Brummie comedian Frank Skinner refused to be the voiceover for Benefits Street because he didn’t want to be involved in something “derogatory about Birmingham”, he revealed today.
The funnyman was asked to narrate the explosive Channel 4 docu-series which bosses told him was about “community spirit” in James Turner Street in the run-down Winson Green area of the city.
But the 56-year-old turned down the offer because he was worried about how the controversial series would portray locals in his beloved Birmingham.
Frank, who grew up in Oldbury, just four miles from James Turner Street, told today: “The production company sent me a couple of clips which were very nice.
“They said it was going to be about the community spirit in the street, but I was a bit worried about the topic.
“They only showed me a very small part of a five-episode series, and I wondered what the rest would be like.
“I thought ‘I don’t really want to be involved in something where I’m derogatory about people from Birmingham’.
“I can imagine there would be a lot of awkward moments in the recording studio when I said ‘I’m not going to say that’.
“I really don’t want to be on TV criticising Birmingham.”
Frank is returning to the city as part of his first comedy tour for seven years when he plays three gigs at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall from in April.
The comic added: “Birmingham gigs are special to me, I care about them and I care what people from Birmingham think about me, which is why I didn’t want to do Benefits Street.
“I haven’t seen the programme yet, but from what I’ve heard I think I made the right decision.”
Benefits Street debuted on Monday, January 6 with 4.3 million viewers – a record-high for a Channel 4 week-night show.
And the controversial documentary added another million viewers for the second episode which attracted a rating of 5.1 million on Monday night.
The incredible statistics – a 20.8 percent share – gave the channel a rare win over BBC1 and ITV between 9pm and 10pm.
Despite the rising figures, the show has been criticised for portraying some locals as scroungers, drug addicts and thieves.
The first episode followed a resident as he went shoplifting and appeared to show how spare bedrooms were being used to grow cannabis.
‘Stars’ of the documentary have complained that the programme-makers misled them by saying the series was going to be about community spirit in the street.
The residents also claim producers bribed them to take part with booze and fags – claims which were denied by Channel 4.
Some of Britain’s biggest charities have also branded the show “extreme and sensational” while West Midlands Police are considering launching an investigation into criminality shown on camera.
Channel 4 and Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, have received hundreds of complaints and there have been alleged death threats against participants.
But a Channel 4 spokesman said Benefits Street is “a sympathetic, human and objective portrayal of how people are coping with continuing austerity and cuts in benefits”.
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