Downton Abbey is now in its fifth series; the Crawley family and their servants continue to deal with life's dramas.
16 Kids And Counting: more of the same
This four-part Channel 4 documentary follows the lives of seven of Britain’s biggest families, beginning with the Radfords and the Salims who have a combined total of 27 children, plus one grandchild.
During Noel and Sue Radford’s first night away on their own in 20 years, the hotel manager trying to persuade them to conceive child number 17, enticing them with a “romantic seduction pack” in their room, which included a condom.
Long-suffering wife Noreen Salim, by far the most interesting character, was barely featured because, I suspect, she didn’t fit in with the large broods’ quirky, keep-calm-and-carry-on lifestyle image that the producers were trying too hard to portray.
TV advertisers rarely miss a trick. But there should be some serious words exchanged in the marketing department of Durex headquarters after Tuesday night.
Because, while both a dating website and Asda bargain nappies muscled into the commercial breaks of Channel 4’s latest documentary – about couples with lots of children – it was actually more like a public information film promoting contraception.
It was actually more like a public information film promoting contraception
It was called 16 Kids And Counting, and followed the network’s recent fondness for “shock-docs”, coming in the wake of 15 Stone Babies, Half Ton Son, The Hoarder Next Door, My Tattoo Addiction, My Monkey Baby, and of course the beast that jump-started them all, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.
These are now C4’s bread and butter. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to them to hear that after so many churned out over the past few months, they’ve become stale in a hurry.
The truth is this was the least shocking of the shock-docs (not necessarily a bad thing), which followed Britain’s biggest single-household family, Noel and Sue Radford and their 16 children, plus one grandchild, in their 10-bedroom ex-nursing home, and Mohammed and Noreen Salim’s 11-offspring clan who squeeze into a modest four-bedroom terrace.
The theme, aside from the Radfords preparing for their 11th youngest’s christening and the Salims’ forthcoming Festival of Eid celebration, was the sky-high cost of raising so many kids – £180,000 per child in a lifetime, according to eldest daughter Sophie Radford – which was offset repeatedly with the insistence that we weren’t looking at state-handout spongers.
That very much depends on your point of view. Noel Radford earns his dough as a baker (apologies for the pun) and claims the family’s entitlement to £160-a-week child benefit.
The Salims own their house but Mohammed, who has a university doctorate and used to teach, hasn’t worked in seven years, so they rely on a whopping £680 a week from the government.
But the programme makers had no stomach to dwell on such matters, which turned out to be their biggest flaw.
You see, Mohammed’s long-suffering wife Noreen was at the end of her tether, yet 90% of the couple’s on-screen time was focused on her husband.
The only real glimpse of her emotional turmoil was confronting her partner with these extraordinary words: “You have no job and I am suffering with you. My children are suffering with you. No job is very shameful. My heart is very broken inside.”
Mohammed has the hide of a rhino and dismissed her suggestions of him running a shop or a taxi by replying: “A doctor of philosophy selling chocolate?”
I can’t claim this was a wasted hour. The sight of Noel Radford assembling the kids’ packed lunches and slicing a pile of ham sandwiches the size of the Tower of Babel (Tower of Babybel, perhaps?) was a real insight to their daily chores planned with the military precision of Operation Desert Storm during the First Gulf War.
Likewise, the narrator saying: “Meal times are like feeding time at the zoo,” though I can’t remember ever seeing the penguins being baked a dozen meat pies and deep-fried chips.
Always on the go, and with another new baby, Noel changed the sleeping arrangements: “My plan is to build a bunk bed that sleeps six.”
That’s not a bunk bed. That’s a medium-sized tenement block.
The nicest touch was the hotel manager encouraging the Radfords, on their first night away since their honeymoon, to conceive child number 17 there with the aid of a “romantic seduction pack”, despite the minor mood-killing presence of a TV film crew.
We were left with the impression that neither couple is going to stop producing babies any day soon, and this statement from Mohammed Salim: “I think I just followed what it says in the Bible: go forth and multiply.”
I have similar sentiments for the shock-doc battery farm, one-trick ponies at Channel 4.
- Verdict: Not a wasted hour but points docked for the producers shying away from handling sensitive, controversial topics.
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