TV film didn't get picture

By Jennifer Lipman, December 1, 2011
Part of the archive film screened mistakenly in the Heir Hunters film, illustrating Jewish immigration

Part of the archive film screened mistakenly in the Heir Hunters film, illustrating Jewish immigration

A TV production company has apologised "unequivocally" to the Jewish Museum and television viewers over footage used in last Friday's Heir Hunters programme on BBC1.

Researchers for the programme, trying to track down the relatives of a man called David Bernstein, interviewed the director of the Jewish Museum, Rickie Burman, in September this year.

Mr Bernstein, a former ground traffic controller at Gatwick, died in 2010 in Brighton, aged 68. Because he left no will and had lost contact with his family, a search began for beneficiaries to his £300,000 estate.

Probate researchers Fraser & Fraser took up the search but found great difficulty in tracing Mr Bernstein's paternal relatives because of the large number of Jews with that surname in Whitechapel in the 19th and early 20th century.

The programme makers went to the Jewish Museum for background on early immigration to Britain. When Ms Burman told the presenter that many Jewish immigrants had worked as tailors, archive film showed men and women in a tailor's workshop, but clearly wearing the yellow star which Jews had to sew on their clothes during the Nazi era of the 1940s.

A spokesman for the museum said: "We were shocked at the inappropriate use of archive film in Friday evening's showing of Heir Hunters. While we were at pains to provide accurate information and create a fuller understanding of Jewish migration and its context, the films used to illustrate this period in history unfortunately had the opposite effect".

After a formal complaint to Flame TV and the BBC, the production company apologised "unequivocally for their ill-thought-out and inaccurate use of Nazi-era film footage to represent the mass migration of Eastern European Jews to Britain at the turn of the 20th century".

The Jewish Museum said it had been assured that the episode had been recalled from the BBC and would not be repeated in its current form.

Researchers eventually found records of seven Bernstein heirs, as well as more than 20 on the other side of the family, some of whom had little idea of Mr Bernstein’s existence.

Frances Taylor, the daughter of John's Bernstein's sister Sarah, had seen him regularly for many years, visiting the family in Brighton when he was young child.

But Mrs Taylor, who is now in her 80s, said that about 20 years ago, after Mr Bernstein's mother died, he stopped answering her phonecalls and messages.

"The investigators had a devil of a job tracking me down," she said. "I hadn't seen him in years. Families are all so spread out now - once upon a time we'd all have lived in the same road."

"I was one of the few first cousins who knew him. He was a nice young man and he would drive his mother up to London to visit me as an outing," she said. "We were in fairly close contact, in as much as I wrote to him and sent him Rosh Hashanah cards.

However when she stopped getting a response, Mrs Taylor said she assumed he wasn't interested in keeping in touch with the family. "So I didn't follow it up," she said. "I think he must have always been a loner, and he was very close to his mother and father.

"I was shocked and surprised, and very upset to hear that he had died," added Mrs Taylor. "It's nice to remember him now. And I'm pleased that his neighbours and colleagues remembered him as a smart young man and spoke very highly of him on the programme."

With Mr Bernstein's estate still in the hands of lawyers, Mrs Taylor said she wanted to focus on the fact that the hunt for his descendants had revealed parts of the family she did not know. "Other cousins have come to light and we're been in touch. This has bought us together."

Last updated: 12:16pm, December 1 2011