Cheroot-chewing actor Jeremy Irons has long been fascinated by a family story about an ancestor who rode a donkey into the British House of Commons to present a petition. In this episode he sets out to find the truth about the tale and discovers that whether or not a donkey was involved his great-great-great grandfather Thomas did indeed make himself unpopular with the powers that were. Thomas was a member of the Chartist movement, which campaigned energetically for working-class men to get the vote (something that didn’t happen until 1918). In 1848 Thomas was arrested over a series of planned insurrections, but while some of his co-accused were transported to Australia, he got 18 months in a freezing English prison. Earlier, he had been one of London’s first coppers, at a time when the plods had to get around wearing thick leather collars so they wouldn’t be garrotted on their beat. As with other episodes of the series, the rollicking stories of colourful individuals, the insights into sometime unfamiliar chapters of British history and the emotional journey of the celebrity subject make for compelling viewing.
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