Channel 4’s smash-hit documentary series Benefits Street is back with a new set of residents.
Accused by its critics of indulging in “poverty porn”, last year’s series about James Turner Street in Birmingham elicited hundreds of complaints to the media regulator Ofcom.
However, it was hugely popular, attracting over five million viewers per episode and prompting a national debate about poverty. It also made stars of its protagonists, with White Dee and Fungi becoming household names.
In series two, Channel 4 unveils a new set of ‘characters’ who reside on a different street altogether: Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate in Stockton-On-Tees, an area hit hard by recession and economic decline.
Kieran Smith – creative director at the production company that made both series, Love Productions – told RadioTimes.com that the street was deliberately chosen because it was smaller than James Turner Street and would provide a more intimate feel.
“James Turner Street had around 90 residents and we tended to concentrate on the middle houses. This has fewer houses and most people on the street know each other,” he said.
“This is not a story about Stockton, it is a story about Kingston Road and the thing that sets this street apart is its sense of community.”
Episode one introduces us to the residents, including mother of six Julie (main picture), who has a severely disabled son called Regan, and her friend Sue (also pictured). The two women – along with their gang of close-knit friends who frequently congregate on each other’s doorsteps to talk – look set to become the stars of the show.
We also meet unemployed Lee (below) who has been denied a crisis loan but is able to rely on the food bank and his neighbours for something to eat.
At one point in the first episode, Lee points out that he is not a shirker. “I like working, me,” he says.
Meanwhile, the street’s ‘King of Kids’ Maxwell divides his time between exercising, taking drugs and the sunbed salon, as well as risking arrest by turning up late for a court appearance.
Despite the deliberately warmer and more intimate approach this time round, the series is not without its dark moments. One scene in the first programme shows Maxwell apparently weighing out a stash of drugs. Maxwell, who confesses in the programme to selling his wares, is currently serving time in prison, according to C4.
The new series also shows the street besieged by press reporters and photographers, with some of them asking the camera crew not to film them.
“The area did attract the press and that was a part of the street’s story,” said C4 head of documentaries Nick Mirsky.
One local woman Dorothy Taylor (below) is shown reacting to being labelled ‘Orange Dot’ in a national newspaper – an apparent reference to her skin colour.
Dorothy is in fact mixed race – her father was Indian – and she told RadioTimes.com that she did not receive an apology for the report.
Many of the protagonists appear happy with the programme, with Julie revealing that those featured were told they could ask to have scenes edited out.
“We had a good relationship with the film crew. We didn’t do it to become famous,” she added, pointing out that none of the residents have signed up with agents – so far.
Benefits Street series two begins on Monday May 11th on Channel 4
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Channel 4 starts filming new series of Benefits Street in Stockton-on-Tees