James Gray, Director
James Gray, who directed the second episode of War Hero In My Family, discusses the show's appeal - and tells us about some unexpected findings along the way.
As an introduction, what can you tell us about your background and how you came to be involved with War Hero In My Family?
I’ve worked in production for seven years and came up through the production ranks at the BBC. I have directed a number of films for broadcast television, amongst those, several history films.
What can you tell us about the show and what makes it unique?
I think it’s an interesting way of telling stories that wouldn’t normally be told in a history programme; in my film we explored the story of a chaplain, which is something I’d never seen before.
What appeals to you about this particular concept and the focus on World War II?
I think it’s the fact that every family has a story, including our celebs, and so this has broad appeal and is accessible for everyone, whether their grandfather was a general or a private.
Where does the series take us, in terms of both story and geography?
For my film we travelled to Egypt and one of the other films went to the Far East; but Europe was main focus as the majority of British forces saw action there. But for our notable personalities it was a journey into their past, which in my experience has made them reassess their relationship with their relative.
How much of the team’s initial research is shared with the celebrities before filming begins?
We try to give away as little as possible so the story unfolds in front of their eyes. Obviously it depends on how much they know already; some know more than others, but I found it’s better to try and keep them guessing.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the production process?
Juggling the two stories, and finding a balance between them and trying to think how they’d work together. Also when you come to each story, as a Director, you don’t know what you’re going to find, so there’s a pressure if things don’t turn out as you expected or there are simply gaps in the story.
Were there any findings that you were worried about presenting, either with the personalities or the audience?
Yeah, in the Quentin Willson story, we discovered that Bletchley Park had recorded him as marrying a woman whom he was in a relationship with at Bletchley. Our research showed, however, they in fact never married, and so there was a worry that we might uncover some skeletons in the family. In the end it turned out to be innocent, and it seems likely that they split up after Bletchley and then Quentin’s father married soon after. I broached this with Quentin off camera and told him what we’d discovered and that it didn’t fit with our narrative so I wasn’t going to cover it, and he seemed to take it in his stride.
What for you have been the most memorable moments or stories from the series, and why?
My experience is really limited to my episode, and the most memorable thing was visiting the Western Desert with Ann Widdecombe and making her experience an Eighth Army style meal; which she took with good humour.
What do you hope viewers will take away from War Hero In My Family?
I’d hope it would inspire them to look into their own family stories and also understand more about the role of unsung heroes, like chaplains and code-breakers, who are often missing from the historical record.