13 April 2012

We've found your mother

Goodness me, I appear to have something in my eye. Long Lost Family last night. What an astounding, heartwarming programme.

I was trying to avoid it, as I'm always a bit squirmy about watching television that focusses on the real emotions of real people. I feel a bit intrusive. But eventually I put it on (at 10pm, on ITV 1+1) because Nicky Campbell is a bit of a hero of mine and, frankly, there wasn't much else on. The tweets from people I respected as the programme went out at its allotted time (while I watched a 1970 interview with Brian Clough on ESPN Classic) also persuaded me to take a look.

Official advice may vary, but I suspect the best time to tell someone about their adoption is as soon as possible after the child is old enough to comprehend what it means. The two people who found their birth mothers on Long Lost Family both knew from an early age and had a lifetime of unanswered questions running through their heads. Cleverly, the programme focussed on one parent within one potential reunion and the child within the other, so the viewer got to see both angles; the guilt and despair of the desperate mother, the nervousness and self-consciousness of the child that grew up elsewhere.

Both reunions were incredibly touching, but the one of a mother who clung on to her daughter for the first 18 months of her life before letting her go really got to me. The father of her child had muscular dystrophy and died young; her own parents were ill and soon this teenage mum was looking after her parents, her child and her younger brothers while also having to hold down two jobs. It got too much; it was her GP who gently suggested adoption, and the image of her little girl waving from nursery for the last time to a mother who was too upset to turn round and wave back is one that dried every throat in the country.

50 years on, and they were reunited. The process of doing so was executed poignantly and beautifully, with the exchange of photographs and letters and the two presenters - Campbell and Davina McCall - acting as go-betweens. Campbell himself is a well-known adoptee and is a published authority on the subject, whereas McCall (who is fabulous at proper telly, actually) had a complicated childhood that flitted between France and England while her drunkard of a mother decided whether she ever wanted anything to do with her, and so both were eminently qualified to empathise with the people involved and ask the right questions.

Obviously there was some stage management involved in the actual reunions, and the camera being so close when the two sets of parent and child finally met again felt a tad uncomfortable, but it was still exquisitely done. The rainstorm of apologies from the bereft mothers and the reassurances of the relieved children had me gasping for my masculinity and my Britishness. I struggled, believe me.

It was glorious television, and that it was an ITV production made it all the more remarkable. Naturally, being ITV they had to insert some crassness into the hour that had nothing to do with programme-making; the Genes Reunited sponsor credits were trite and ill-fitting to the tone of the show, while sticking McCall's execrable hair products ad on as the first - yes, the FIRST - commercial after she'd just done a touching piece to camera about an ex-rugby player bursting into tears at a photo of his natural mum - was gruesome to the extreme. And possibly unlawful too.

I'll watch the series now. It's made me realise just how important one's own identity is, whether it's cut and dried from birth or takes 50 years to finally make sense.

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