Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
4 February 2016updated 03 Aug 2021 9:08am

Keeping Up With the Khans is let down by its own lack of curiosity

Channel 4's new documentary, which tackles immigration in Sheffield, has an intriguing cast - but fails to delve below the surface.

By Rachel Cooke

Remember Immigration Street? The pesky younger sibling of Benefits Street, it was supposed to be a “controversial” new Channel 4 series. But then the residents of Derby Road, Southampton, unhelpfully decided that they didn’t much fancy taking part after all – at which point, the company behind it, Love Productions, was in effect run out of town. In the end, it had only enough material to put out a single, feeble film, screened last February.

Oh, well. If at first you don’t succeed. Keeping Up With the Khans (Thursdays, 9pm) has a chummier title than Immigration Street but its impulses appear to be roughly the same, playing as they do on the prejudices of both left and right. When, for instance, a pasty-faced man called Bert spoke in the first episode about immigrants’ “easy lives” from the low-slung seat of his shiny mobility scooter, I took against him instantly. Doubtless the series producers kid themselves that it is precisely this kind of response they’re after; that, by forcing weedy liberals to face up to their own intolerance, the racism of others will suddenly seem more complicated.

But of course that’s purest cant. The difference between Bert and me is that while neither of us knows anything of substance about the lives of those we take such pleasure in disparaging, only one of us is willing to admit this, let alone to feel bad about it (me). As the audience of Keeping Up With the Khans is likely to consist of both Berts and Rachels, its producers must know full well they are stoking prejudice even as they purport to challenge it.

The series is set in Page Hall in Sheffield (a postcode, this time, rather than a single street). It’s an area whose population used to comprise the white working class who had always lived there – there used to be steel mills near by – and a large and successful British-Pakistani community. Now, it is also home to one of the biggest Slovakian Roma populations in Britain, and to many asylum-seekers placed there by the Home Office. Racial tension is high, and the white population and the Pakistani community have formed an uneasy alliance against the newcomers. There have been warnings, from David Blunkett among others, of riots.

In other words: let the fireworks begin! But first, casting. I expect they had high hopes of Steve, a loquacious landlord to four refugees: Haider from Lebanon, Omar from Sudan, Ehab from Libya, and Pride from Cameroon. Maybe he would prove to be this series’ White Dee. But although Steve has plenty to say, very little of it is controversial: joking with Haider that if he supports Sheffield Wednesday his citizenship will be guaranteed is hardly going to get the Daily Mail going. Perhaps this was why we were treated, later on, to a bedbug invasion in the house of a Muslim convert, just back from Gaza. If Steve wouldn’t complain about his tenants (she was another), he could at least be filmed dealing with insects the environmental health people had identified as originally having come from – ugh! – the dread place that is known as abroad.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

It was lovely when the smiling, plucky Omar was given leave to remain. “He’ll be a credit to this country,” Steve said, failing to come up with the goods once again. It was also fascinating that, papers in hand, Omar said his greatest wish was to move to a part of Britain where at least 80 per cent of the people are, as he put it, English (Page Hall, he said, feels like the UK only when a police car passes by). But, like so many other things in the film, this wasn’t explored.

Content from our partners
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate
How deception can become your friend

The director did not push Haider to explain his circumstances more fully when the Home Office refused his application for asylum; nor did he ask Bert, after he complained of the many “escudos” the state gives to freeloading asylum-seekers, about his own benefits. The makers of this series, it occurs to me, do not know good material even when it’s right there in front of them – which is odd, given that what they seem to be chasing is mostly ratings. But I suppose that this is what happens when you wield a blunt instrument: in the end, it coshes everything. Why should your curiosity be any exception? 

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 03 Feb 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war