While she has strong roots in London, Tamzin Outhwaite also has continental connections, as a friend of the New Tricks and former EastEnders star once twigged. “[She said] ‘You’re Italian, aren’t you?”’ recalls Tamzin. “’You’re just very free and very expressive, and that must come from the Italian side.’”
Her friend was correct – Tamzin’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant and she’s keen to know more about his experiences, research that will take her to Italy.
First up, though, she takes a far shorter journey, to 94 Commercial Road in the East End in the company of her mother. Anna Santi. It was here that Tamzin’s great grandfather, Antonio Gonnella, ran a café, Tony’s, which opened in the 1930s and served rather more egg and chips than pasta.
At the café, remembers Anna, her father, Remo Santi, would wile away his time playing cards with local ne’er-do-wells. “[The family] probably thought he was a bit of a liability,” says Anna.
In contrast, Remo’s father, ice cream-maker Adelmo, was a self-made man who, family stories suggest, bought houses for all of his children. Adelmo also endured hard times during the Second World War when, along with his son Peter, he was sent to the Palace Internment Camp on the Isle of Man after fascist Italy under Mussolini joined the conflict on the German side.
On the Isle of Man, Tamzin learns more about Adelmo and Peter’s experiences. They would have been jeered as they made their way to the internment camp (a boarding house in peacetimes), a place notorious for the way the few genuine fascists bullied other inmates. Thankfully, neither Adelmo nor Peter remained long in the camp, as Tamzin learns when she sees records relating to her great-grandfather’s imprisonment.
These records also reveal that he first came to Britain in 1913. But why? To discover more, Tamzin heads for Barga in Italy, where she sees the former family home. It’s a quiet spot and, in the early 20th century, it was a poor place. As a result, many moved to Glasgow where they made ice cream. Adelmo was among those who left.
Tamzin follows her forebear’s trail to Scotland. Here, with the help of food historian Ivan Day, she has a go at making traditional gelato in an ice-filled pail. “Mmm, we made that,” she says, after initially treating her creation with some suspicion.
Adelmo didn’t settle in Glasgow. In the 1920s, he headed south for the pit village of Fishburn in County Durham. This proved to be a canny move when, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the coal mines were nationalised and miners had far more disposable income to spend.
Adelmo’s business did so well that he became known locally as “the richest man in Fishburn”. Yet as Tamzin discovers when she visits her aunt, Iris, in the village, Adelmo also contended with tragedy. One of his children, Henry, died as a youngster. Arthur, as he was then known, couldn’t at that point afford to pay for the funeral and locals got up a collection to help out.
Later, Adelmo acknowledged his debt to the community when he bought a field that’s now used as a children’s playground. Seeing a memorial to Adelmo there, Tamzin is deeply moved. “It [was] all done in the name of family, she marvels.