By Robert Hanks – @RobertHanks
Thursday 18th February 1999

EARLIER IN THE week, Channel 5 was hyping its new show, Animal ER, as too gruesome to watch. Now along comes UK Raw (C5), which the nice lady at the Channel 5 press office bragged would make Eurotrash look like Noddy. Actually, I would go further than that: I would say UK Raw makes Eurotrash look quite good.

I tip my hat to Channel 5’s steady determination to underestimate public taste – after all, outrage would be wasted on a station prepared to broadcast an achondroplastic dwarf using his penis to lift heavy weights, which was one of the highlights of last night’s programme. The real problem with UK Raw is not that it is shocking, but that it lacks imagination: it arouses the audience’s squeamishness, but then slides into embarrassment and fends it off with a few weak jokes. There was little here that would not have fitted cheerfully into Fortean TV or The Girlie Show: some nonsense about crop circles and a porn-star who gleefully explained that his job was even better than it looked.

Another old idea was revived to stronger effect in Black and White (BBC1). In 1988, two reporters, one black, one white, went undercover in Bristol with hidden cameras to investigate racial discrimination. Now a new pair, Rob Jones and Kev Jones, is doing the same thing in Leeds. This week’s programme started out quite encouragingly, as Kev (the black one) went after a rented room: the man he approached looked embarrassed and mumbled that it had gone. Kev made his excuses and left, muttering curses into his microphone and insisting that if ever he had seen a white man freak out at the sight of a black one, then this was such a time. But when Rob arrived 20 minutes later, he got the same response. And over three weeks, they found that they received exactly the same treatment when applying for lodgings.

Things got worse when they moved on to the job market, though. At a branch of William Hill’s, Kev was regretfully told that they would not be taking on any more staff that summer; Rob got an enthusiastic welcome and an assurance that there was plenty of work around. The saddest episode involved an extremely nice lady at a Conservative Club who very apologetically told Kev that the bar job had just gone and ushered him out. Rob was told the same thing, but was interviewed and asked for a phone number in case anything came up. What made life difficult for Kev was less the overt discrimination than the sheer confusion – as he put it, you think you’re getting rained on and it’s not until you walk away that you realise you’re being pissed on from a great height.

The disheartening thing, though, was not the racism encountered but the programme’s concentration on Rob and Kev’s own fractious relationship, which last week resulted in a fight. No doubt there was a serious purpose to this – illustrating how hard it is for a white man to understand the daily humiliations suffered by someone who is black – and genuine tensions. But the way it was presented felt contrived, a sop to an audience used to soap opera. Actually, I think they’re underestimating public taste and intelligence. See, Channel 5? You don’t need to strain so hard.

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