Several years ago T.V. presenter Michael Parkinson told the "Who Do You Think You Are?" team that there was no point looking into his background because there was no-one of any interest. They're just "coal miners, agricultural workers, domestic servants and railway men" he told an interviewer. Undeterred the WDYTYA team set about their researches and six weeks later went back to him and told him he was right and that unusually they'd been unable to find anything of interest.
At the time I was outraged when I read this and my enthusiasm for the programme was diminished considerably.
On checking out the free sample of Michael Parkinson's Autobigraphy I found there was plenty to read about his ancestors that I found interesting, entertaining and informative. So why the WDYTYA team couldn't make a programme about Sir Michael beats me.
However, if you want to read a fantastic book about coal miners and other "ordinary people" you won't go wrong with the recently published "The Valley" by Richard Benson. This book has received rave reviews. Check out this one at The Guardian, this one in The Independent and this one in The Telegraph. "The Valley" is well worth its rather high price of £25 in hardback. I managed to get a copy from my local public library and was the first one to read it so I've had all the pleasure with none of the cost. Actually it's ages since I read a hardback volume - usually I read on a Kindle - and I'd forgotten how heavy they are. "The Valley" is a big book - over 500 pages - and it actually weighs almost one kilo but even so it's a book you can't put down once you get into it.
Don't be put off by the number of pages. This book is really easy to read and flows off the page. Once I was into it I read it in a couple of days. "The Valley" featured on BBC Radio 4 "Book of the Week" two weeks ago and although it was a very nice adaptation it didn't do justice to the book. The adaptation concentrated on the lives of two of the characters: the author's grandparents Winnie and 'The Juggler' Hollingworth who lived the whole of their lives in the Dearne Valley (near Doncaster) in South Yorkshire. Their story is fascinating but there's much more: Great grandfather Walter Parkin and his experiences in the First World War; great grandmother Annie who is blessed with second sight and accompanied by a 'guardian angel' throughout her life; the author's mother and aunt who have very different life experiences but are bonded together through their extended family; the author's cousin who provides a vivid account of living through the miners' strike of the 1980s; and an extended family of lively, often humorous, sometimes poignant individuals who come in and out of the narrative when needed.
There is enough background history, subtly enmeshed into the text, to tell you all you need to know if the topic is unfamiliar but you don't get a lecture. This is primarily the family's story and it is their version of history that you're left with.
"The Valley" is a wonderful testament to the lives of ordinary people. If you are tired of reading about the rich, powerful and celebrity famed this book is a wonderful antidote. I'm sure all enthusiasts for family history will love this book even if they have to wait a few weeks for a turn to borrow it from the library.