Letter from the Media Editor: The TV documentary blitzing of our urban centres

  • @iburrell


During the blitzes of the Second World War, the big industrial cities and ports winced in empathy at news that somewhere else had “bought it” that night.

Never mind the Luftwaffe, these days our urban centres look around to see who will be next to get a visit from an observational documentary television team.

It’s hardly a matter of life or death – but the blight on the landscape can be serious, as visitors and investors turn their attentions elsewhere.

Last night Birmingham “bought it” again, for the third time in as many weeks, as Channel 4 screened its latest episode of Benefits Street. The programme’s depiction of benefits claimants in Winson Green has given the district a notoriety that even its ancient Victorian prison could not manage.

Grimsby fears it will be targeted next. A production team from Channel 4’s Skint has Britain’s most famous fishing port in its sights and has been doing “test filming”.

Residents – who have drawn a petition up asking for the broadcaster to withdraw – worry that television is only interested in stories of degradation rather than heart-warming stories of community spirit.

Grimsby’s long-standing MP, Austin Mitchell, (himself a confident broadcast performer) has written to complain to Channel 4 and accused it of “turning the poor into objects of entertainment”.

The concerns are greater because Scunthorpe, just along the coast, took a pounding from the same show last year. There’s a feeling in Lincolnshire that TV producers like the “Grim up North” theme. What could be better than a town supposedly named after a Viking called Grim?

But these shows are ratings winners and, while they remain so, TV will keep making them.