Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has been a phenomenal success for Channel 4. The documentary series has averaged over 8 million viewers during its five-episode run, with the “Desperate Housewives” episode garnering 9.3 million viewers – Channel 4′s largest audience since the Friends finale in 2004 (source: Radio Times).
But all is not well amongst Traveller communities. As the series draws to a close tonight, focussing on the tradition of the ‘mini-bride’, a young relative of the bride who wears an identical dress, Channel 4 is facing backlash from Gypsy groups.
The Guardian yesterday reported that The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain has called upon Channel 4 to give British Travellers and Gypsies air time for a right to reply. The organisation are not alone in claiming the show has fueled prejudice and suspicion of Traveller communities.
The group said: “We are hearing every day distressing accounts from parents whose children are being bullied and called names. Venue bookings are being cancelled. We are hearing about the deep sense of embarrassment and shame many have been left with by such a narrow, misrepresentative and unjust portrayal of their community and culture.”
Claims of prejudice have been substantiated by stories such as that of the abuse X Factor finalist Cher Lloyd received on Twitter last week. Apparently sparked by the show, the singer was the focus of unkind comments about her Traveller roots.
The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain continue to state that the examples within the show were very selective and that audiences needed to understand the diversity of Traveller and Gypsy cultures and beliefs. A right to reply would give them an opportunity to communicate this to the show’s audience.
Romany Gypsies have complained that the programme creates an image that the only Traveller groups in Britain are Irish Travellers, when in reality they account for only 10% of the Gypsy and Traveller community.
The show has also been reported to Ofcom by the website Travellers’ Times who claim that the show offers a misleading and inaccurate portrayal of Traveller lifestyles that has potential to cause harm and offence.
The documentary has introduced some controversial practices to a wider audience, particularly that of “grabbing” in which young men physically grab women during a dating-ritual at weddings. The practice shocked audiences and caused uproar amongst the Traveller community who claim that the practice is neither traditional nor part of their culture.
Channel 4 has replied to the criticisms in a statement, saying: “The series features a mix of Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies and the programme makes a clear distinction between these different groups.
“The series is an observational documentary and made predominantly from the perspective of Gypsies and Travellers talking about their own experiences.
“We have intentionally avoided many commonly held stereotypes and attempted to provide a balanced view.”
The final episode of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4.