Thursday, 14 June 2012


Since Margate Town Team won £100,000's worth of funding to reinvigorate the High Street as part of the Portas Pilot scheme, people have expressed some concern after discovering that Margate will be one of only three towns visited by Mary Portas for a Channel 4 TV documentary.

In particular, key Margate Old Town figures have been quite vocal on Twitter about production company Optomen Television's Orwellian contractual condition that members of the Town Team involved in the Channel 4 show must not "make, give or release any statement for publication by any means or medium (including online and/or via social media such as Twitter and Facebook) relating to your Contribution or the Programme."

Obviously given the fact that Margate Old Town's recovery has been aided and abetted by the use of Facebook and Twitter by locals - all working together to harness the power of social media for Margate's benefit - this stifling TV contract has ruffled a lot of feathers. The talented local designer Zoe Murphy has made some very good points on her recent blog entry, posing the following questions:

"Will the silenced/contracted town team not be able to promote or inform about their campaign on social media? (that'd be crazy surely?) Will the aims of a quick turnaround TV show be at odds with a community campaign to sustainably and permanently turn the high street around? Will the town and the people who are going to be passionately volunteering be portrayed in the right way for their efforts?"

It is therefore encouraging that BBC News have reported that Mary Portas has vowed to lift the social media 'gagging order' and attempted to assuage any doubts about restrictions imposed on individuals during the making of the TV show. But Mary also appears to have been somewhat affronted by doubts raised about how the exploitative nature of reality TV might reflect negatively on efforts to rejuvenate Margate High Street. She addressed sceptics at a public meeting at the old Woolworths building by saying: "You either let the cameras in with me, or I go back on the train and some other town gets it."

I don't know about you, but I find this comment a bit below the belt. Not only did Optomen Television naively expect that a TV show about a community-run scheme to revive Margate's High Street required a social media 'gagging order' to quash public involvement, but Mary Portas herself appears to regard naysaying about the TV show as showing ingratitude for all the media attention. "If we put this on prime TV people will come," she is quoted as saying on BBC News. "That is a decision you have got to make."

I find Mary Portas's implied threat that she might abandon Margate and make the TV show elsewhere rather telling. Obviously, I'm glad that Margate Town Team won the bid and has £100k at their disposal to spend on improving our town, despite the fact that I regard Mary Portas as a convenient poster girl who is putting a bit of PR gloss on what is ostensibly a government-funded initiative. But I am torn about whether a television show about Margate High Street's Portas pilot scheme will be good publicity for us, or whether it'll just be an exploitative bit of reality TV fodder that will only end up making Margate look worse.

What do you think? Will inviting Mary Portas and her TV crews into our town help to improve Margate's reputation, or is this TV show something akin to a Faustian pact?

Image © bisgovuk via Flickr and licensed for reuse. The inclusion of this image is not an endorsement of this post.


  1. I am awaiting the BBC southeast today programme to see what is said,

  2. Do you not remember that 'The Apprentice' production team imposed a form of secrecy from filming to transmission?
    Do you not know that both of Mary's other shows 'Charity Shops' and 'Knickers' started with the bad news but then revealed the good news 'as it happened'.
    It's TV production Darlings, it's called show-biz. Time to maybe put ego aside and just go for it - BIG TIME!

  3. As I suspected, it's a case of the tail wagging the dog. There was never going to be any fairness in a competition that involved a TV celebrity, it was obvious all along that it would be made into yet another stultifyingly dull, formulaic 'reality' show, and that the towns would be chosen, not on their abilities or potential, but on the characters involved and their suitability to make 'good TV'. Look at the Cameron government - obsessed with PR and image (Cameron himself was once a PR man for a TV company). Yet again, real ideas and substance are sacrificed for any bit of bling that papers over the cracks.

  4. Line up to look the gift horse in the mouth. If we, as a group of people concerned about the town we live in, do a good job, then we'll firstly all benefit, and secondly, look good. If we don't, then we'll deservedly get our butts kicked. Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the town.