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Unearthing the World War II secrets of actor’s ancestors

  • Date

    Thu 5 Dec 19

Lucy Noakes with Helena Bonham Carter

Interest in our ancestry is opening new doors for historians and giving their work greater exposure according to Professor Lucy Noakes, who recently helped actor Helena Bonham Carter discover her grandmother’s wartime experiences for Channel 4.

Working on My Grandparent’s War is just the latest in a series of television and radio opportunities Professor Noakes has been involved in.

The Channel 4 documentary celebrated the extraordinary wartime stories of grandparents of four well-known faces. In the episode with Helena Bonham Carter, Professor Noakes uncovered and described the experiences of Violet Bonham Carter when she was working as an air raid warden during the Blitz.

Speaking about the experience of spending a day filming in London, Professor Noakes, from the Department of History, said: “It was great fun working with Helena Bonham Carter – she was very interested in her family’s history and the history of the war more widely and asked loads of good questions.”

Professor Noakes is regularly invited onto television and radio shows: “The experience and memory of the First and Second World wars – my research area – seem to be perennially popular in Britain so, in common with lots of other historians, I get a lot of requests to contribute to programming.”

One of the media appearances she is most proud of is an episode of Blitzed Britain in which Professor Noakes’ contribution: “helped to dispel some of the myths of World War II as Britain’s ‘finest hour’ when the British people were ‘all in it together’, which have become so beloved of many British nationalists.”


Professor Lucy Noakes
"What I enjoy most is the opportunity to get my research across to a much larger audience than you would usually reach through more traditional academic routes."
Professor Lucy Noakes department of history

Describing the benefits, Professor Noakes said: “I think that what I enjoy most is the opportunity to get my research across to a much larger audience than you would usually reach through more traditional academic routes.

“It’s also great to work with production companies that have the resources to track down and use audio visual sources that would be much harder to use as an individual academic. 

“It’s important to reach people through different mediums, like television, radio and podcasts. It seems that we are living in an age when people are often given false or misleading information masquerading as fact, so it’s satisfying to be able to intervene, to reach a wide audience, and to provide them with well researched, factually accurate, information.”