Comedian Joe Lycett learned that one of his ancestors may have been in a same-sex relationship on BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?
Lycett, 33, discovered that Robert Wilkinson had what was described as “an intense friendship with man” that apparently ended dramatically.
“Robert’s could just have been an intense friendship with a man, or something more. Either way, they had incredibly strong feelings for one another that become poisonous,” Lycett said ahead of the episode being broadcast.
The stand-up comic, who is pansexual, said that he couldn’t help but find parallels between his own life and that of his ancestor’s.
“It became difficult for me to see Robert’s story clearly, as I had so little to go on and couldn’t work out how much of his story I was applying my own history onto.
“Regardless, what happened was very dramatic,” Joe Lycett explained. He also spoke about how rarely LGBT+ stories are found in people’s ancestry due to a lack of documentation of such relationships.
“Queer stories from the past are pretty difficult to find as they were rarely documented,” he added.
Joe Lycett uncovers ancestor’s history of mental ill-health
Robert was a relative on Joe Lycett’s mother’s side of the family and was a “massively complicated character”.
“He came from a particularly poor background and tried to escape by joining the military forces. But as you can imagine that came with its own challenges,” Lycett said.
The episode also uncovered Robert’s struggles with mental illness.
Lycett said: “Mental illness is woefully catered for in 2021 – it was MUCH worse back in Robert’s time. He had been through some awful times and struggled with alcohol abuse. Fortunately the legal system spared him from the ultimate sentencing.
“Interestingly, because of the nature of information when he was alive, I expect most of his family never knew about his struggles with mental illness and the crimes he committed, so it felt strange to think that I knew more about him potentially than his own children and wife.”
Joe Lycett is an outspoken advocate for the LGBT+ community. In 2019 he criticised Labour MP Labour MP Roger Godsiff, following Godsiff’s comments that he believed five-year-olds were too young to learn about some families having same-sex parents.
That same year he also spoke about the need for members of the queer community to communicate with non-LGBT+ people in a way that is compassionate and patient.
“I did a tweet about LGBTQ+ and someone was saying ‘what’s the + and what’s the Q?’” he recalled then, “and some people would be like: ‘You should educate yourself it’s disgusting, google it.’
“If I asked the question, they would answer it to me, so just try and treat people in the way I expect to be treated myself.
“So I do think that’s been a problem in our community,” Lycett concluded.
Lycett’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will air on Tuesday, 2 November at 9pm on BBC One.