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Mary Portas TV show on Margate to be hit with Ofcom complaint

PUBLISHED: 15:17 15 May 2013 | UPDATED: 09:36 16 May 2013

Mary Portas

Mary Portas

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Opinion split over retail guru’s TV makeover of seaside town

Fuming residents in Margate are lodging an official complaint with broadcasting watchdog Ofcom after claiming a TV show featuring retail guru Mary Portas “staged” rows for better ratings.

The TV production company behind the Channel 4 show strenuously deny the claims, but the fall-out continued to be felt after the show was aired on Tuesday night.

Mary, Queen of the High Street, focused on Margate after it was selected as one of the Portas Pilot towns - chosen from across the UK to benefit from expert advice and a £100,000 hand-out from the Government.

With shops closing and the big chains opting instead to move to out-of-town complex Westwood Cross in Broadstairs, Margate was seen as the perfect example of the decline in the high street.

The Channel 4 series follows the self-styled Queen of Shops as she tries to spark some invigoration into a town’s population to do more to help themselves.

But when her cameras arrived, she was met with a barrage of opposition and shouting matches in the street and ended with revealing what opponents described as a “sleazy” and “smutty” slogan from Tracey Emin; ‘For a dirty weekend, come to Margate’.

As Mary went along to a public meeting in the old empty Woolworth store, viewers saw a woman, her identity hidden, angrily shouting from the doorway to turn off the cameras.

But Ms Portas threw down the gauntlet and told the team without the cameras she would go elsewhere.

Ultimately she proposed an ‘inland pier’ idea and arranged for an influx of day-trippers from London by offering cut-price train tickets.

But it failed to convince many.

Local councillor Ian Driver, who has just joined the Green Party, said: “The people of Margate can sort out their own issues without having someone who is totally obsessed by themselves.

“I think Margate is better off without her.”

As for the pier idea, Cllr Driver added: “They did it once and it has never happened again. You can’t do that every day.”

Thanet Council did not wish to comment, directing enquiries to the town team.

Richard Ash is its new chairman after Robin Vaughan-Lyons, seen on the show, walked out.

Mr Ash told us 11 new shops have opened and he would have been happier if the programme showed the area in a more positive light.

He said: “We will continue to work with Mary Portas.

“I think the criticism is unfortunate and she didn’t deserve it.

“It was very unfortunate for Margate that Margate portrayed itself in that way.”

He is also upset with the Tracey Emin slogan, saying: “I think that is a great shame. It is the wrong image. We are trying to attract families, grandparents, children to come down and enjoy the beach, go to Turner, walk up to the High Street street, have a coffee, a panini, a meal. That’s the way I want to portray Margate, as a lovely day out. I don’t want to portray it as a smutty weekend for two.”

Another team member, Wendy James, added: “The most striking thing was how much the High Street has changed since they filmed. So many new businesses have opened in the last nine months - the programme made me realise how much progress has been made.”

Writing on the town team’s Facebook page, one resident, Steve Dodds, said: “What is wrong with a minority of people in Margate?

“A golden opportunity that most places would kill for, to have Mary Portas on-board to regenerate the area and look how they behave. Ungrateful doesn’t even come close. The complete negativity of some people isn’t going to do Margate any favours whatsoever on national TV.”

The Ofcom complaint is being made by Mr Vaughan-Lyons, plus Roxana Tesla, former team vice-chairman who was the woman shouting, and its former press officer Louise Oldfield.

She confirmed Ms Tesla’s identity on the show made by Optomen Television, and told us: “All this is such a shame. We were not allowed to see the show before it went out so we could put our side over.”

A joint statement from the trio says: “Far from being an accurate record of events surrounding Margate Town Team, Optomen has created, and Channel4 broadcast, a fabricated a storyline against early members of the town team which runs contrary to what actually happened.”

Channel 4 said: “Mary is passionate about her work to help reinvigorate the high street and the programme was made in that spirit.

“We strongly dispute that anything was fabricated. The programme is fair and accurate and fully complies with the fairness provisions of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

“Mary has always made it clear that there are no quick fixes to saving the British high street, but the programme will hopefully help encourage people to take a trip to Margate to sample all it has to offer.”

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