If Rashid isn't British, I'm not sure that anyone qualifies. A big, genial ex-rugby league player, he calls an alleyway a "snicket" and says "job's a good'un" when something's gone well. He's about as Bradford as they come – the only awkward detail being that you now have to specify which district of Bradford you're talking about. Channel 4 had chosen one of Britain's most segregated cities for its experiment in multicultural understanding – Make Bradford British – and what it hoped to work out was what common values might unite a citizenry so sharply divided by race and class. It was Big Brother with a social mission – eight pointedly different people invited to share a house and settle their differences, amicably if possible, though obviously a little friction wasn't going to go amiss.
The guinea pigs had been selected from a group of exemplary failures, people who had taken the Government's recently introduced Citizenship Test and flunked (the producers could afford to pick and choose – of 111 original candidates only 11 ruled themselves out by actually passing.) So Maura, a former magistrate and self-styled liberal, turned up to spend a week with Audrey, mixed-race publican, Damon, sheet-metal worker, Jens, the retired policeman, and Rashid, among others. They had all brought their prejudices with them and were encouraged by the organisers to display them rather than keep them to themselves – an invitation over-zealously taken up in some cases.
Intriguingly, the first bust-up was between Rashid and Sabbiyah, both devout Muslims but differing in their interpretation of what true devotion was. Rashid seemed to think that religion was a kind of loyalty-card affair: "A person who prays in congregation gets the reward 25 to 27 times more than a person who prays individually," he explained earnestly. His insistence on popping out to the mosque five times a day to top up his points was soon causing tension, with Sabbiyah getting particularly ratty. To his credit, though, Rashid compromised on his piety when it threatened to disrupt a day trip, settling for a solitary prayer in a car-park instead, a display of religious commitment that made Maura burst into tears.
The programme was never going to solve the problem it set itself. But it did generate some thought-provoking moments, particularly when it came to racial epithets. Audrey stoutly defended her use of the word "Paki" but was then forced to think again after Jens stunned everyone by recalling the collegiate way in which he would invite an Asian colleague to come out for a spot of "Paki-bashing". He also insisted on demonstrating that there was nothing offensive about calling Desmond a "black bastard", provided he accompanied it with a friendly smile and a pat on the back. Jens never quite understood what he'd done wrong, but Audrey did, and suddenly she saw her own name-calling in a different light.
"I'm disgusted with meself," she confessed tearfully. And Desmond, who'd blithely dismissed a lifetime of racist insults in an accent as squarely Yorkshire as Rashid's ("Get it under t'carpet man, put it wi't rest"), acknowledged that there just wasn't any room under the carpet any more. As for definitions of Britishness, I'm not sure anyone came up with anything better than the indignant chap seen thumping a pub table in the opening montage: "I know I'm a British citizen not because I know I'm a British citizen but because I know I'm not anything else".
Another definition might be that you head for the British Consulate when you run into trouble abroad. Channel 4's Our Man in Ibiza followed consular staff on their daily rounds, replacing passports that had been used to scoop up guacamole and assisting those who hadn't quite made it from their fourth-floor balconies into the swimming pool. There must be days when their definition of Britishness is clueless exuberance.Reuse content