The People Detective

Many families have skeletons in there closets - madness, baldness, money won and lost - but few have the opportunity of seeing their ancestors brought vividly to life.

In this intuitive new series, museum curator and historian, Daru Rooke, takes six people back into the past to reveal the lives of their remarkable ancestors - from a notorious witch hanged for murder to a missionary eaten by cannibals.

Each of the six descendants knows little about their relative. Using letters, photos and personal mementos, Daru and the descendant embark on a journey of discovery. As the clues build up, the ancestor comes to life.

Daru is a senior curator in social and industrial history at several Leeds museums. His fascination with the past affects every aspect of his life, from his Edwardian taste in clothes to his home, which is crammed with Victorian objects. Historical detective work is a role he relishes. And, armed with his exhaustive knowledge of Victorian life, he has eve appeared on "Home Front".

"As a curator, I bring history to life through objects; but in The People Detective I have had the chance to explore six great human stories alongside those who care most - the descendants," says Daru.

"Of all the stories, the one I found most fascinating was that of Tracy Whitaker's ancestor, Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch. She's a legend in Leeds, where she was hanged for murder and then publicly dissected for medical research. It's a macabre tale, so I was rather worried about how her descendant, Tracy, would react, as she knew absolutely nothing anout her rather sinister ancestry."

With Mary Bateman's skeleton still in the Thackray Museum of Medical History, Dary Rooke hosts a bizarre family reunion. "Luckily, Tracy is studying forensic science and turned out to be less squeamish than me when faced with the bones of her ancestor!"

Daru has many surprises for his six subjects as he takes them back in time. Charlotte Sainsbury is the descendant of the wife of a Victorian missionary. In her family tree, a note reads: "James Chalmers - eaten by cannibals." Charlotte has always wanted to know if this was fact or just the stuff of Victorian legend, so Daru takes her on an extraordinary trip to the jungles of Papua New Guinea to reveal the unpalatable truth about her globe-trotting ancestor and his mysterious death.

Daru also leads actor David Little into the murky world of Victorian drug-taking as they try to discover whether his ancestor, Florence Maybrick, was wrongly convicted of murder. And, in the remarkable rags-to-riches story of Gloria, a Selfridges mannequin, Daru explores the life and tragic death of a Twenties super-model.

Also featured is an e-commerce manager, put in prison for 24 hours to get some idea of the deprivations her great Uncle, artist laughton Pellew, experienced as a First World War conscientious objector. And finally, in the Jamaican Hills, professional boxer Spencer Fearon discovers his roots among the heroic Maroon people.

In the first of this intriguing series entitled "Witch", Daru starts close to his home as he takes Tracy Whitaker on the trail of her notorious ancestior, Mary Bateman - the Yorkshire Witch.

Mary was hanged in 1809 for the murder of Leeds woman Rebecca Perigo. Court reports from her trial at York Assizes state that she put arsenic in a Yorkshire pudding and some honey then gave Mr and Mrs Perigo in an elaborate scheme to extort money from them.

The 18th century was an age when science was in its ascendancy but it was also the era of witchcraft and superstition. After she was hanged for murder, Mary Bateman's body was dissected in a public exhibition, amking her one of the first criminals to be anatomised in the quest for medical knowledge. And that's how her skeleton ended up as an exhibit in the Thackray Museum.

The second edition, entitled "Missionary". A small note by the side of an entry in Charlotte Sainsbury's family tree conceals an extraordinary story. Next to the name James Chalmers, died 1901, it reads: "eaten by cannibals". Can this really be true or is it just the stuff of Victorian legend?

Daru examines the intriguing life of James Chalmers, a Victorian missionary who was killed by the Goaribari tribe of Papua New Guinea.

To find out the truth behind the legend, Daru and Charlotte Sainsbury, a mother of two from Wiltshire, travel to Papua New Guniea 100 years after Chalmers's death.

"My family always looked on him as though it was almost his own fault he was killed because he shouldn't have been trying to take Christianity to people who didn't want to know about it," says Charlotte.

Charlotte is the descendent of Chalmers's first wife, Jane, who died of malaria in 1879. As Charlotte and Daru retrace the footsteps of this remarkable Victorian missionary couple, the adventure - and the danger - of life in the South Pacific is revealed. When James and Jane Chalmers first arrived in Papua New Guinea, on an island called Su'au, they were confronted with evidence of cannibalism. Even today, human remains are regularly found.

Many people in the country contuinue to hold their religion very dear, and James Chalmers is venerated in the capital Port Moresby where he built the first permanent church. But as they progress into the more remote parts of the country, the journey becomes tense. After the murder, British troops killed 25 local people, and the Goaribari islanders who murdered Chalmers have never been forgiven, even 100 years after the event.

What does Charlotte think of her ancestor after this remarkable journey? "I still think he basically trod on peoples toes, he hadn't followed the procedures. But I think that he was a very great man and he lives on in the hearts of people."

In the third edition of this brilliant series we take a look at the past of Artist Claughton Pellew. In 1916, the British government introduced conscription. For many young men, it was the time to decide whether to go to war for their country or break the law by refusing to fight. Artist Claughton Pellew chose the latter, spending the First World War not in the trenches with his fellow Englishmen but in prison. This week Daru investigates whether it was cowardice or conscience that led him to become a pacifist and how his time behind bars affected his life and work.

Claughton's great-niece, Sarah Apps, is taken back to a time of jingoism and propaganda to find out what life would have been like for a conscientious objector in the First World War. They revisit an era when strict Edwardian values were giving way to a growing Bohemian liberalism to try to understand this extraordinary and gifted artist.

Sarah lives in South London with her husband and two young sons and works as a manager of e-commerce clients for a major American bank in the city. The military is in her veins - her father was a lieutenant colonel. But would she have sent her sons to war when conscription was first introduced in Britain in 1916?

"Coming from an army background, I would probably feel that it was their duty. But I wouldn't want my sons to go to war, I really wouldn't. In 1916, they would have known that they might not come back."

Sarah gets a taste if the cold and lonliness that her great-uncle experienced when Daru puts her in an empty Victorian prison for 24 hours.

When he left prison, Claughton married a young woman named Kechie Tennent - a fellow artist from the Slade art school where he studied before the war. The couple moved to the remote Norfolk countryside where they dedicated their lives to art. Sarah and Daru revisit the house where they lived and painted. They discover why this British artist of immense talent may finally get the recognition he deserves.

The fourth edition of this series looks at slavery in Britain. Three hundred and fifty years ago a group of African slaves rebelled against the British in Jamaica and won their freedom. They became known as the Maroons and theirs is an extraordinary and little known chapter in Jamaican history.

The People Detective team travel to Jamaica with Spencer Fearon, a 26-year-old professional boxer from South London, who wants to trace his family name.

Despite many trips to Jamaica - his parents' home until the fifties - Spencer knows little about his ancestry. He's convinced that the legend of his family name will be a depressing tale of slavery and powerlessness. Like many young black Britons he looks to Africa for a history he can be proud of.

"I love this country, Great Britain, and I want to win the British tiotle, but I have to know that, deep down inside, I'm African. I'm a black man and I'm proud of that," he explains.

Daru and Spencer travel to Jamaica in search of a heritage that Spencer can be proud of. At their first port of call, the Fearons were one of the first English land-owners to colonise Jamaica. They owned hundreds of acres - and probably Spencer's forebears too.

But, in a remarkable twist, Daru and Spencer discover a different branch of Spencer's family tree - the remarkable Maroons, fearless freedom fighters who won their independence from the British.

In 1665, the Spanish surrendered Jamaica to the British. Their slaves fled to the forests and mountains and began a guerilla war against the British. Over the years, they were joined by other runaway slaves. In 1738, the British had had enough and, under the command of Colonel John Guthrie, they signed a treaty giving the Maroons land liberty and the right to govern themselves.

At the end of their journey, Spencer and Daru travel far into the Jamaican mountains to meet the descendants of the Maroons who still live there today. Spencer says: "This place where I'm standing is my home. I can be based here and be happy. It fells good."

"Gloria of Selfridges", a Twenties mannequin, was the most famous face of her day. In this edition Daru and her descendent, Clare Cowley, trace the extraordinary rags to riches story of this mill girl-turned-supermodel who became the chief model for Selfridges - until her untimely demise at 36 from a drug overdose.

Clare, a 24-year-old car mechanic from Manchester, knows little about her second cousin, born May Kenworthy in Lancashire in 1901. In 1927, Gloria was voted the most beautiful model of her generation. But how did she get from the bleak solitude of the Pennines to the glamour of society London and the glitzy Selfridges department store?

Daru soon discovers that the crucial source in this search is the "News of the World", in which Gloria's life was serialised in the Thirties. In this autobiography, Gloria describes her rags-riches story. Headlines include such gems as "Saved by her Hat Pin" - an occasion on which the much sought-after Gloria had to keep an admirer at bay with a hat pin!

As Clare and Daru explore her life, it emerges that Gloria was the first of her kind. She ran away from her strict grandparents when she was only 14. She worked in the theatre and then became the face of Ovaltine posters before coming to London to become a model. She reinvented herself from a Lancashire lass with harsh vowels and little sophistication to a silky smooth model who was the pride of Selfridges. Gordon Selfridge, the American manager of Selfridges, Oxford Street, took her on as a mannequin and made her name.

In this journey back to a time of flappers and fashion, Daru Rooke has many surprises for Clare - he's found outfits from the Twenties and a stylist to help her transformation. Styled like a Twenties model, Clare Cowley looks every inch the image of her ancestor, "Gloria of Selfridges"

In the final edition entitled "Maybrick" Daru and actor David Little re-examine the case of Florence Maybrick, convicted in 1889 of poisoning her husband with arsenic.

Closer examination of the evidence reveals that Florence was on trial more for adultery than for murder - and if she were tried today, the outcome may have been rather different

Genre: History Documentary

Running Time: 30 minutes (approx)