Stephen McGann: An Acting Family Tree Rose Up
Edinburgh International Book Festival
On 21 August 2017
Review by David Chadderton
Stephen McGann, interviewed on stage by Stephanie Merritt, is one of five siblings from Liverpool but best-known as one of the four actor McGann brothers with Joe, Paul and Mark.
The book he was at the Festival to promote, Flesh and Blood: A History of My Family in Seven Maladies, is a kind of memoir, but not the usual type of showbiz biography, which he said he would not be interested in writing. Instead, he has compiled 150 years of his family's history, into which he does inevitably enter.
He described himself as the nerd in the family who always wanted to know about family history, first venturing into the public records office at the age of 17 to scan through the microfiche. He knew that his family were of Irish Catholic descent, but he only recently discovered where in Ireland they came from.
As an actor, he looked at people on his family tree as he would characters he wanted to play, examining their situations and motivations. However the book, as the title says, goes through various "maladies" that have defined different periods of his family's history, beginning with "starvation", which of course goes back to the Irish Potato Famine. It combines his interest in genealogy with his interest in science and medicine—the latter fuelled in part by his role as Dr Turner in Call The Midwife.
When asked about the politics of the book, he said this was not deliberate but inevitable to some extent: looking back over the 150 years, he saw clearly that his family, very poor and struggling to survive in the earlier parts, only started to thrive in the mid-twentieth century when the NHS was formed, and also when education became more universally available.
The book is available now in hardcover.