By Mike Doherty and Dawn Burrows
Firecracker Films, the makers of the hit TV series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings had a big fat surprise when they were confronted by over 50 Gypsy and Traveller activists during a TV industry seminar at a Royal Television Society event in London.
The Gypsies, led by Jake Bowers, the editor of the Travellers Times www.travellerstimes.org.uk, had been booking tickets for the event on the 30th March to confront the Firecracker team and tell them about the negative impact that they say the Channel 4 series has had on their community.
The Firecracker team where there to present how they made the film to what would usually have been an audience of media professionals and students. Instead it quickly became apparent that half of the audience where more interested in debating MBFGW’s claim to journalistic and ethical integrity.
A nervous Jes Wilkins, the executive producer of MBFGW, started the presentation by saying that he had just received a call from “the head of the Gypsies” who had given his support to the MBFGW production team. This was dismissed by Jasper G Johns, secretary of the Gypsy Council who said “what a load of rubbish”.
Jasper G. Johns, secratery of the Gypsy Council confronts Firecracker Films
The Firecracker team finished their presentation amidst snorts of derision from the Gypsy and Traveller members of the audience at their claims that the programme had helped to combat discrimination against Gypsies. “Some people like the show and some people don’t,” said Mr Wilkins. “You are all entitled to your opinions.”
During the discussion afterwards, the Firecracker faced some tough questioning.
Dee Cooper Gregory, who introduced herself as a “proud” Gypsy woman who campaigns for Gypsy and Traveller rights, asked the team what they were going to do about the increase in the bullying of Gypsy children and wether they were going to donate some of their profits to Gypsy organisations and charities. She said that she personally knew of many children who were being taunted at school as a direct result of the series, and that Firecracker where responsible for this.
Defending the show, Mr Wilkins said that the programme had the support of the Gypsies and Travellers who appeared in the show. This was again questioned by Jasper G. Johns who said that he had personally spoken to many Gypsies who had since regretted their involvement. A young media professional in the audience said that MBFGW was ok because he claimed that he had “thought badly” of Gypsies, but that seeing MBFGW had changed this. A Traveller woman sitting behind him laughed and asked him how much money Firecracker had paid him to say that.
After the seminar, Jake Bowers said: “We came here tonight to meet the people who have made such damaging films about our community. They have consistently refused to meet us to debate the issues with them at a public forum, so when we heard they’d be slapping each other’s backs here we decided to come and show them what damage their sneering mockumentary has done to us.”
“They heard tonight how BFGW has led to an increase in the bullying of Gypsy children and women and the denial of work to Gypsy and Traveller men, yet they refuse to accept any responsibility,” he said.
“This series has put the cause of traveller equality back 20 years,” said Margaret, an Irish Traveller woman from Ealing.
Firecracker films were approached after the seminar and declined to comment saying that no one was available.
The research for this article informed a diary piece in today’s Guardian.
Margaret, a traveller, explains her feelings about the show