Who Do You Think You Are? (2004) s15e03 Episode Script

Lee Mack

1 Lee Mack is a comedian, from stand-up to panel shows.
The glamour.
And his own sitcom, Not Going Out, which he writes and stars in.
Most important rule of showbiz is to keep your dignity at all times.
And not do anything you feel uncomfortable with.
That's not a good look for the Radio Times, is it? Today, he's being photographed for the Radio Times front cover.
Can I do that pin? It would make me feel a bit more comfortable.
Is that all right? I did happen to mention that I write in my pyjamas, so they've brought pyjamas for me to dress in.
Quite nice, these.
Quite like the feeling of the silk against my skin.
Born into a working-class family in Southport, Lee's real name is Lee McKillop.
- Making people laugh runs in the family.
- Is this safe? When I started doing stand-up comedy, my grandmother said, "Oh, like your great-grandad, Billy Mac?" And she started telling me about him being a variety hall comedian, but I don't really know much about him.
Eye contact to camera.
So, you want the more natural approach to drinking coffee, yeah? So, I just would love to know more about him.
I feel like I'm a sex model for sheds.
Hi! On my mum's side, I'm very close to my grandad, Joe, whilst at the same time, knowing very little about his childhood.
It's a bit mysterious to me and I'd like to know more about that.
So, you want me to do that and relax, yeah? My grandparents are no longer alive.
Sadly, neither are my parents.
So, in terms of finding out about my past, I haven't got that many people to turn to, really.
But as I get older, I'm getting more curious.
If I could just have one thing that I came away with from this, I want to find out more about Billy Mac, the comedian, or to find out I have a castle, for example, that I never knew I owned.
Right.
These are my pictures.
Lee knows his paternal great-grandfather was a comedian.
In his box of family pictures are a few mementos from Billy Mac's career that he wants to show his wife, Tara.
- So, here he is.
Billy Mac.
My great-grandfather.
- That's his poster for his show.
- That's great that you've got that, isn't it? It's good, isn't it? That's Billy Mac on the right.
Yeah.
You can tell by the nose.
What? I want to know who this Billy Bray character is as well.
I want to know if they were a double act or not.
That would be interesting to find out, wouldn't it? Funny how they are not laughing or doing anything, pulling a funny face, to try and get you to come in.
And then if you turn it over, it says, "Hear Billy Mac sing Cabbages, Ca-beans and Carrots.
" - What are ca-beans? - I've no idea what ca-beans are.
- Twice nightly.
- Well, he's obviously a jobbing comic, isn't he? - He's getting out there and - Jobbing? That's my great-grandfather! - He's not come in as a - "Funniest show in town", he wasn't jobbing! You know I go away sometimes and I come back? I do this.
Is that what you do? Do you sing songs? I don't sing songs about cabbages, ca-beans and carrots, no.
Although I might start.
Might be a very funny song.
The Chic Casino and it tells you where it is, opposite the Queen's Hotel on the promenade in Southport.
I grew up in Southport and I don't know what that was.
The Queen's Hotel, I'm sure, is there still.
Is the pier opposite the Queen's Hotel? We've been on Southport pier.
I took you to the end of the pier, didn't I? - You did.
- Remember that holiday we had? See? I treat you, don't I? So, this is him dressed in what I assume is his act on stage, because it's a postcard and it's also signed, so he obviously gave these out after shows and things.
Looking very dapper, isn't he? If that's 1919, he's got to be at least.
Well, in the olden days, everyone looked just old all the time.
He looks about 25, 30, does he? Possibly more.
40, even.
Do you know what that says? I don't know.
It says, "Yours terribly, Billy, 1919," and it says something like, "I took" Does that say valium? "I look" - Villainous? - Villainous! Yes, I think you're right.
- Villainous.
I love this shot.
- That's great, isn't it? Brilliant shot.
- Either my great-grandad was a cross dresser, or that was his act.
Or was that his panto days? - Eh? - Him in panto? That's a good point, actually.
Maybe he did panto.
- Maybe that's his Widow Twanky.
- Yeah.
I find it slightly odd that these autographs are They are signed to people and they ended up being in our family.
To Gladys.
I wonder who Gladys was.
I wonder if Gladys was my great-grandmother.
Do you know anything about your great-grandmother? - Nothing whatsoever.
- Absolutely nothing.
- So you don't know who he married? - Not a thing.
So, what do you think you want to find out about Billy Mac? What do I want to find out? I want to find out more about his comedy career.
How successful he was.
I just generally want to know more about him.
Lee's great-grandfather went by the stage name of Billy Mac.
But Lee knows his real name was William McKillop, so he's been able to order up his birth certificate.
This is very exciting.
My first clue.
I always do that.
I'm always checking to see if there's any money, like a birthday card.
Well, 1889.
Birth in the subdistrict of Derby.
And it says, "6th of May, 1889, William Alexander.
"Name of father, Alexander William.
" Nice little twist there, isn't it? Occupation of father, mechanical engineer.
If he was born in 1889, that would mean he saw the First World War, so that was 1914, so that would have made him 25 when the First World War broke out.
So he could have fought in the First World War, couldn't he? Typically, as a self-obsessed stand-up comedian, I've been trying to find out about his showbiz life, when actually perhaps there's something more interesting and profound I should find out, like did he fight in the First World War? So, I suppose, a starting point would be to go online and see if there's any record of a William Alexander McKillop, possibly dressed in drag, fighting in the First World War.
McKillop, William.
Oh, a British Army World War I medal rolls and he's not on it.
Oh, yes, he is.
Date of disembarkation was 7th of November, 1915.
And what regiment was he in? Ah, Kings Liverpool.
Looking at this, I'm just as interested in finding out about the Army now.
I want to know what he was decorated for, what did he do in particular that got him this medal.
If he's in the Kings Liverpool Regiment, the obvious place to go would be Liverpool.
Feels quite exciting because over the last 25 years, I've just had three pictures.
Now I've got a birth certificate, a year of birth, a regiment in the Army, a potential medal for him for something.
So, yeah, there's lots to go on.
Lee has come to Liverpool to meet historian Professor Peter Doyle.
- Hi, Lee.
Welcome to Liverpool.
- Thank you.
This is St George's Hall, one of the most important buildings in Liverpool, part of the pride of Liverpool, built in the 1850s, and you may not know this, but Billy Mac here, he joined the Army on the 31st of August, 1914, in that building.
Did he? I'm fascinated.
I obviously know the First World War started in 1914, but what was the date? So, the war is starting on the 4th of August.
- My birthday.
- There you go.
In 1914, so - In the first few weeks? - Within the first few weeks.
Conscription only came in in 1916, so at this time in the war, the Army required volunteers and he was one of the first to go.
- That's an incredible story.
- Yeah, that is incredible.
Let's go inside and look at a few documents.
That would be great.
I hope they sell hot chocolate.
Volunteer soldier, conscription wasn't brought Lee and Peter have come to Liverpool's Central Library, just across the road from St George's Hall, where Billy Mac signed up.
This is an amazing library.
- Yeah, it's incredible, isn't it? - And it also has an amazing echo.
- The Liverpool echo.
- Indeed.
This was taken on the 31st of August.
These are lads queueing up outside of St George's Hall, with the hope that they would be accepted.
Where we were just stood, the date he signed up.
- Exactly.
- Really? Do we think there's a chance my great-grandad is on that photograph somewhere? It's a possibility.
That would be like a very difficult game of Where's Wally? - It would.
It would.
- Where's Willy? What do you know about the actual Kings Liverpool Regiment? So, Kings Liverpool Regiment is one of the oldest regiments in the British Army and the regiment had a number of battalions and the 17th Battalion that Billy Mac joined is a new phenomenon.
This is the Liverpool Pals, the first of the Pals battalions.
The Pals were intended to be battalions of friends, a new idea for World War I.
First set up in Liverpool, they were the brainchild of a local aristocrat, Lord Derby.
He believed more men like Billy Mac would volunteer, if they could serve in battalions alongside colleagues, neighbours and others from a similar background and class.
- That is a lot of boaters.
- It is.
I associate boaters with Oxford and Cambridge.
Quite a middle-class thing.
So, are we saying there's a good possibility my great-grandad is actually quite a middle-class guy at this point? He has to be.
What we know is that the battalion are recruited from the commercial houses, engineering companies, from the banks and insurance companies.
A lot of men were scared of the Army.
They thought it would be rough.
You've got Lord Derby saying, look, I tell you what, I will make sure that all of you guys will serve together, that you will be, you know, protected.
There's newspaper reports from the time which absolutely say, Recruiting has gone well, no undesirables.
That is what it said.
- A member of my family got through that test? - He did.
I don't know what it is, I suppose I'm from a working-class background, so I automatically assumed he was a very working-class man, you know? I need to show you this.
So, this is the Liverpool Echo, this is August 31st, 1914, so that's the date he signed up.
Says here, "The first Pals taking the oath being sworn in at St George's Hall today.
You can't believe everything you read in the press, but assuming this to be true, it's amazing.
"In half an hour, the first 1,000 had been completed.
" 1,000 men had signed up in half an hour? It's incredible, isn't it? Your great-grandfather, Billy Mac, was one of those.
We know that because of his regimental number.
The regimental numbers for the first 1,000 starts at 15000.
And Billy Mac was 15666 and that placed him Typical McKillop.
666! So, he was the 666th soldier in this country to be a Pal? - That is correct.
- This Liverpool Pals phenomenon spread like wildfire because Liverpool Pals were the first and following on from that, every city across England started to say, "Hold on a minute, "if they can do it, we can do it.
" That's amazing.
So, he joins up on the 31st of August 1914, but what, I mean, what happens next? Obviously, all of these men have to go and get trained.
- So, where did he go for his training? - Lord Derby's estate at Knowsley.
As well as being a little bit surprised he's from a middle-class family, I'm equally surprised to find out that there was a recruitment campaign for middle-class people because they were, basically, a bit worried about being with the working classes.
I find that fascinating.
You'd think they would just be terrified of fighting the Germans, but no.
They were worried about mixing with the hoi polloi.
Lee's travelling to the place where his great-grandfather trained with the Pals in 1914.
- Knowsley Hall.
- It's quite posh, isn't it? It's well in-keeping with these middle-class soldiers and their boaters, isn't it? Turning up here and thinking, "Right, we will all have a nice Earl Grey and then we will get on with the fighting, shall we, chaps?" It's all very John Le Mesurier, isn't it? It's awfully cold to be marching.
Put our woollen socks on.
There's a war on, Wilson.
Lee's meeting historian Dr Andrew Maunder.
- Hello, Andrew.
- Hello, Lee.
Welcome to Knowsley.
Thank you for having me.
A lot of steps.
- There certainly are.
- Have you thought of a stairlift? Let's go inside.
This doesn't strike me as an Army training centre.
No.
But Lord Derby, who founded the idea of the Pals regiments, said that his estate could be used as training for the battalions.
- In these grounds? - Well, not exactly on the driveway.
- Right.
It's a very big estate.
- It's about 21,000 acres, so they were kind of put out of sight, obviously, of the people living here.
He wanted to make the men fitter because they were not very fit.
I guess they all smoke and they've got kind of desk jobs.
Cushy jobs.
So they send them on long cross-country runs, very basic training.
So, I mean, can you tell me any thing more about Billy Mac? Well, we've got something here that might interest you.
This is an account of the war, written by FC Stanley, who was the commanding officer of the regiment.
"Christmas that year at Knowsley was a very cheery time.
"I well remember about the first performance I saw Billy Bray "and his gang of Optimists give was in Prescott Barracks.
" Billy Bray, he's on a picture with my great-grandad, Billy Mac, so that's very interesting, but they've not mentioned Billy Mac.
- Unless he's one of the Optimists.
- Right.
So, we do have another document here, a bit later in the war.
So, The Grantham Journal, Saturday, May 29th, 1915.
OK, so, this is clearly a big review of the evening which ends with, "At the termination of the above concert, Billy Bray's boys continued the amusement of the troops until after nine o'clock.
" The artists included.
"Billy Mac, comedian.
" Hello! That's brilliant.
That's a great start.
So, you know, pianist, comedian, tenor, comedian, another comedian, so it sounds very much like a gang, a troupe of It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, type characters, doesn't it? I think it's along those lines.
You'd have different acts and people doing their speciality.
Comedian, it is a job that even if you are terrible at it, you can actually have a crack at it.
I can see the conversation.
"Can you play anything?" "No.
" "Can you juggle?" "Nope.
" "Sing? Is there anything you can do?" He's got a few gags in his repertoire.
He's some pub gags he's heard, and he's been telling his mates.
"Why don't you get up and tell those gags on stage?" That could be how he started.
I guess they wrote their own material, a lot of them, so you could spend time kind of working out an act.
Trying it out on your fellow soldiers, so in the barracks, I think there were a lot of in jokes about army life.
A lot maybe taking the Mickey out of superior officers.
- But not in front of the officers, right? - Not in front of the officers.
Although if they did, the officers could claim to be a good sport.
So, under normal circumstances, I would be reading this thinking, "Oh, isn't this exciting? My great-grandad's comedy career has started," but I'm reading the date and I'm well aware that a few months after this, he goes off, I assume, to fight in the First World War? Yeah, he goes off to northern France.
As a professional comedian, you do look out for the laughs.
So, going to northern France to talk about the First World War, it doesn't scream source material for jokes, does it? And that's me, now, in 2018.
Imagine what he was thinking.
If he was a comedian, where does that fit in with what he's doing? He's fighting a war.
And to some degree, he's probably thinking, "It'll be great.
Hey, guys, why don't we put on a gang show whilst we are out there?" People looking at him going, "No, mate.
Not now.
" This might be news about Billy Mac now.
I will interpret for you.
Mesdames, messieurs, we're pleased to inform you that Billy Mac survived the war, had a wonderful great-grandchild Very talented and he had a difficulty with the some of the audiences in.
Sunderland.
Ladies and gentlemen, Billy Mac is an absolute boy.
Lee wants to find out what happened to Billy Mac when he came to this part of northern France to fight in the First World War.
He's travelling to a village called Maricourt, which in 1915 lay right on the Western Front.
- Paul.
- Hello, Lee.
How are you? He's meeting military historian and soldier Dr Paul Knight.
The winter 1915 to 1916, nothing particularly big is happening to the battalion that your great-grandfather is part of.
And then they moved out of here and moving down here ready for the big push.
This is the 1st of July, 1916, this is the first day of the Battle of the Somme and your great-grandfather is right in the middle of it.
- He was actually at the Battle of the Somme? - Absolutely.
The Battle of the Somme, which Billy Mac took part in, was a major offensive that had been seven months in the planning.
In an attempt to break the German line on the Western Front, the Allies launched a week-long artillery bombardment, followed by an infantry attack on the 1st of July, 1916.
It would prove to be the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, with nearly 20,000 British soldiers killed in just one day.
This is a map from July, 1916.
This blue line here, this is the British front line.
Where the blue line crosses the road, that's where we are standing at the moment.
So we are actually on the British front line? We are on the British front line of the 1st of July, 1916.
- So, it's almost literally on this spot? - Indeed.
- So, this would have been a big trench? Yes.
Across the road is the French army.
The French artillery, they have a lot of heavier guns than the British Army have got access to.
- You want to be next to the French.
- You do want to be next to the French on a day like today.
And all the red, that's all the German positions.
This is Dublin Trench and this is your great-grandfather's objective.
- Their target was to get from there to there? - Yes.
It's about 1,100 metres up this road.
So, 0730, in the morning, the infantry attacks.
Your great-grandfather, he's in the third wave that attacks.
All the soldiers would have been issued rum to steady their nerves.
So, they are basically getting a bit tipsy before they go? - Bit of Dutch courage.
- So, roughly 7.
30am, my great-grandad is here going over the top of the trench? Yes, across the field in front of you.
You should be able to recognise what's on the screen.
- That's this map.
- So, that red dot, I'm assuming that Is that where we are now? - That's exactly where we are now.
- Right.
So, if I move, that will move with me? This is incredible.
So, using this, we can follow BillyMac's footsteps going into no man's land? Absolutely.
And he definitely did it with an iPad? - Let's go.
- OK.
I mean, it's incredible to think my great-grandad was actually doing this.
So he's now in no man's land here, isn't he? I mean, what's he looking, what's he seeing? There would be masses of men left and right, all moving forward at the same time, as far as he can see.
He's in the middle of this big movement of men.
So, I'm picturing barbed wire.
I am seeing sort of smoke everywhere from From the artillery.
- Lots of artillery fire, still the shells going overhead, there would be the machine guns firing to support him.
Smoke has been fired onto German positions to try and stop the Germans from seeing the attack.
- And it's so counterintuitive.
If you see a man in front of you fall to the ground because he's been shot the last thing you think is, "I'll run in that direction.
" Well, a lot of the accounts are saying they are walking forward.
- Why are they walking? - It's to control the men.
And also, when you get up there, you don't want to be exhausted, so everybody gets in the German trenches at the same time.
Blimey! So, we are very close now to the trench that he was trying to get to.
Is the idea to get in there and kill these soldiers, or to capture them? Either.
Both.
If they surrender, good.
If not, he will go in with a bayonet and he will shoot people, if needs be.
That's what he's been trained to do for the last two years.
But this could be the first time he's had to do that? Very probably, yes.
And he won't know how he will react until he is in that position where you've got to do it, take somebody else's life.
It's a bit It's a bit of a sobering thought.
Right.
So, this is it.
The red dot is on the trench, so this is his target.
Yes, so your great-grandfather, this is his objective.
The war diary says, "Weak resistance," but also, we do know that 300 of the Germans are captured.
So, he would have been responsible for capturing them and taking them back to the village? Very possibly, yes.
I've got one more thing to show you in the village.
- Shall we go and have a look? - Let's have a look.
Lee has come with Paul to the village of Montauban, which before the battle lay behind German lines.
So, here's another thing for you to have a look at.
- Ah, the Liverpool Pals.
- Yes.
17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions, the Kings Liverpool Regiment.
My great-grandad being in the 17th, of course.
"To the glorious memory of the Liverpool and Manchester Pals, "who, as part of the 30th division, liberated this village, 1st July, 1916.
" So, after Billy Mac and his pals got through those trenches, they liberated this village? Billy Mac's actually out in the fields, where we have just been.
This is a team effort.
So the fact that he secured the section out in the fields allows other battalions to advance on the village.
This is immensely successful and very, very few casualties.
The first day of this push, but how long did the whole thing go on for? The Battle of the Somme runs on until November, 1916, and Billy Mac would have been out here and fighting throughout that whole period.
A couple of weeks apart, there would be another battle.
- Blimey O'Reilly! - We've got something else to show you here.
This is the account by his commander, FC Stanley.
If you turn to page 177, start reading from there.
"I have hardly made any mention up till now of our entertainers, The Optimists.
" Ah, Billy Mac and The Optimists.
- Indeed.
- So, it mentions in the summer of 1916, so that implies that they were performing here.
- Yes.
- It's incredible.
Lee wants to know more about Billy Mac's act when he was performing at the front with The Optimists.
To find out more, he's travelling north to Belgium, just outside Ypres, following the footsteps of his great-grandfather, who was sent to this area with his regiment in the summer of 1917.
- Freezing! Hello, Rebecca.
- Hi, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you, too.
He is meeting historian Dr Rebecca D'Monte.
So, things to discuss about my great grandad, Billy Mac.
We are literally just a few miles away from where Billy Mac was fighting in the Battle of Lys and I've got an account of his time in the battle, performing with The Optimists.
"In the afternoon, The Optimists, undefeated fellows, "gave an outdoor concert in their ordinary and very mud-stained clothes.
" "The concert was a great success, both with our own men and also with the French troops.
" I find that gobsmacking that it says, ""Gave an outdoor concert in their ordinary and very mud-stained clothes.
" - Ordinary being their uniforms? - Their uniforms, absolutely.
Literally, the same day as walking off the battlefield.
So, the very morning of the performance, there was still a battle going on and Billy Mac was part of that and it was a very bloody battle, a very difficult battle with lots of people who were killed.
But that's unbelievable, to actually be shot at or perhaps have killed someone and then walk on the stage.
Putting on these performances became a way for them to normalise their experience.
It helped people feel more sane in such a complicated and difficult situation.
It's not just a bit of fun.
People at the top thought, "If we can keep these soldiers entertained and distracted, it might be better for everybody.
" I think it was a complete lifeline.
I'm thinking of my great-grandad Billy Mac, thinking, is it? What's he going through? Because he's not watching his performance, he's in it.
Yes.
It wasn't just they were putting on a performance in a ready-made theatre, this was actually happening on the front line, so you could see all the trenches around them.
- That's incredible.
- It is incredible.
What kind of comedy was Billy Mac doing? I'm guessing it wasn't observational stuff.
I bet he didn't say, "A funny thing happened to me this morning.
" And they went, "We know, we were with you, mate.
It wasn't funny.
" Horrific.
So, the kind of humour that there was could be very dark.
There was a story told about a soldier walking along one day in the trenches and finding a cap and he kept scrabbling down and eventually found a soldier underneath that cap, buried in the mud.
And he said, "Oh, no, are you all right?" And the soldier said, "Yes, I'm absolutely fine.
"I'm just worried about the driver of the bus that I was standing on top of.
" And obviously, a lot of - Hang on, let me write that down.
A lot of people were buried alive in the mud and died that way, so this is a way then to use comedy as a release, as a way of dealing with that very difficult situation.
Take a look at this.
The intrigue.
So, what have we got here? We've got two postcards.
And that is The Optimists.
The big question is any of those people Billy Mac? - That is him, I think, in the middle.
- That's right, it is.
That is Billy Mac.
That is amazing.
And another one.
Far left.
To see him in The Optimists like that, you know, get a sense of it.
And there's writing on the back as well.
- There is writing on the back.
- "One of the many concert parties "travelling about near the front line.
"They are the best I have seen so far.
" - That's a good review.
- It is, very.
And there were hundreds of concert parties at this time, so it shows the high esteem in which The Optimists were held.
Well, that is brilliant.
I'm so impressed with that.
And it also You haven't got any video footage, have you? The big question is did they stay together? After 1918, there is no other report that we can find of The Optimists, which suggests that they have broken up, or gone their own way.
Maybe Billy Mac was the Robbie Williams of his day and said, "Sorry, lads, I've got me own tours to do.
" Billy Bray went, "Hang on, I'm coming.
" Back in the UK, Lee has travelled to Southport, where he knows Billy Mac was performing soon after the war at a venue opposite the Queen's Hotel on the promenade.
I absolutely love Southport.
- Best town in the world.
- Lee was born and grew up in Southport.
All right? How are you doing? You all right? There's me Auntie Francis's optician over there, where she used to work.
Oh, look, Bates My uncle Malcolm used to work with you.
Malcolm Kingsley.
- Do you know him? - Yeah.
- Mechanic.
- Yeah.
Me and my mate, Cleggy, we used to spend a lot of time in here.
Above that is where my mum had a wedding reception for her second marriage.
Somewhere around here is the Queen's Hotel.
I'm not getting confused, am I? Ah, there we go.
The Queen's Hotel.
"Chic Casino, opposite the Queen's Hotel.
" Now, as you can see, opposite the Queen's Hotel is the Southport Theatre which, you know, that's not That's not a very old building, is it? Behind the Southport Theatre and opposite the Queen's Hotel is the waterfront, where Lee's meeting historian and showman Dr Tony Liddington.
- All right? - Hello, Tony.
Nice to meet you.
How are you? - I'm all right, man.
Yeah.
- This is my great-grandfather, Billy Mac.
He fought in the First World War, Battle of the Somme.
He was he was in a Pierrot clown sort of group and I know he played this show at the Chic Casino.
I think Chic is the name of the show, and Casino is the name of the venue.
A casino is a kind of It's an Italianate term for a place of entertainment.
And this new venue, the Casino, has been built here as a temporary structure, what's called a fit up.
So, do we know when this was? Well, the show opened in May, 1919.
It ran the whole summer season until September.
You could say this is the first evidence of him being a professional comedian.
- Absolutely.
- Let's go inside the theatre and I will tell you a bit more about him.
Southport Theatre.
I've never actually been on this stage, although it was the venue of the first comedy show I ever saw.
I saw Les Dawson in the mid-70s, was absolutely brilliant.
One of the things I'm really trying to find out is what Billy Mac actually did in his act.
All I've got as evidence of what he used to do are these two photographs.
So, that's a swell character, somebody who's a bit posh, a bit dapper.
And this one is obviously a comedy character, a dame type of role that he might have done.
Got a bit of a Les Dawson going on as well, hasn't he? Yeah, the woman next door, having a good old gossip.
That's why her hands are like this and pushing up the bosom.
She's had it - Your there.
- You've inherited it.
So, do you think Billy Bray and Billy Mac were a double act? I think it's likely.
They must have had banter when they were with The Optimists, so they've brought that into this new act and it would be accessible entertainment, something that the whole family can see.
The only bit of evidence of material in his act is on the back.
"Hear Billy Mac sing Cabbages, Ca-beans and Carrots.
" At this time, there were quite a lot of music hall songs that were coming out and curiously, a whole series of them were about vegetables, particularly popular at the time.
Do you know the marrow song? Oh, what a beauty, never seen one as big as that before That sort of thing.
And they're allowed to sing that in front of the kids? They could.
It's all in the ears of the beholder, I would've said.
It's not crude, it's suggestive.
- I've got something to show you.
- OK.
Here we have a song sheet.
So, this is the original song sheet that he would have used? Well, it wasn't his material.
The song's written in 1919 and they are covering it in that same year.
So Cabb-ages, ca-beans and ca-rrots Ca-rrots and ca-beans and cabb-ages Sweetest of flowers that I love so I love to sit there and watch them grow Some people like rhododendrons And some forget-me-nots But I'd rather have a nice plate of ca-beef With cabb-ages, ca-beans and ca-rrots! - You just brought it to life.
Amazing! - But you could do it.
If you have that little picture that you had of her like this and you think Hyacinth Bucket.
Do you think he was dressed like that when he was singing? - I reckon so.
- It suits the act.
Well, that's fantastic.
My kids are just learning piano, so maybe I can get them to play that whilst I sing along and they can give me the look of, "Please, can we have a PlayStation? "Please, Dad?" So, it was a pretty momentous summer season, in lots of ways.
The 7th of July 1919, William Alexander McKillop marries Gladys Evelyn Burford.
So, that is my great-grandmother? That is to Gladys.
He has signed that to Gladys.
He met her because she asked for an autograph.
That can't be true.
At this point, he is saying yours sincerely.
Well, it makes sense as to why it stayed in the family.
You don't think of autographs staying in the family, they go away to other people, don't they? Isn't that brilliant? He has ended up marrying an autograph hunter.
Well, the next reference we've got is this.
This is a birth certificate from what is dated the 12th of March 1922.
The birth certificate of John Burford McKillop, which is my grandad.
Occupation of father, manufacturer of wireless apparatus.
So, that does imply that he stopped.
Oh, Billy Mac! Maybe he had a bit of work from 1919 to 1922, but it definitely implies that in 1922, it's over, so he started a family and perhaps stopped doing comedy.
Isn't that a shame that he didn't carry on? So, I think you might be interested in seeing this.
This is the sad news.
This is the death certificate.
1959, William McKillop.
Occupation Here go again.
Sales representative.
It was a very short career in comedy, wasn't it? Because in my head, he was a comedian and yet, to him, he probably saw his comedian world as a small, little thing he did for a few years.
Well, if he's a sales rep, making people laugh is a good way of selling stuff as well.
- That's true.
- So, I'm sure he used it.
- Yeah, used the patter.
- Yeah.
Billy Mac has definitely come alive in my head.
I've definitely gone from some abstract character that was three photographs to really feeling that I know him more.
His comedy career was weirdly not as big as I thought it was and yet, at the same time, more important than I thought it was because, you know, he didn't go for decades in the variety halls of Great Britain but actually, it sounds like he did a really worthwhile job with it.
You know, this boosting of morale during the war sounds like it can't be underestimated.
So, the question is, if Billy Mac was a comedian and I'm a comedian, can it be genetic? And I would guess that the answer is no.
I think it is more likely that it's about upbringings.
If he was the kind of person that was a joker, he messed about and he passed that onto his son, that would make sense about why my grandad passed it onto my dad.
Because my dad was a joker.
So maybe it is just passed on.
Lee's home town of Southport is also where his mother grew up and now he wants to look into that branch of his family.
Thanks.
On my mum's side, there is my grandad Joe, which was her dad, and he lived in Southport until he was 93, so we saw a lot of each other.
We used to always look up to grandad Joe and everyone knew him.
If I walked down the street with him, everyone Everyone knew who he was.
As for grandad Joe's past, I don't know a massive amount.
He was brought up by his grandparents in Ireland and I've got some vague notions to do with his mum going to Canada and everything else is a bit of a mystery, to be honest with you.
So, I suppose the first port of call to find out about grandad Joe is his daughter, my Auntie Frances.
My Auntie Frances also lives in Southport, so I can just pop up the road and see her now.
When I was a kid, my mum wasn't very well for a while and so I went to go and live with my auntie for about a year.
So I am very close to my Auntie Frances.
- Hello, Lee.
- Nice new musical door bell.
- Can I come in your warm house? - Please come in.
Yeah.
I love this photograph because my immediate blood relatives are all in this photo.
- It is lovely.
- So we've got you Yes, yeah.
- My dad there with my mum.
- Yes.
- My brother Darren.
- Yes.
And then there's grandad Joe over here, next to my grandmother.
If you pan down, you can see me.
With my little wet pants.
My mum didn't say, at any point, "You need to change your trousers," and this is grandad Joe's 80th.
And me, I'm very thin.
I'd say too thin.
I'm like a bread knife.
- But it's how you were then.
- I can see grandad Joe's eyes going, "I can't believe you got an earring.
" He was such a healthy looking 80-year-old, wasn't he? - He was healthy.
He was a very hard worker.
Well, he used to climb ladders and clean his top windows because he didn't trust a window cleaner to do it properly.
People call me a control freak but he broke the mould for that.
But that's probably what kept him so fit.
Worry.
He was always obsessed with money and how far down in your pocket is it.
That's right.
And he was very money conscious.
So, I suppose the first thing I want to ask is, what do we know about grandad Joe's parents? Well Not a lot, actually.
He was born in Southport in 1910 and we know this because he told us, because he didn't actually have a birth certificate.
- But they just - Never registered.
- How do you go through your whole life without one? - I don't know.
His mother was Delia.
OK, so my great-grandmother is Delia.
This is a photograph of Delia.
Yeah, so this is grandad Joe's mum.
Yeah, she actually looks quite young on that.
Doesn't she? And all I know is she got pregnant, but we never knew who the father was.
She went back to Ireland with my dad, with grandad Joe, to her parents.
- I wonder how old he was then.
- I had always thought that he was only but I'm not too sure about that.
And she left him there with the grandparents, they brought him up with their own family and she went off to Canada.
- Do we know why? - No.
It is a complete mystery to us, as to why she did it.
I don't know whether my father was ever told and, if he was, he didn't discuss it.
So, what do we know about grandad Joe's grandparents that brought him up? My great-great-grandparents.
Not a lot.
He was called Thomas.
She was called Mary.
Thomas and Mary Farrell.
And they came from a smallish town in southern Ireland called Ballina, County Mayo.
Ballina.
So that's where grandad Joe is taken to, Ballina? This is grandad Joe when he was a baby, or a toddler, and that is his grandfather, who brought him up.
I've never seen this man ever before in my life.
My great-great-grandfather Thomas.
That is a great photo, though.
It is, and don't you think that grandfather looks very relaxed with him? Like his father.
They brought him up with love and kindness, I know they did, but he must have had a sense of abandonment.
My natural instinct is to go, the heartless woman, leaving her baby So I've got no affection for her and little affection for poor grandad Joe who was left in Ireland, that's how it feels.
I think, to find out anything more, I should probably go to Ballina Yeah, because there is nothing here.
I've done my best to trace what I can and there's nothing come up at all.
Lee knows his grandfather's full name is Joseph Francis Kingsley.
And that he was the illegitimate son of Delia Farrell, the fourth of 11 children born to Thomas Farrell and his wife Mary.
Lee is travelling to Ballina in the west of Ireland, where the Farrell family lived and his grandad Joe was brought up.
I think the fact that Delia, my great-grandmother, would leave grandad Joe as a baby or a small child in Ballina and then go off to Canada.
As a dad myself, that You know, it does feel a bit cold.
I'm trying not to be too harsh on the woman because I don't know why that happened.
If it's possible, I'd like to find out why she did it.
It's quite strange to be going to Ballina because it's a place that I've heard about throughout my life, but never visited.
This is more of a town than I was expecting, but it's a very nice town.
To work out the chain of events that led to his grandad Joe being left by his mother to grow up in Ballina with his grandparents, Lee is meeting social historian Dr Elaine Farrell at the local archives.
- Welcome to my library.
- Thank you very much.
Census of Ireland 1911.
Thomas Farrell, my great-great-grandad.
Age 60.
Occupation, I think that says labourer.
Mary Farrell, wife.
Delia Kingsley, daughter.
She was 22 and we've got Matthew Felix Kingsley.
And he is the grandson.
OK.
This is interesting.
He is one years old and that is in 1911, the year after my grandfather was born.
Are you telling me that my grandad Joe changed his name? Matthew Felix Kingsley must have been his original name.
So, the date, the year of birth matches up, the name of his mother.
- He is the child of Delia Kingsley.
- But of course, he He never, ever once said this ever.
Maybe he didn't know.
Because there's no birth certificate.
We've got no birth of him.
- There's no birth certificate.
Or it can't be located.
- Can't be found.
So, he's born in Southport as Matthew Felix and then he comes here a year later, he's still called Matthew Felix, because that's what it says on the census, but then he becomes Joe Kingsley.
When did that happen? We know by the time he is a teenager, when he's in school, that he is known as Joseph Francis Kingsley.
Maybe it was his grandparents, actually, who changed his name.
So, one of the things that stand out here is Delia Kingsley, married for two years.
I think we assumed it was possibly a one night stand.
There is no evidence that Delia was actually married.
But she doesn't want to admit this on the census.
Or perhaps even to her own family.
I would imagine her family are aware of the situation and that Thomas Farrell just wants to present her as being married.
And that's what they'll be telling friends and people as well? And neighbours, yeah.
There was a huge stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock in 1911.
For a woman with an illegitimate child, like Delia, it would be hard to find a job or get married.
We know Delia goes to Canada, but we don't know when, I don't know why.
You know, that is the mystery.
So, take a look at this, this might give you some more clues.
OK, so this is some sort of booking details for a boat.
So, we've got Delia Farrell top of the list, so that is interesting because she's on the passenger list as Delia Farrell, not Delia Kingsley.
So she's presenting herself now on the passenger list as being unmarried.
I wonder why that would be.
I suppose just because symbolising, I'm starting a new life and Destination, Montreal.
It doesn't tell us the date that she actually went, though.
September 1911.
So she left when he was just over a year.
Yeah, so he's about a year and a half.
What does this, I can't really read it, but what is this column? So, this information here would be how did a person pay for their - For the ticket? - Bonus allowed.
Somebody Francis and gang.
Mrs Francis and gang.
It says there bonus allowed, Mrs Francis, so this indicates that passage was paid by a Mrs Francis.
OK, who's Mrs Francis? So, this document might give you some more clues.
OK, so this is the Women's Domestic Guild of Canada.
Mrs E Francis in Montreal.
This feels almost like a Almost like an advertising brochure to let people know that we can give you domestic help or something.
The Domestic Guild then was essentially like a recruitment agency.
Oh, OK.
OK, so her ticket was paid by a recruitment agency in Canada.
They would have advertised in local newspapers, so it is likely that your great-grandmother Delia saw one of these advertisements.
We still don't know whether Thomas Farrell's saying you've got to start bringing some money in you're going to have to go to Canada and earn some money and send back Or is he saying, we can't keep this lie up that you're married to this mystery man in England, I think it's time you just went away.
You know, obviously there's a limit to what you can know, right? We don't know whether it was your great-grandmother Delia who wanted to go to Canada and was actually her father Thomas, and or her mother Mary, who were encouraging her to go or kind of pushing her to go, but it must have been a very difficult situation for both your grandad Joe and for his mother Delia to be separated.
Well, that's the thing, isn't it? Because he's one, so he doesn't have any idea why his mum's just vanished.
But from her perspective, it must have been extremely heartbreaking.
You know, she's been with this baby for the first year of his life And then she's got to go.
I started off thinking, it's quite cold to leave your baby, then I thought, it sounds like she needed to go, she needed to work, she might have been sent by Thomas, her dad.
It wouldn't even be that unusual in Ireland at that time for a child to be kind of reared as another child of the grandparents.
So, it would be nice to find out more about where grandad Joe was brought up.
So, we know from the census, that the family were actually living at 6 Hill Street in Ballina.
I think I have more sympathy for Delia, now I know a bit more about perhaps what led to it.
What else could she do? It's easy for us nowadays, 100 years later, to judge that as a woman handing her baby over, like perhaps I've been doing and we've all been doing in our family a bit, but actually perhaps it was more socially acceptable and normal to hand your baby over the grandparents, rather than be seen as a single mum, which was totally unacceptable.
Lee wants to find out about his grandad Joe's upbringing with his grandfather, Thomas Farrell, wife Mary and other children.
He knows they were living at 6 Hill Street.
Can I ask you a favour? I'm looking for Hill Street.
- Do you know it? - Yes.
Where is it? You've got to tell me as well.
- It's not just a quiz.
- No, right.
Just go down here.
Across the road and is the first right.
That's Hill Street.
Thanks a lot.
Nice to meet you.
Let's go this way.
All right? There's no number on these doors anywhere.
- Hi, Lee.
- Hello there.
Welcome to Ballina.
Professor Diarmaid Ferriter has come to meet Lee.
- I'm a bit lost.
- You're a little lost? I'm looking for 6 Hill Street.
There's no numbers on these doors, so I'm just assuming the postman just knows everybody.
Exactly.
Well, you are standing in the middle of Hill.
Street and, if you turn around, that is where your great-great-grandfather Thomas was living and that's where your grandfather Joe was an infant.
He never told me he grew up in a pub.
He didn't grow up in a pub.
It's a pub now.
That's a new structure, but if you take a look up here, you will get an idea of what the original houses looked like.
There were only two rooms in it and there are eight of them in the house.
- Bedrooms? - Two rooms.
So bedroom come living room come everything else you're doing room.
You're dealing with people with very modest means.
Your great-great-grandfather was a general labourer but he's also, in 1911, - 60 years of age.
- He's old, right? He's beyond the average life expectancy of an Irish male, which was 59 years of age at that stage.
- And he's working? - Well, is he working? It's doubtful.
So, with eight people in the house, is there enough money to feed everybody? - That's the big struggle.
This is a hand to mouth existence.
Diarmaid is taking Lee into the pub that stands on the site of the Farrell family home.
Now, Lee, I've brought you in here to show you a few things that relate directly to your great-great-grandfather.
The first is from 1915.
Have a look at this here.
It's the third one down.
This is to do with complaints.
This is the petty sessions, he has been accused of committing a crime.
The details of the crime are there.
Here go, Thomas Farrell, Ballina.
So, it says that, "You, the defendant, not being duly licensed to sell wine, spirits, beer, cider or sherry, did so on the" Something of November 1915.
Now, if you then look very, very closely, you'll see a word written above the charge in pencil.
- Oh, yeah, does it say sherbet? Because if he was illegally selling sherbet as well It's shebeen.
Do you know what a shebeen is? Is that, like, home-made wine? You're very close there.
What we have is the word shebeen gradually evolving over time to mean the place where this illegal produce can be sold and can be consumed.
So that people are essentially running an underground pub and this is a charge that your great-great-grandfather, Thomas, was engaged in - So, this house that is already packed to the rafters with children is also a pub, an illegal pub? That sort of makes sense of perhaps how he was affording to to basically look after my grandad Joe.
Was this some kind of a sideline business that he had to keep their heads above water? So, the defendant is ordered to pay a fine of £2 and ten shillings.
So, that is a lot of money, right, in those days, isn't it? It is a hefty fine and there's much more.
- Take a look at this lot.
- Oh, God, what else has he been doing? So, this is the 28th of October 1913, so were going back a little bit now.
Here we go, Thomas Farrell, "You, the said defendant, not being duly licensed" There we go again.
"to sell wine, spirits, beer, ale, cider or sherry.
" Then we've got one here.
Thomas Farrell, this is 1905 now, we're going back again, "That you, the defendant "Not being duly licensed" Now we're going back to 1892.
"Thomas Farrell not being duly licensed" - This is a regular thing.
- He is a serial offender.
He's almost factored in the fine, I reckon.
If he keeps doing this, he must have still thought, overall, it's worth doing.
I think that's a very fair conclusion.
Which is good news because it means grandad Joe wasn't going hungry as a result of this fine, probably.
You'd think by the fourth one, the judge would be saying, "If you don't mind me saying, Mr Farrell, have you thought of opening a pub? Then we all win.
" Now we've more documentation here relating to Thomas from a couple of years later.
Have a look at that.
Dreading to read this now.
So this is obviously some sort of insurance claim he made.
It says here that on the night of Thursday the 28th of September 1922 at Hill Street, Ballina, the doors and windows of my property were wantonly and maliciously damaged, injured by rifle fire.
So, who would fire bullets at his house? I'm guessing not the local off-licence because he's selling all this illegal beer? Have a look at the date.
The 29th day of September 1922.
So, I'm no expert on Irish history, but even I know obviously around this period there was quite a lot of uprisings against British rule.
Are you aware of what happened after the uprisings against British rule? - Remind me.
- There was a civil war.
That date, September 1922, is the middle of the Irish Civil War.
The Irish Civil War was triggered by a treaty drawn between the British and Irish Republicans after the War of Independence.
This treaty established a new Free State of Southern Ireland, one which would remain a Dominion of the British Empire, bound by an oath of allegiance to the Crown.
Many saw this as a betrayal of what they had been fighting for.
So Republicans split into two camps, pro and anti treaty, and turned on each other in a bitter, year-long civil war that saw towns and families divided.
So the people obviously firing at my great, great-grandad's house, we assume, is because he has got strong affiliations with one side or the other.
That may have been the case, but it's also about people getting caught up in the crossfire.
The night that this happened was the 28th day of September 1922.
So, my grandad Joe is 12 at this point and almost certainly living in the house.
Suddenly having gunfire hitting your house like that must be beyond terrifying.
Your grandad Joe was a young boy during a period of great upheaval, during the War of Independence, and then during the Civil War.
That has got to shape your thoughts, hasn't it? You're spot on.
It's a very tense time.
Lee's grandfather lived in Ballina for the rest of his childhood, before moving back to Southport, where he married and had his own family.
One of the striking things is just how tough grandad Joe's upbringing was without him ever really talking about it.
He's been left with his grandparents, his mum has gone to Canada, his dad's not around, the family haven't got much money, the grandad has been arrested for alcohol making and selling and then the house gets shot at, so I mean, this is all up to the age of 12.
It's made a lot more sense of my grandad Joe's outlook on life.
There's no getting around it, he was a bit of a worrier, and you can sort of see why.
It's been really interesting finding out about things that have always been hovering on the edges of my life.
Ancestors can be abstract people, so once you start tapping into it just a little bit, you get more wrapped up in it and they become real people, so you want to know more and more.