It was when I saw Danny Dyer biting a chunk of wobbling tongue straight out of the skull of a decapitated sheep, before requesting an alternative meal “that’s not gonna make me spew me ring up”, that I knew I was watching something special. Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family follows on from the viral episode of Who Do You Think You Are? in which Dyer teared up at the discovery that he is the 22-times great-grandchild of Edward III (apparently most British people Dyer’s age are, but don’t let that spoil the fun), before announcing: “I think I’m gonna treat meself to a ruff.”
In this new series, Dyer travels in search of his long line of royal ancestors. Or, in his own words, he goes on a “blue-blooded binge”. It’s not a deep dive into history (scholarly observations include: “Back in the day, everybody was on an ’orse”) but an excuse to send Dyer to an array of castles and force him to dress up in ridiculous costumes, eat disgusting food, fight like a medieval knight, hunt with a bow and arrow, and order around his new servants. Luckily, Dyer is incredibly game, bringing a much-needed boyish enthusiasm. It’s not scripted, and his natural personality shines through: when he spears a watermelon, on horseback, he declares: “I, Danny Dyer, 30-times great-grandson of William the Conqueror, ’as got the ’ump with an Anglo-Saxon watermelon, and it is gonna get it.”
At times, it’s even surprisingly moving – Dyer seems to have a genuine pride in each of his ancestors, especially the pious Louis IX, and is overwhelmed when shown his old clothes, complete with blood stains and the whip he used to self-flagellate. “Fuck,” he whispers. “Is that his claret? Wow. Bless you, grandpa. Bless you.” Well. God bless the BBC for this perfect commission.
This article appears in the 23 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s running Britain?