Residents of Harpurhey, north-east Manchester, have strongly criticised BBC3 docusoap People Like Us, saying the series following the lives of a handful of people living in the deprived Manchester suburb gives a “biased and distorted” view of the area.
Local residents, Labour councillor Pat Karney and Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, have all slammed the show for focusing on negative stereotypes such as alcohol abuse, crime and reliance on benefit payments.
More than 200 people attended a local meeting to discuss the series yesterday – an event described as “fiery” by the Manchester Evening News.
Councillor Pat Karney said there would be demonstrations outside the BBC’s new offices in nearby Salford if the series is not pulled from BBC3’s schedules. “We will launch a petition,” Karney said, “and need as many people as possible to sign it to show how many fantastic people there are in Harpurhey who find this programme unacceptable. We want the programme withdrawn and we want to know why public money was used to run down the area of Harpurhey.
“I will ask for the BBC to attend another meeting with the residents and if they refuse we will go to Salford and demonstrate outside the BBC.”
Graham Stringer MP said he would arrange a meeting with BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten to discuss the show. “I want to know how much of your money this has cost, why a publicly-funded broadcast has gone to air with so little balance, and how that can be justified,” Stringer told the meeting.
Also in attendance was Lisa Walker, who has appeared in both episodes to date with her son Dale. “They said Dale was unemployed when he is doing a two-year apprenticeship,” she said, “and [they] didn’t mention any of the voluntary work he carries out at the local boxing gym and a local school.
“We weren’t aware the show was going to come across like that, and now we’re really worried about what’s going to be in future shows, as it’s not the show we were told it was going to be.”
Other residents at the meeting claimed children had been bullied at school and house sales had fallen through due to the stigma now attached to Harpurhey.
The reaction to the series might come as a surprise to several TV critics who, from the safety of their armchairs, pronounced the series to be sensitive and well constructed when it debuted two weeks ago.
Writing in The Independent, Grace Dent said People Like Us was “warm and full of heart”, while Sam Wollaston in The Guardian commented: “I feel like I’m laughing with, not at. Nor does it feel patronising or exploitative. More like an honest, tats ‘n’ all portrait of a (very) real place, full of (very) real people.” A review here on RadioTimes.com said: “People Like Us found characters who could be from a really good drama – not just a believable one but a funny, touching, universal one. The normal questions about whether ‘we’ were exploiting ‘them’ by observing didn’t arise, because that divide wasn’t there.”
In response to the complaints from the people of Harpurhey, the BBC said: “We are listening to the range of feedback from the local area and contributors, many of whom have been positive. People Like Us takes a warm and at times unflinching look at the reality of life for young people in Harpurhey and follows a range of contributors as they tell their own stories in their own words through both good times and bad.
“The series does not focus on negative stereotypes, indeed many of those featured are resilient, resourceful and ambitious young people with positive stories to tell – from running their own businesses to planning their future careers – and they do so with captivating wit and enthusiasm.”
One local resident had a different view on the series to both the BBC and the people complaining, however. Commenting on the Manchester Evening News story, Emma-Jane McCormick wrote: “Sorry but I live there and have been brought up in the area all my life, and I think the programme is pretty on the ball. The place is hell on earth and if I could sell my house I would.”
People Like Us continues on Wednesday night on BBC3 at 9pm