MOUTHY comedian and mental health poster girl Ruby Wax might be Marmite – meaning half the viewing public could have glossed over the latest episode of Who Do you Think You Are? on BBC One last week
What proceeds to unfold during the hour is a story the equivalent of a winding blow about Jewish persecution and depression.
Twenty years earlier, the 64-year-old actress and author was sifting through her late parents’ attic when she came across a large leather suitcase filled with photographs and letters. The names Ella and Salo featured prominently, but she had no clue who they were…until now.
As the programme begins, Wax describes how her parents Edmund Wachs and Berta Goldmann escaped Austria before the outbreak of the Second World War and settled in Chicago – an experience her father had always described as a great adventure. However, he had always protected his little Ruby from the truth.
She recalls her mother screaming, rambling ‘nuts language’, while her father was persistently volatile. Both remained steadfastly tight-lipped about the Holocaust.
Her first stop on her journey into the past is Vienna, where she learns more about why her Dad was imprisoned for a time in April 1938 and the awful fact he was tortured while incarcerated. He had always told his daughter he was the gymnastics coach.
Someone with skill and patience and a greater grasp of the language than Wax had deciphered the inky scribbles in the suitcase, translating the heartfelt outpourings. For the first time, Wax learns there was love and affection between her parents, whom she had always found so emotionally unavailable and at odds with one another.
Edmund and Berta were parted and it took stowing away on a ship and the slimmest of chances of a US visa to reunite them. Not before Berta had survived the horrors of Kristallnacht, a series of orchestrated Nazi attacks against Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues on 9 November 1938.
“She never mentioned it,” exclaims Wax. “Do you think that explains why she was out of her mind?”
Ella and Salo are Ella and Salomen Birer, her maternal great aunt and uncle. Delving further into the letters, desperate pleas to Berta are revealed, to help them secure a US visa. She does indeed gather the documents, but just at the moment the Third Reich stops all emigration.
Following her family line into the Czech Republic, Wax discovered two relatives who were both sectioned in the same asylum for what was then termed “agitation”.
It is a moving tale, sensitively told. The camera lingers on poignant details; Wax tottering unsteadily in wedge heels, pouting to hold in her tears, absent-mindedly stroking her grandfather’s gravestone, vowing to mark the resting place of another family member where there is currently nothing.
She proved to be the perfect subject. Not only does she have a colourful family history, but she was an open book herself. It was all clearly cathartic for the star. As she concluded: “Rather than doing therapy, I should’ve done genealogy.” Catch it on the BBC iPlayer.
Cut to the return of another BBC One series – series 13 no less – The Apprentice. Yes I will watch it, but man alive it gets on my mammaries.
Here they come, the fresh batch of tosspots with their wheelie suitcases and egos straining at the seams, spouting absolute drivel.
“I’m a fine-tuned money-making machine – I smell like success.”
“In business, I’m like a bulldog. If you mess with me, I do have lockjaw.”
“I’m going to throw people under the bus, I’m going to throw people over the bus, I’m going to get on the bus, take the wheel and get that investment from Lord Sugar.”
Wow. The thing about The Apprentice now is that the formula is well known and there is a serious lack of imagination when it comes to the tasks.
The alarm goes off at the fancy Notting Hill pile, they pretend they will be ready in half an hour for the cars and then it’s buy, process, market and sell – really, really badly.
Team Graphene (eh?) and Team Vitality go to war over burgers this time around.
My biggest beef is all the help they get. Do not give them the pre-warmed contacts. Let them complete a project from absolute scratch. That would fully expose the bullshizzle merchants, although it might only last for one episode then.