Last Whites of the East End
Last Whites of the East End is a documentary which aired on BBC One on 24 May 2016. It documents the London Borough of Newham, a part of the East End with the lowest percentage of White British people in the country, due both to immigration and the migration of long-time residents, particularly to nearby Essex.
Before and after its broadcast, the documentary's content and claims were criticised by Newham officials, including Mayor Sir Robin Wales. The BBC maintained that it was a balanced broadcast.
The BBC's description of the programme states "Newham has been shaped by immigration for generations, but the past 15 years have been defined by it, as Newham welcomed the highest numbers of new residents anywhere in the country. At the same time more than half the white British population have vanished – breaking apart the tight-knit families their community was built on." The area's last working men's club is described as "a hidden world of tea dances, boxing and drinking in the last club left – an oasis for those left behind".
Subjects of the documentary include Tony Cunningham, a mixed-race bus driver born to a Jamaican father. He recalls being called a "nigger" while growing up, and attempting to educate his white grandmother on why not to call her cat the ethnic slur. Now married to a Romanian woman, he wants to move because he considers that white people "have a very, very bad time around here". A devout Christian, he is alarmed by the recent Operation Trojan Horse – in which a clique of Islamists changed the curriculum at schools in Birmingham – and feels that his baby daughter will have more freedom in her identity if the family move to Essex.
Usmaan Hussain is a father from Silvertown whose family emigrated from Bangladesh. Despite the racial abuse faced in his youth, he considers himself equally Asian and British. His white friends from his childhood have moved away, and he feels that the Cockney culture will die out soon. However, the demographic changes in his area mean that he can run his own Muslim prayer group without having to travel elsewhere to go to the mosque. His children attend a primary school where 43 native languages are spoken, and he feels that a cohesive "Britishness" between all of the communities "has gone. And I don’t think it will ever return". The school's headteacher states that children learn English quickly and get along by being too young to have developed prejudices.
Eileen Storey, recently widowed at the age of 90, says goodbye to her Somali neighbours before moving to be nearer her son in Norfolk. Darren Loveday is a keen boxer who is of Indian descent through his mother, but passes for white. He left for Essex after being mugged by a gang who shouted anti-white slurs at him; he defended himself and was accused of racially aggravated assault. Loveday holds a disdain for the area, and claims that nobody is "taking it over", rather the residents are "letting it happen".
Business owners describe the change of demographics on their finances. Richard Nathan owns a fourth-generation pie and mash shop, which is not frequented by Asians and Eastern Europeans, but sees more business when people return for Mothers' Day. Due to its position near West Ham United's Boleyn Ground at Upton Park, there is expected to be a decline as the team move to the Olympic Stadium. Publican Ron Bolwell claims that his business is affected by most Asians abstaining from alcohol and Eastern Europeans drinking elsewhere, and he will also be dealt a blow by the football team's move.
Prior to the documentary's broadcast, Robert Hardman wrote a review in the Daily Mail, praising the programme as "a beautifully made film which neither patronises nor sensationalises its subjects. And it does not mince its words — which may explain why the BBC has put it in a late-night slot at 10.45pm and given it minimal pre-publicity". He highlighted the views of Cunningham and Hussain to argue that multiculturalism has been "handled abysmally". Hardman opined that the documentary would "make extremely uncomfortable viewing for all the main political parties" and would be preceded with health warnings for easily offended viewers.
East End resident Tomáš Tengely-Evans wrote in Socialist Worker that "The Last Whites of the East End is based on the racist premise that ethnic diversity is a bad thing. It presents a mythical image of East End working class communities, where everyone looked after one another before the “outsiders” came." He stated that the area had different waves of immigration throughout history, and integration had improved in the last 50 years. An interviewed local student added that East End residents had been moving to suburban Essex since the end of the Second World War, and that phenomenon included British Asians, so talk of "white flight" was unfounded.
After initial news reports which were seen as perceived as showing the documentary to be negative in its content, local authority figures in Newham raised objection. The mayor, Sir Robin Wales, said that if it were as negative as made out, it would be a "distorted image" and contribute to ethnic tensions. A borough councillor who had been a teacher for 42 years said that only two complaints were ever made against diverse religious plays by schools in that time. The president of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community said that he was saddened by white people choosing to leave, saying that life would be better with diverse groups coexisting. The executive producer Emma Wakefield replied by stating that there was a balance of views in the documentary, including those who were staying in the area and those who had left.
After the broadcast, Wales wrote in the Newham Recorder that white people were still the borough's largest ethnic group, and a survey showed 9 out of 10 people getting on with those of different backgrounds. Dr Ruth Cherrington of the University of East London defended the documentary for highlighting a complex issue, but pointed out that it did not cover the impact of a decrease of social housing on the white working class.
Ali Catterall of The Guardian chastised the show for its "absurdly provocative title", but praised it for a balance between "very illiberal opinions" and "sober, progressive voices" that turned it into "a consistently compelling watch". Despite much debate over Twitter regarding the programme, Ofcom received no complaints by the following morning.
- "Last Whites of the East End". BBC. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- Hardman, Robert (20 May 2016). "Death of the Cockney: A BBC film, Last Whites Of The East End, reveals the seismic effects of mass migration on British communities - and how it's often ethnic minorities who are most worried by it". Daily Mail. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- Shute, Joe (21 May 2016). "The last whites of the East End". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- Al-Othman, Hannah (14 May 2016). "Last Whites of the East End: BBC documentary reveals cockneys are becoming a dying breed". Evening Standard. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- Tengely-Evans, Tomáš (24 May 2016). "The only way is Essex? White flight myths and the East End". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- "BBC documentary about Newham criticised ahead of broadcast". Newham Recorder. 24 May 2016. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- "Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales disputes BBC documentary". Newham Recorder. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- Joyce, Niall (25 May 2016). "UEL academic says Last Whites of the East End highlights 'complex issue'". Newham Recorder. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- "Tuesday's best TV: Obsessive Compulsive Country House Cleaners; Rovers". The Guardian. 24 May 2016. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- "BBC defends Last Whites of the East End after accusations of racism". Digital Spy. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 25 May 2016.