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Danny Dyer visits Helmingham Hall during BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

PUBLISHED: 12:38 25 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:47 25 November 2016

Danny Dyer was the star of the first episode of the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?  Photographer: Steven Perry

Danny Dyer was the star of the first episode of the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? Photographer: Steven Perry

WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture Service (BBC Pictures) as s

EastEnders actor Danny Dyer begins the journey into his past at the Queen Vic, writes Lynne Mortimer, after watching BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? last night.

Helmingham Hall - by Barry PullenHelmingham Hall - by Barry Pullen

He stands with his arm affectionately around the he bust of Victoria... one used as a murder weapon, I recall.

Born in Canning Town in the East End of London Danny speculates he might have ended up in prison if he hadn’t discovered acting. Lucky for him, I think, because without the resources of the popular BBC family history Strand Who Do You Think You Are? he might never have known about his royal lineage. Danny hopes there are some strong men in his ancestry. And, boy, are there some strong men there.

It begins inauspiciously, his great-great-great grandparents Albert and Ann Buttivant were believed by the family to have run a workhouse in Mile End.

It turns out they didn’t. The association with the workhouse is that Ann was often in there.

Helmingham Hall - by Barry PullenHelmingham Hall - by Barry Pullen

Danny is taken aback but his East End genes are irrepressible and his buttocks do a jaunty London bounce as he walks.

Dyer overworks the reactions a bit. But then, when your acting work demands a big emotional range, it’s not surprising.

He pursues another family story which is that Albert came from a posh, rich French family. “How French am I?” muses Danny. “I know I look Fench and all that...” No, you don’t, Danny.

And Albert was born in London, the son of a “commercial clerk”. Well, there might be some money there after all, Danny says wistfully. Then things start to get extremely interesting. While there is no French ancestry there is a Gosnold, Ann Gosnold, the daughter of a prominent Suffolk family. Robert Gosnold is Danny’s 10-times great grandfather and he had a coat of arms and which indicated landed gentry. Danny perks up. “I’m hoping he’s cako bako (rich),” says Danny who is still intent on tracking down the family fortune. Unfortunately, Col. Robert Gosnold was on the losing side in the English Civil War and his lands were forfeit. Danny, alongside local historian Stephen Potts, visits Otley Hall and is entranced by its splendour and by Gosnold’s loyalty to the king.

But it gets better

Robert’s mother was Anne Tollemache. Danny zooms off to Helmingham Hall, the home of the Tollemache family for 500 years. “Wow,” he says when he sees it.

He greets his Lordship: “What a gaff you’ve got here,” adding in an aside: “The geezer’s got a drawbridge.” And it gets better as Lord Tollemache shows him a picture of Lionel Tollemache’s (Danny’s 12-times great grandfather) wife Catherine, the great granddaughter of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister. Danny kisses the picture of Catherine.

He finds out more about Putney-born Cromwell, whose father was a blacksmith and ran a pub (art imitating life?). At the zenith of his career Cromwell he was made Earl of Essex... “So in a way, I am the Earl of Essex,” says Danny. But it gets better. His 14-times great grandfather was Gregory, son of Thomas, who married into the Seymour family and this connection takes the line straight back to King Edward III and, before that to William the Conqueror - so there was a French connection after all. “A kid from Canning Town and this is my bloodline,” Danny sighs in wonder. “I’m going to tell my family that basically we’re royalty.”

When he gets home to Essex, he shows his wife the family tree. “I knew I was a princess,” she yells.

So Danny Dyer is the man who could have been king... but for the intervention of a lot of history. I couldn’t help noticing too, an Edward Mortimer on his chart. Maybe, just maybe...

What a great programme.

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