Ukip wife swap: Channel 4’s surreal show Sleeping with the Far Right

Plus: BBC One’s The Missing spin-off Baptiste.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Jack Sen is not your average British right-winger, and not only because his views are so extreme he has been expelled from Ukip and suspended by the BNP. For one thing, he grew up in America, where he lived from the age of seven until he was 20, and still speaks with a certain twang. For another, his father was half Indian, and his real name, which he changed in 2015, is Dilip Sen Gupta. He seems not much to want anyone to know this last fact, which is why I’ve stuck it in my first paragraph.

Sen, a former Ukip parliamentary candidate, now resides in a large-ish suburban house in Southport, a place he favours for its genteel immutability, with his mother, wife and small daughter, and there he spends his days doing pull-ups, maintaining 25 nationalist websites, and attending meetings in pleasant coffee shops where his like-minded chums kindly tolerate his presence even though “he’s foreign”. What do they talk about at these meetings? Oh, you know: the gays, the Muslims, the Jews. They also plan their “guerrilla tactics”. A favourite stratagem is the adjustment of road signs so that, rather than pointing the innocent motorist in the direction of Formby or Ormskirk, they instead send him or her straight to that well known town, Labour Paedophiles.

It was into this realm, at once farcical and highly malodorous, that Alice Levine, the Radio 1 DJ and co-presenter of the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno, dropped (as if from another planet) when she decided to spend the week with Sen in Sleeping with the Far Right, the better to get inside his head (9pm, 21 February). As missions go – let us not call it Nazi Wife Swap – I thought it somewhat pointless: I mean, isn’t it obvious what makes someone like him tick? Here was all the usual fear and loathing (Sen’s homophobia is particularly striking, given his self-professed love of show tunes), with some extra self-hatred thrown in for good measure (he believes people should keep to their “own kind” but also admitted he has no idea, given his background, who his own kind might be). It was predictably easy to make him appear foolish and nasty; all Levine had to do was to hang on both to her serenity, and to her attachment to London, aka the seething, putrescent world capital of debauchery and multiculturalism.

In the end, though, it was worse than this. What a wasted opportunity. Sen’s universe is far more profoundly weird than at first it appeared, and yet Levine hardly cared to probe it. How was it, for instance, that his mother, a self-published poet, had come to be fluent in French and German, and to whom was she speaking in these languages on the telephone? And what had happened to his father? Did he and his son get on, or not? How had Sen met his Ukrainian wife, and how did he fund their lifestyle? (No one in the household appeared to have a proper job.) Sen told Levine that at 7pm every evening the house’s alarm would be activated, at which point it would not be possible for her to go out.

Of whom is he so afraid, and why does this fear only seem to make him sleep more, rather than less? How early everyone went to bed! A fug of depression, thick and enervating, hung over the house, and I wanted to know what lay behind it. The feeling grew that with persistence and the right question, Sen could have dissolved quite quickly into a bawling mass of tissues and snot.

Baptiste (9pm, 17 February) is a spin-off of Harry and Jack Williams’s The Missing, and stars Tchéky Karyo as Julien Baptiste, a detective from that series – now in semi-retirement from the police. The first episode, in which he agreed to help a bloke called Edward Stratton find his niece, lost in Amsterdam, might have seemed a bit on the dull side were it not for two things. The first is that Stratton is played by Tom Hollander with such sweaty aplomb you can almost smell him. The second is that the inevitable twist, hurled at us in its very last moments, changed everything. I leapt from my seat like an electric eel, and once my heart had stopped hammering, found myself suddenly and quite unexpectedly in eager anticipation of part two. 

Sleeping with the Far Right (Channel 4)
Baptiste (BBC One)

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 22 February 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Islamic State