REVIEW: TV Bradford 'social experiment' betrayed by provocative title (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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REVIEW: TV Bradford 'social experiment' betrayed by provocative title
“Multicultural Britain needs help,” says narrator Amerjit Deu at the beginning of the first episode of Channel 4’s controversial reality show Make Bradford British. “Nowhere is the problem clearer than in Bradford.”
If you say so. Oh, and just to drive home the idea to anyone who was still left in doubt by the montage of images showing mosque domes glinting against blue skies, teenage white girls pushing prams while juggling cigs and pasties, bearded Muslims jostling at prayer time, pub signs creaking in the breeze, we are told that Bradford is “regarded as one of the country’s most segregated cities”.
Really? By whom? Oh, Channel 4, obviously.
Those of a sensitive disposition might have been reaching for the remote almost immediately thanks to the barrage of bad language and racial epithets in the first two minutes of last night’s opener, that’s if you got past the surely-deliberately provocative title and introductory narrative at all.
But anyone who stuck with it may well have come to the conclusion that in a roundabout way Channel 4 actually pulled off something rather good by the end of the show... it was just a very convoluted, contrived and often wince-worthy journey to get there.
We are introduced early on to Laurie Trott and Taiba Yasseen, described as “diversity experts” and who are, apparently, on a mission to Make Bradford British. They do this by taking the Government’s official citizenship test – which has a 70 per cent pass rate in real life – around to Bradford’s communities. Unsurprisingly, the results aren’t edifying. In Manningham there’s a 95 per cent fail rate, and in Idle – where a girl is reduced to tears after failing to understand a question about Hogmanay – it’s 90 per cent fail. Haworth fails to the tune of 85 per cent, Wibsey 89 per cent, and a nebulous “city centre” area gets a 100 per cent crash.
All this is preamble to the meat of the show, as from these failures Trott and Yasseen are to choose eight people for this social experiment. And here’s where it all begins to get a bit reality TV.
Our diversity experts are suddenly looking at pictures of potential candidates on a glass wall, like Wallace and Torode choosing their Masterchef finalists. Social cohesion doesn’t get tougher than this.
Then, having picked them, we’re suddenly dumped in Big Brother, as mixed-race pub landlord Audrey, retired policeman Jens, young sheet metal worker Damon, enigmatic Mohammed, ebullient Rashid, earnest, intelligent Sabbiyah, the lovely Maura and Desmond, with his Mr T hair and toothy grin, are put together in a converted barn to see just how they get on.
It’s all fairly predictable stuff – Damon and Rashid don’t want to share rooms, each for their own different, but in the end similar, reasons. Rashid, a former Rugby League player, needs to pray at his mosque five times a day. As he dashes out and tries to buy food for the group before the shops shut, he gets a jaunty soundtrack and it goes a bit Carry On.
They go on a trip to the park where Jens uses a banana as a makeshift sundial so he can tell Rashid which way Mecca is. Maura is reduced to tears by the sight of Rashid praying, but we aren’t given enough time to really know why. Then they go off to Temple Newsam (oi, I thought this was about Bradford?) and try on historical costumes. The reason isn’t quite clear.
It’s all a bit frothy until about a quarter of an hour from the end, when a discussion about derogatory racial terms initially divides and then ultimately unites them all. This bit is actually quite moving, but it’s somewhat mystifying why Channel 4 had to dress the programme up with first the Bradford-bashing title and scare-mongering introduction, and then the often-silly reality TV show trappings.
The eight participants seem, largely, really likeable people and their journey from disparate, mistrusting individuals to folks who actually recognise they are part of a wider community appears to be a genuine one. But we don’t get enough time with them, and they are sometimes reduced to two-dimensional cartoons by the show. Perhaps we’ll get to know them better next week when they are released from the house and, utilising another reality TV show format, this time Wife Swap, they go to live in each other’s houses within the community.
Maybe Channel 4 thinks we can only respond to shows if they are produced in such a way; real people must be doing silly tasks and edged towards conflict before any TV discussion of rights and wrongs and social issues can begin. The Only Way Is Ethics, anyone?
Either way, while the show does seem to have an honest message at its heart, it doesn’t do the image of the district any favours and despite its pretensions towards genuine social experiment, it’s just another reality show with no real winners and one big loser: Bradford.