Big fat Gypsy hatchet job

The debate about the infernal Big Fat Gypsy Weddings series, which ended a few weeks ago, continues to rage. This show is becoming the bane of my life at the moment, because of the difficulties I’m having getting what I want for my MA and Rethink project, so when someone sent me a link to this piece from the BBC’s College of Journalism blog, which asks whether the show had been a documentary or mockumentary, I left this comment:

I’m not a Gypsy or Traveller but I am a journalist who works regularly with English Gypsies in the north of England and count a number as friends.

From an audience point of view, BFGWs was great TV – titillating, manipulative, car-crash fodder of the lowest common denominator kind. Most definitely a mockumentary trussed up as factual viewing.

And I’d have to agree with Jake Bowers about the damage it has done. It’s had a huge impact which I can personally attest to, as can any professionals who work with GRT communities (eg traveller education teams, support workers).

I’m doing a documentary photography project with a family who run a (privately owned) Gypsy site in northern England at the moment and the level of paranoia and mistrust as a direct result of that programme is enormous.

These communities have never been very open and it’s always taken time to win people round, but barely anyone else on the site will so much as give me the time of day, such is the fear of outsiders. They all just want to be invisible.

The residents of this site have suffered threats from local yobs, they are being refused entry to pubs and clubs in the town, and their kids are getting teased in school (more than before) about what was shown in the programme. Obviously, they’ve never had it exactly easy, but the perception is that things have got much tougher.

The mum of the family I’m spending time with says BFGWs has set Gypsies and Travellers back 30 years in terms of engaging with outsiders. Officials, artists etc will find it difficult to get onto any camps now, she says, and in some quarters Travellers themselves have turned on each other.

I’ve even heard from a friend who works with Irish Travellers in a town in Lancashire that the young lads are now starting to ‘grab’ girls as a form of sexual harrassment after seeing it for the first time on that programme. It hadn’t really been known of before around there.

My feeling is that Firecracker Films have done a hatchet job on a vulnerable and misunderstood community and I think they’ve done untold lasting damage in the chase for ratings. Tabloid TV of the very worst kind.

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