Channel 4 today announced two thought-provoking documentaries examining Britain’s challenging relationship with immigration.
Love Productions’ documentary Immigration Street will air on Tuesday, February 24th at 10pm. Broadcast as a one-hour film, the documentary captures contemporary life on a British street that has been changed significantly over the years by different waves of immigration and settlement, in order to provide a unique insight into the reality of multiculturalism in Britain today as opposed to the political rhetoric and newspaper headlines. The experiences of the team making the film and the contributors who encountered local opposition and, in some cases, intimidation, are documented in the one-off special which provides a fascinating look at one of the most fiercely debated and divisive issues in Britain today.
Immigration Street will be followed, in March by Immigration Street 1964, a history film from Brinkworth Films about Britain’s most racist election campaign and its violent aftermath, which took one street in the West Midlands town of Smethwick to the brink of official racial segregation.
Deputy Chief Creative Officer & Head of Factual Ralph Lee says: “Going into this general election immigration is one of the most hotly contested issues and one we think it’s vital to present a range of viewpoints on. In filming Immigration Street the strength of feeling around the issue became apparent not just with the many local people who wanted to tell their stories in the film but also the impassioned response of those opposing it. These experiences are shown first-hand in what is a fascinating insight into the sometimes inflammatory nature of the immigration debate. Examining these important issues and looking at the historical context and parallels, no matter how uncomfortable, is core Channel 4 public service territory.
“Both of these films sit alongside a number of programmes exploring immigration from a variety of perspectives including fictional drama 100 Days of UKIP - which imagines a newly elected UKIP government introducing a new crackdown on illegal immigration and a new three-part documentary series The Romanians are Coming which hears from some of Britain’s newest immigrants.”
Last summer Channel 4 announced it had commissioned “Immigration Street” a series about an ethnically diverse street in Southampton.
The programme both profiles this multicultural community but also provides insight into the difficulties of making television about immigration, a term that provokes strong emotions, anger and even violence across Britain and internationally.
Last year cameras started to follow the lives of residents on Derby Road in the Bevois district of Southampton. Known locally as ‘The Jungle’, the street is in an area where at the last census 17% of residents described themselves as ‘White British’ against a national average of 86%.
Most recently EU migrants from countries such as Latvia, Poland and Portugal have joined the more established Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and West Indian communities who moved into the area in the 60s and 70s.
For several weeks, filming with local people from a wide variety of communities had gone without incident when the news of the series became public.
Immediately local and national press descended on the street, MPs and councillors called for the series to be stopped and the crew began to experience verbal abuse from local youths suspicious of their motives and resentful of the media attention. Residents who had been previously happy to be interviewed and appear on camera were actively discouraged from doing so and bit by bit co-operation fell away.
The external political pressure continued to be cranked up culminating in a highly charged public meeting when angry residents shouted down the show’s executive producer, Kieran Smith, as he tried to, once again, reassure residents as to the nature and aim of the series. On the street itself verbal aggression was turning into threats of violence, finally the producers reluctantly took the decision to pull out, as the safety of the crew could no longer be guaranteed.
Executive Producer, Kieran Smith, says: “Many people on Derby Road made the crew feel welcome and wanted to share their stories but there were local groups who, for their own reasons, were determined to halt production.
“It’s a great shame as the footage we have shot shows Derby Road is a place where, on the whole, people of different nationalities, cultures and religions respect and get along with each other. This will be reflected in the film.”
Immigration Street 1964
When a maverick Conservative won the West Midlands seat of Smethwick in the 1964 General Election following an anti-immigration campaign, it triggered one of the worst chapters in the history of British race relations. Violence, assassination attempts, and even the creation of a British Klu Klux took a small corner of England to the brink of official racial segregation.
Immigration Street 1964 reveals what happened when a small British town gained national and international notoriety following the unprecedented culture collision between immigrants and the white community at the start of the era of mass immigration. It recounts events following the council sanctioned plan to let homes on one street - Marshall Street – to white families only and how US activist Malcolm X turned up in the town to condemn policies he compared to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews; and interviews locals who were appalled at what had happened and campaigned to reverse the victory at the next election and return Smethwick to a more peaceful existence.
This in-depth history film combines first-hand accounts from residents with rare archive footage and new revelations about the creation of the most infamous campaign slogan in British history, to paint a shocking picture of a bigoted Britain; and it offers a timely warning of how fears about the effects of immigration together with an election campaign can quickly and violently spin out of control.
Executive Producer Malcolm Brinkworth says: “Fifty years on from the events in Smethwick, immigration still dominates the news and political debate. Hearing the testimony from those who experienced events first hand, Immigration Street 1964 allows those who lived through the shocking events to tell their story. Mixed with voices from the archive, their experiences reveal the ugly truth of how immigrants were treated. Colour bars, abuse, violence and council backed overt discrimination were commonplace. As we head into another general election with immigration a big issue, it's a history we need to remember.”
Notes to Editors:
- 100 Days of UKIP (1 x 60) airs on Monday 16th February at 9pm
- The Romanians are Coming (3 x 60) airs on Tuesday 17th February at 9pm
- Immigration St (1 x 60) airs on Tuesday 24th February at 10pm
- Immigration St 1964 (1 x 60) airs March
Production credits for Immigration St:
Prod/Dirs: Afi Khan, Phil Turner & Masood Khan
Series Prods: Oliver Manley & Kate Middleton
Exec Prods: Kieran Smith & Trish Powell
Prod Co: Love Productions
Production credits for Immigration Street 1964:
Director: Stephen Finnigan
Producer: Xander Brinkworth
Executive Producer: Malcolm Brinkworth
Commissioning Editor: Rob Coldstream
Production Company: Brinkworth Films