Girls weren’t used for the theme tune.

What was bad about it?

• People meeting Bill were sometimes star struck such as two nurses who cared for Bill’s mother and his family tree compiling distant relative Neil, whom Bill seemed

very eager to get away from.

• The section that dealt with working conditions in Rochdale cotton mills that didn’t relate to Bill’s relatives, and interrupted the momentum. The archive footage provided enough of an idea of how dreadful it was without the need for tedious interviews with

former employees.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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