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Gyles Brandreth: related to notorious Jeremiah?

Submitted by on August 15, 2017 – 9:47 pmNo Comment

THE ONE SHOWHe’s the amiable reporter on The One Show, the erudite contributor in Dictionary Corner on Countdown, one of Britain’s busiest after-dinner speakers, a successful writer and a former MP. But could president of the Oscar Wilde Society, founder of the Teddy Bear Museum and knitwear style icon Gyles Brandreth also be related to Jeremiah Brandreth, one of Britain’s most notorious criminals who was beheaded for treason?

Gyles thinks it is a possibility: “Some people say Jeremiah was born at Wilford in Nottingham but I believe he was born in London. A Jeremiah Brandreth was baptised at St Andrews Holborn at the right time.

“One of our forebears is also a Brandreth and was married at the same church. So it seems a bit unlikely that they’re not kinsmen.”

This connection with London might go some way towards explaining why Jeremiah and other defendants who led the Pentrich Rising 200 years ago were able to secure a prominent lawyer to defend them: Thomas Denman who later became Lord Chief Justice.

“Jeremiah was known in his day as the Hopeless Radical,” says Gyles. “It seems to me that he was taken advantage of and set up. He jointly led this rebellion which resulted in his capture and execution.

“I get the impression that he was a person of good heart, great spirit and with worthy intentions. But he was naïve as a revolutionary.

“I’m interested in him because he’s become this folkloric figure – the last person to be beheaded for treason. The fact that he was only beheaded was a concession – he was due to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

“His heart was in the right place: he was concerned with the loss of work because of the industrial revolution. He didn’t kill anyone, so I feel he was hard done by. I’ve always felt sympathy for him.”

Three years ago Gyles was in Derby and was told it is likely that Jeremiah was buried next to the redundant Anglican church St Werburgh’s on Friargate.

“Jeremiah fought for the workers for what he believed in and paid a very heavy price.”

“There’s scrubland round the side of the church. It wouldn’t be difficult to get some volunteers to restore this bit of land and erect a memorial of some kind – not taking sides but just telling his story.”

According to the Nottingham Hidden History website, “the whole labour movement owes much to a man like Brandreth yet today he is virtually unknown.” Gyles is saddened by this.

“It’s an important part of our history. Jeremiah fought for the workers for what he believed in and paid a very heavy price. There’s no question that he and his fellow conspirators were over-ambitious.

“For The One Show I made a film and went to Pentrich, walking from the White Horse pub (where the uprising started). I could see just from being there what a hopeless cause it was – a group of men getting together without proper weapons, marching on to Nottingham with the hope of getting to London. It was a hopeless cause but it’s a fascinating story.

“He was in the spinning business – he worked hand looms. At his trial the jurors included Richard Arkwright, the spinning industrialist (the son of the inventor of the spinning frame) who was one of the key people who made life so tough for hand loom stockingers who traditionally worked from home.

Gyles brandreth car“I don’t know how fair the trial was if there were people like Arkwright on the jury.

“I’ve touched the board on which Jeremiah was executed that’s kept in Derby museum. He was one of those who did indeed try to lead the last revolution and should have a more permanent place in the consciousness of those interested in our history. I’d love to see his story told properly.”

Jeremiah is not Gyles’s only famous relative although he was the most notorious.

“I have other interesting forebears. One was Dr Benjamin Brandreth, a Victorian who left England in the 1830s for America and ended up making a fortune with Brandreth pills. He’s my great-great-great grandfather so he’s a direct relation.

“I’m also related to George R Sims who wrote It Is Christmas Day In The Workhouse, a famous ballad in Victorian times, and who was claimed to be the first journalist to identify Jack the Ripper.”

Gyles Daubeney Brandreth was born on 8 March 1948 in Wuppertal, Germany where his father Charles was serving as a legal officer. He moved with his parents to London when he was aged three.

He studied at New College, Oxford and was president of the Oxford Union in 1970. While there he began to write, having his first column published in Honey, a monthly magazine for young women.

Since then he has been a columnist for Woman, Woman’s Own and TV Times. He has contributed to magazines as varied as the New Statesman, the Spectator and Dogs Today. He has written for every national newspaper in Britain and for five years he was editor-at-large of the Sunday Telegraph Review.

He is perhaps best known as an MP. He was elected as Conservative MP for the City of Chester in 1992 but lost his seat five years later “on the day that the Tories were unceremoniously swept out of office and we saw the arrival of Tony Blair’s new dawn”.

“I felt satisfied and fulfilled and I still take pride in my small parliamentary achievements.”

Whereas Jeremiah was known as the Hopeless Radical, Gyles referred to himself while he was an MP as the Hopeful Radical.

Gyles felt “wholly at home” in the Palace of Westminster but he expected not to be re-elected. His wife, writer and publisher Michele Brown, was so certain of the result that she put their house in the constituency up for sale during the election campaign!

He loved being an MP: “I felt satisfied and fulfilled and I still take pride in my small parliamentary achievements. My 1994 Marriage Act is the legislation that enables civil weddings to take place in venues other than register offices. I’m the chap who spotted the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square and initiated the project that brings interesting art to our capital’s most noted public space.

“To be candid, my defeat came as something of a release. I was 49 and suddenly I had a life before me. ‘Cry freedom!’ is what I wrote in my diary at the beginning of May 1997.”

On leaving Westminster Gyles says he was blessed to be able to return to his old life as a freelance journalist and broadcaster. Apart from that, he had always wanted to appear in a musical and Michele encouraged him to go for it.

Gyles with Sir Roger Moore

Gyles with Sir Roger Moore

The result was Zipp!, a musical review. “We rattled through 100 musicals in 100 minutes. We gave the audience the complete works of Andrew Lloyd Webber in 90 seconds – and amazingly won awards and five-star reviews for our efforts. We toured the UK with the show and did a season at the Duchess Theatre in London.”

When he was a teenager Gyles started collecting teddy bears. Later he and Michele founded the Teddy Bear Museum which since last year has been located at Newby Hall, Yorkshire. It contains more than 1,000 teddies including Fozzie from The Muppet Show, Children in Need’s Pudsey and Winnie the Pooh.

Just after The One Show started, a crew was filming an auction at which Gyles was selling some of his teddy bears. He talked about his passion which led to the programme asking him to make a film on another subject. Ten years later he is still reporting for the show.

One of his reports was about the James Bond films and their stunts. This led to his appearing in a spoof which is featured on his website.

“The best part of making the film was meeting Sir Roger Moore.  He taught me how to raise my eyebrow.”

Gyles and Michele who live in Barnes, south west London, have three grown-up children: Benet, a barrister and authority on Shakespeare; Saethryd, an author and journalist; and Aphra, a government economist.

Gyles, Benet and Benet’s wife, American actress Kosha Engler, will be getting together shortly to act in a slimmed down version of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy Hamlet which features just the three of them.

Gyles, his son Benet and Benet's wife Kosha Engler who will be appearing together in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Gyles, his son Benet and Benet’s wife Kosha Engler who will be appearing together in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

“I thought Benet who’s the rhetoric coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company should play Hamlet. My daughter-in-law is playing Gertrude and Ophelia. I’m playing old Hamlet the ghost, Claudius and Polonius. I think my spell in politics will prove useful in trying to understand what those characters are all about.

“It’s a family drama and what makes our production different is that we are one family appearing in it.”

Hamlet will be staged at London’s Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, from 22 August until 16 September.

Gyles has done so many things in his career but what does he enjoy doing best?

“Whatever I’m doing at the time. I like variety. One day I’m sitting quietly at my desk working on a novel – Jack the Ripper Case Closed is my latest – the next I’m on a plane to Belfast to film a report for The One Show. Doing different things is what makes me happiest.”

So what does the future hold for Gyles: more acting? “If the right part comes along, oh yes!” Any ambition he’d like to achieve? “There are too many to mention.”

Gyles will undoubtedly continue to be a regular on television and radio. And the man who wrote the book The 7 Secrets of Happiness surely knows how to make millions of people happy through his work.

* This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of Country Images magazine

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