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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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 2: Cliff Richard

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.

Cliff Richard is not from Birmingham; reason for celebration enough some might think, but they are cynics and have no place in this discussion.  A fleeting mention of Cliff Richards makes me think of Birmingham and smile, for Cliff is somehow part of Birmingham — almost is Birmingham on another plane of existence.

The parallels are huge. We, as a city, are Christmas – we shine and glitter in a gaudy way. Cliff is too – he’s had four Xmas number ones to our one. We both love Eurovision – Cliff’s two appearances to our one outranks us – we both love women’s tennis and we both don’t get much sex.

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 1: The Brummie’s Love of the Number 11 Bus

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.

It’s been going round and round for way longer than you thought possible, has the affection that the people of Brum have for one of its 200 or so bus routes.

I have a commemorative reprint of a brochure advertising the delights of the Number 11 bus route — the reprint from 2004, the original from ‘the early 1930s’ — that invites people to “see Birmingham’s charming suburbs by ‘bus”, and presumably some of its least charming ones too as the joy of the thing is that it cuts right through us and opens us up to the honest scrutiny.

By Pete Ashton

Joining two routes — the 10 and the 11  — and becoming one in 1926, going all the way round pretty much straight away became something Brummies did: ‘25 miles for fifteen pence’ as the guide says, and special Bank Holiday services. But why do we love it so much?

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Christmas Market Jokes to Continue Despite COVID 19

For Immediate Release 

Paradise Circus is saddened to hear that there will be no German Christmas Market in 2020 but has vowed to continue in their annual tradition of poking fun at the “well-loved” institution.

As such we are announcing, today, that we will continue making the same jokes about Birmingham’s Christmas Market but in a COVID safe manner including:

  • Regular hand-washing using soap from one of 27 identical fancy soap stalls
  • Order the joke direct to you using our app, currently being built by Capita
  • Second-best track and trace in Europe so we can try to locate every current line up of UB40
  • We will make sure the hundreds of identical stalls selling polished rocks in our jokes are spaced out

We are very sorry that due to the required hygiene protocols you will no longer be able to return the joke at the end of the evening to get back your deposit, instead, you can keep it as a souvenir.

During these unprecedented times we will be pleased to serve you from a limited menu of other jokes from our repertoire, which have also been prepared in line with current advice:

  • You can now go up the Ackers so long as you are in your social bubble 
  • You may not blow trumpets, whether they are our own or not
  • That picture of Albert Bore and the clock but photoshopped so they’re further apart 

Our popular book with 101 of our best jokes is available for takeaway orders only.

Jokes about Andy Street’s absolute failure to tackle homelessness and reduce the number of rough sleepers will be suspended completely. Because it’s not funny. It’s really not. (You can help with a donation to a local charity, maybe?) 

Please be patient with us at this difficult time, and kindly remain 2 metres from Twitter when reading our jokes.

Now, more than ever, it is important we find King Kong and embrace the new normal.

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 101: User Generated Content, Social Media, and the Death of Civilisation

Jasper Carrott used to, and maybe still does, do a bit about a guy inadvertently swearing on local radio. The offender is new recruit sent out to report on a football match, and he almost manages to grab what will be a great bit of radio. In the days before outside broadcasting was easy he’d got one of the managers to agree to come to the phone to do an interview. This was all set up, and the studio was ready to come back to him after the news for his big moment.

Except the manager — probably Ron Saunders, who used to manage all local teams at once probably — got bored and left. “Tone, Tone, he’s fucked off, Tone,” broadcasts our hero.

The ‘Tone’ in question was Birmingham’s own Tony Butler who bestrode local sports radio in the ’70s and ’80s and with one simple innovation changed the whole media landscape forever.

You would think that Tony would now be Director General of the BBC, or at least famous enough to be on gardening leave after some historic accusations. He’s not, he stayed doing pretty much the same job until his retirement in 2013. At one point in the ’90s Tony was promoted to the breakfast show on golden oldies station XtraFM, on this he unveiled his competition ‘Butler’s Bucket’ in which listeners would have to guess what item was in his bucket. If this radio gold was cut short by someone guessing, then people would be asked to guess where in the West Midlands the bucket was.

And in that simplicity and interaction was Tony’s genius: he let people phone up and say what they thought. He just put the public on the air: he invented the football phone-in.

They even let him do it on Birmingham L!VE TV — the local opt-out of the channel that usually filled time with The Weather in Norwegian, the sight of a bra-strap, or a young journalist in a rabbit costume — where in the years before any video calling, and at station with few technical tricks he sat in an office in the Post and Mail building for Butler’s Sports Special and, well, answered the phone.

From the humble beginnings of asking people to call BRMB and say that Graham Turner was crap, the format exploded to fill every radio station, all of the time. Now there isn’t a media outlet that doesn’t ask YOU what YOU think so that you will happily fill THEIR air, inches or pixels with YOUR views about everything and rake in the clicks for limited online advertising revenue. This is all they have left now as journalism was hollowed out by money-men and really big money men in San Francisco. Such ill-informed comment pouring out of every screen in the world has already led to the elections of hard-right ‘strong men’ the world over, the emptying out of our democracies and — probably — the end of civilisation as we as a species are no longer even trying to battle climate chaos or global pandemics.

Tony Butler, in inventing the football phone-in, invented the future we live in. And he invented it for the people of Birmingham. And then, after doing it for decades, he fucked off, Tone.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 100: Heavy Metal


When Africans arrived in America as slaves during the 17th century, they brought with them a five-note musical scale that had evolved over centuries along the trade routes between Africa and the Middle East. Upon encountering the slightly different musical scale that the plantation owners had brought over from Europe, the Africans found that not all notes could be easily resolved. This led to a certain amount of improvisation and bending of strings that eventually resulted in what became known as ‘blue’ notes. These became the distinctive characteristics of wholly new African-American forms of music such as jazz and blues.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 99: Gynaecology

I can’t speak for other social strata or areas, but in a working class home in Birmingham if you ever start a sentence “I’m not a…” Dads in other rooms will bound over furniture and push small children out of the way to run in and say “I’m not a gynaecologist, but I’ll have a look,” and then walk away with a giant shit-eating grin.

As well they might if they knew of long time resident of Birmingham Lawson Tait. Lawson is known for a few things: his strong anti-vivisection views, his demonstrating the link between cleanliness and mortality rates before the theory was generally accepted, but, maybe most famously, he is known as one of the fathers of modern gynaecology. Lawson, born Robert Lawson, is responsible for pioneering a bunch of lifesaving lady bits operations and kick-started a field of medicine that has kept women healthy ‘down there’ ever since. Any friend of the vulva is a friend of mine.

He was also responsible for the appendectomy, so if you ever had to have a few weeks off school and got to eat ice cream to recover, you have Lawson to thank. Wait, that could be tonsils? Who knows? I’m not an otolaryngologist… but I’ll have a look

No, that doesn’t work.

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 98: Israel, and tensions in the Middle East


Of all the things Birmingham has given the world – there’s more than 101 – nothing provides a glow of pride quite like the bloodshed in the Middle East.

At the close of the 19th century, an area known as Palestine was home to Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews, who lived among each other in relative harmony. True, the banter got a bit lively on the local newspaper’s forum but it wasn’t an accurate reflection of how well the various people got along.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 97: Going to the Pictures

It’s an incontrovertible yet nonetheless contested fact that Birmingham’s Electric Cinema is the oldest working cinema in the UK. Birmingham can, then, claim an important part in the history of cinema in Britain. The Electric, though, is a peculiar beast. Those who would dismiss its claim to be an historic venue might point out that very little remains of the building of 1910, and so look instead look to the South East – to Brighton’s Duke of York’s or London’s Phoenix (née the East Finchley Picturedome). Of course, it better suits the accepted narrative of arts and culture that such things would belong to the capital or its artistic dormitory town, so The Electric is easily brushed aside by historians and journalists.

In explaining to you how Birmingham invented going to the pictures I will also brush aside any mention of The Electric because going to The Electric is not, you see, going to the pictures.

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