Hexham actor digs deep to discover a privileged past
His character in comedy Auf Wiedersehen, Pet made actor Kevin Whately famous for playing working class roles.
But, as it turns out, the man who played gritty Geordie construction worker Neville Hope has a surprisingly well-to-do family history.
The star, from Humshaugh near Hexham, has delved into his family history to discover he is descended from a family of 17th century aristocrats who were among the richest and most powerful people in the land.
Appearing in the television series Who Do You Think You Are?, to be shown on BBC1 tonight, Kevin tells how his ancestors included a pair of wealthy land owners, the Thomson brothers.
Not only were the Thomsons close associates of Oliver Cromwell, but their fortune, made in the new colonies of America and the West Indies, helped fund the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War.
And, in unsettling news for Kevin, he discovers his forefathers made much of their fortune from a plantation which used slaves. It's all a far cry from the image of his quirky on-screen persona Neville, and the discoveries have left Kevin amazed.
He said: "It's a surreal feeling to know you're connected to these people. I'm a country boy from the North Tyne Valley and I always will be.
"I considered myself a leftie, then I found capitalists everywhere.
"The professor who was with me saw I was going slightly green and explained these would have been puritans who - as far as they were concerned - had the slaves doing the work of God.
"Thankfully, none of the money which was made during that time came down to me, which was a huge relief. I think if I was sitting in a stately home somewhere because of the money my ancestors made, I'd be feeling very uneasy.
"I'm glad I haven't got a stately home from the proceeds of the slave trade."
Trailing through archives and papers, Kevin begins his journey in Newcastle where he investigates the career of his grandmother Doris, a singer whom he believed failed to fulfil her true potential.
Doris' father is described as someone who made his fortune in the North East fishing industry.
Delving further back into his family's history, Kevin uncovers an 18th century ancestor who was a turkey trader.
The paper trail the leads him to the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange and to a vast country estate in Surrey, before his distant aristocratic routes are uncovered.
Kevin, who is also known for roles in Inspector Morse and the movie Purely Belter, set in Newcastle, said: "I knew quite a bit about my Dad's side, but nowhere near as far back as they were able to go.
"It had always interested me, but me and computers couldn't be further apart, so if this programme hadn't come up, I would never have got anywhere. It was nice to just see the results."
Kevin's mother Mary, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease is the inspiration for his next project - a documentary about the condition which will be screened on ITV1 on March 23.
He said: "Of course it's always hard to make these programmes, but myself, Terry Pratchett (who revealed last year that he is suffering from the disease) and Fiona Phillips (who lost her mother to the illness) all work for the Alzheimer's Society and want to do all we can."
We'd like to hear from you. Send your stories, pics and videos to email@example.com