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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – The Book – Order Now

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. We lay out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

We’ve compiled 50 of the biggest things, places, people and feelings that delight us about the second city. Jon Bounds, Jon Hickman and Danny Smith will take you down Dale End and up The Ackers. If you want to find out more about Aston Villa’s sarcastic advertising hoarding, the Camp Hill Flyover, or even come with us on a journey up the M6 and find out why all of our hearts leap when we see Fort Dunlop, then come, meet us at the ramp.

Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — 50 Thing That Delight About Brum

Foreword by Adrian Chiles,  cover by Foka Wolf

Out Now >>

Welcome to Freedonia

Mask on, gloves off. As covid restrictions drop, and we head into ‘normal’ (whatever that is), we wanted to see if normal was, normal. We sent our ‘normal’ correspondent Danny Smith to see if the pubs are on track, or lost without trace.  We did not pay him billions of pounds. 

In the 1933 film Duck Soup an incompetent huckster becomes leader of a tiny country through borrowed wealth and inherited money and proceeds to bumble it into war and potential ruin.

Why mention that? 

No reason.

Welcome to ‘Freedom Day’ where the only thing stopping you acting exactly how you want is common decency, and to paraphrase Voltaire – common decency ain’t that common. 

a pub door with two posters 'Long Live Local' and 'We're Closed'
Long Live The Local

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I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal

Charlie Hill’s I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal is a book about  work, identity, sex, politics, drugs, homelessness and dissolution,  but we feel it’s mostly about Birmingham at the end of the twentieth century. Enjoy this exclusive excerpt, and then go get more.

Working in a Victorian factory in Digbeth that made pelmets and curtain accessories, I bet every day with poor Irishmen in Bartletts bookies. During my first shift, I noticed a strong smell of almonds so I asked the gaffer, a bull of a man with mildewed suit cuffs and dried egg yolk on his tie, what it was. He pointed to two enormous open vats in the middle of the floor and said “those are cyanide baths”, and I heard them hissing. 

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Brummie of the Year 2021: Nigel “Ian Buckells” Boyle

For many of our 18 years we have asked and answered the question: who is the most quintessential brummie of the moment. As we celebrate the moment of our 18th birthday, it’s time once again to crown a new champion for our city.

We didn’t announce a Brummie of the year in 2020 because… Covid, I guess. Shall we say it was Covid? It was Covid. But the thing is, The Brummie of the Year, the award itself, was always there waiting patiently… much like this year’s winner. Step forward (fourth) man of the hour, Nigel Boyle, aka Ian Buckells off of the very brummie telly bollocks Line of Duty.

Brummie of the Year 2021 Nigel Boyle as Ian Buckells in Line of Duty

He was there in 2020, when you were so busy looking for toilet roll you didn’t stop to ask “who is the best of us?”. 

He was there in 2019 when you thought we’d forgotten about this feature but we said it was Stephen Duffy

You didn’t see him much between that and Kevin McCloud’s controversial crowning in 2015 but he was there somewhere,—probably playing golf. How about back in 2005 when we gave it to a Red Panda? He was around, serving beer to underage kids in The Inbetweeners.

So why Nigel Boyle? And why now?

Nigel is as brummie as they come, that’s a given, but here’s the sizzle reel for how he embodies brummie ambition and attitude as it is today in 2021:

  • His signature character, Ian Buckells, never blew his own trumpet. He just quietly got on with being a bit crap until he was in charge of… well everything. The OCG. Major police investigations. All of it, and he always looked a little worried about it all and like he hoped you’d fuck off and leave him alone a bit. That’s hardcore brummie posturing.
  • Buckells turned out to be the final boss in long running police procedural The Line of Duty, which is Birmingham to its core. Crimes in the first series took place on our estates and in the old Aston fire station—and the original AC12 mezzanine leans were near the escalator that goes both ways in Millennium Point.
  • For extra brummie points, the show moved production for its later seasons (following the public money trail that had probably brought it here in the first place). How brummie is that?
  • Despite being filmed in Belfast, the reality of the show remained in a sort of Birmingham of the imagination (you can still maps of Sutton Coldfield Constituency, where someone got merced in season 1, hanging on the investigation wall right at the end)
  • Nigel, who was born in Moseley, trained at Birmingham School of Acting (now part of Birmingham Conservatoire) and is so proud of his city right now
  • As far as we can tell, Nigel has buggered off to London. 100 Brummie points, our kid.

So that’s why it should be Nigel. As to why it should be now…we’ve got a book to sell, to be honest, and we needed your attention for 5 minutes.

You can back Birmingham it’s not Shit: The Book on Kickstarter today.

This is Bollocks. Total bastard bollocks

Is this controversial? Maybe. Is it satisfying? If it’s not then you’ve not really been paying attention. Ian Buckells is the best of us, in a lot of ways, and Nigel Boyle is Ian Buckells, Fourth Man, H, and Brummie of the Year. Definately.

Cheers, Nigel.

Nigel as the barman in The Inbetweeners

Revealed! Brum’s commonwealth games mascot

We’ve obtained a leaked internal email showing early designs and concepts for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games mascot. No bull. 

To: Andy.Street@WMCA.gov

From: Andre.De.Jong@zaphiks.in

Dressing up for the Games

8th March 2021 11:03

Hi Andy, 

How’s the shop going? I am joking of course, I know that you no longer run the shop and it is closed in the Bull Ring. I blame Thatcher, as I believe you English say! Those blooming Tories eh?

All ready for the games? Of course I am kidding, I know that you are not. I have communication about the mascot concepts you asked for. I know you have an election coming up so will keep this brief. 

I am sad to tell you that we cannot bring in our original mascot concept OnWe on budget. We liked the way his name referenced the city’s motto, Forward, as in ‘on we go’ but also our listlessness and lack of enthusiasm for our consolation prize Olympics. However, the graphics people just found this abstract feeling a tough one to work with in a way that will fit on the merchandise. 

Luckily, De Jong Group has expanded into the Education sector and we now have taken over a number of your ‘needs improvement’ schools, we now run almost all of the Perry Beecheses. We set the kids at St Hollywood Monster’s (formerly Perry Beeches III: Mission to Moscow) a competition to come up with a mascot, then we took the ideas and fleshed them out for you. 

You just pick the one you like, we give the kid a T-shirt and two tickets to the swimming in Sandwell and Mike is your uncle. Sorry about the quality of the pictures, kids are crap at this!

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In praise of Brummagem: Home of the ancient street ballad

Jon Wilks has been our gateway in to realising that Birmingham has a folk song tradition that’s rich and varied. Jon says that he started writing about traditional folk music as a way to learn more about it, and he’s a fine interpreter of them too. His first LP of Midlands folk has been a firm favourite at Paradise Circus Towers, and not just for him inserting a reference to the Friday night trek from The Ship Ashore to Snobs in his version of  I Can’t Find Brummagem.

Anyone who knows a bit about the history of Birmingham and the Midlands will be able to tell you a bit about car manufacturing, chain and nail making. It’s no coincidence that the region is so heavily related to heavy metal. But here’s a little-known fact. Long before Ozzy Osbourne showed up, Birmingham was known for manufacturing of a different kind. Songs were involved, and on an industrial scale, too.

According to the late, great Roy Palmer (a scholar of traditional music in the area), Birmingham was a major producer of street ballads. Sometimes known as broadsides or penny ballads, these were songs that were printed on single sheets of paper and sold on street corners. The seller would sing the song he was hawking, and if you liked the tune, you stopped by and bought one. Some were traditional folk songs with no clear origin, and some set contemporary news stories to music. Whatever the subject, Birmingham produced far more of these songs than you might think possible.

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 6: Aston Villa’s sarcastic advertising hoarding

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. Tired of falling back on the same old cliches, or past achievements, we look at the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

I’m a Birmingham City fan, so I’ve always been happy to enjoy the bedsheet painting, cabbage throwing, Tim Sherwood employing comedy that comes straight outta Aston. But I actually have a lot of love for the outfit, I grew up in one of the rows of terraces in the shadow of the monolithic North Stand.  I think of them much like the Harold Lloyd films I used to see on the telly on before the News until the BBC bought Neighbours. Lots of falling down, running aimlessly and even sometimes Paul Birch dangling from the clock on the Witton Lane Stand.  

I used to go to a lot of Aston Villa games with mates and family, and there was always fun to be had – but looking back two things outside of matches really stand out as the comic events that make me love the Villa. And by extension delight me about Birmingham: because while we might have one of the most violent fan rivalries going, it’s built on slapstick and fun. 

Villa in the late eighties didn’t win many trophies, which may have made their team photos a little dull — until in stepped sponsors Mita copiers and made sure that they looked like they’d got a few gongs. 

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 5: Tony Hancock not giving a fuck about Birmingham

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. Tired of falling back on the same old cliches, or past achievements, we look at the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

“Things just went wrong too many times” has always seemed the ultimate sad end. Sadly it’s from Tony Hancock’s suicide note rather than the council statement on deciding not to bid for the Olympics for the third time in a row.

A sculpture / statue of Tony Hancock by Bruce Williams made in 1996, in Old Square, Birmingham. Photo by Elliot Brown

The statue of Tony Hancock in the middle of Old Square in town is one of Birmingham’s genuinely interesting pieces of public art. The use of space to give the impression of a photograph printed with half-toning echos that the square would once have been awash with nicotine-stained journalists from the Post and Mail building that used to throw a shadow there.

Anthony John Hancock was born in Southam Road, Hall Green, but, from the age of three, he was brought up in Bournemouth and pretty much never gave us a second thought. This would not be unusual, in fact most of us remember virtually nothing of anything that happened before we were three. Infantile amnesia, is the inability of adults to retrieve memories of situations or events before the age of two to four years. That there was no attachment to his birthplace at all would seem to indicate that his parents didn’t care much for Brum either — they moved for ‘the good of [his father’s] health”.

But Tony’s performances — embodied by the Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock version of himself:  ‘the comedian Tony Hancock’ — have a great deal to tell us about our attitudes and our city.

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 4: Camp Hill Flyover

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. Tired of falling back on the same old cliches, or past achievements, we look at the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

JG Ballard was famously inspired by The Westway in London, a road he considered central to some dystopian future that we were actually living in. But If you go to London and travel the Westway, you can see that it is nothing more than an extended Perry Barr flyover — and has absolutely nothing on the wonder that is our very own Spaghetti Junction. Ballard’s Concrete Island doesn’t have a beach.

But if you like your driving urban, elevated, thrillingly unsafe then Birmingham had something that could help create a thousand unsettling novels. If Digbeth is our Faraway Tree, then the Camp Hill Flyover was our — rattling and juddering — slippery slip, a helter skelter to the Stratford Road, via sheer terror.

Nicklin, Phyllis (1968) High Street to Camp Hill flyover, Bordesley, Birmingham.

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 3: Everywhere in Great Barr looking the same

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. Tired of falling back on the same old cliches, or past achievements, we look at the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

Birmingham is the highest point west of the Urals. Great Barr is as hilly as all hell, the pubs are all big and on the verge of kicking off, or big, closed, and on the verge of burning down. I don’t think there’s a trendy coffee shop for miles, and good luck with seeing any art other than a tribute act since The Kings isn’t there for basket meals and The Barron Knights.

During the Second World War they removed road signs to confuse any Nazi paratroopers that might land, in suburban Birmingham they just built road after road of identical semi-detached houses that wind round on each other in a way that makes you sure the estates were planned not by the Public Works Committee of the Council but by M.C. Escher.

Never sure where you are until you turn a corner onto a wider road and see a landmark, lost on a walk of shame, navigating by incline alone: the sheer delight in being able to get lost yards from your front door is a feeling akin to driving fast over the hump-backed bridge by Highcroft as you race into Erdington. 

Did the city planners just see one semi-, with a box room at the front even that stretched the definition of ‘bedroom’ even in those days when people were smaller, and say:’ Yeah, thousands and thousands of these randomly all around the place, around the outskirts of town please.’? Sort of. And it’s to our credit that they did. 

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