Birmingham is not just the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, but the cradle of civilisation.
That’s a bold claim, but we make it all the time. To each other only of course, frightened of the loud trumpeting and drum banging that might ensue should we actually tell anyone from outside the city. So it was a claim without serious backing until when, in 2011, a man called Craig Hamilton from — you’ve guessed it — Birmingham had the brilliant pub idea of collecting together 101 things Birmingham gave the world.
You can now order the full 101 Things Birmingham Gave The World Book a wonderful tome that will sit alongside Joseph Priestley’s 1782 An History of the Corruptions of Christianity, Eddie Fewtrell’s King of Clubs or some of Alton Douglas’s books of photocopied 50s bus tickets.
I’ve got something I need to tell you about Birmingham. It’ll be legend…
– wait for it –
I need to tell you about Birmingham and how it invented the dramatic pause. Well, the one they have on the telly anyway.
Rhetoricians have always known that the pause is a powerful thing: it’s the...Read More »
Two o’clock, 1929, Tyseley, Birmingham, Henry Green walked Warwick Road, near current DFS, Foam Cut to Size, Hollywood Monster.
Standing in Tyseley, son of Mr Yorke, thought in mind and it seemed to him that these factories were beautiful and he reached out feeling to them and he touched them; he...Read More »
Yesterday I was happy to play
For a penny or two a song
Till a fellah in a black sedan
Took a shine to my one-man-band
He said, “We got plans for you, you’d never dream”
You’re a Star, Carl Wayne’s theme song for Birmingham-based television talent show New Faces, tells the story of art...Read More »
I’m the goddamn Batman
Jim Lee: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder no.1
Jim Lee: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder no.1
Why claim Batman?
Birmingham isn’t short of its own, real, superheroes after all. The Statesman is a Bromsgrove bank clerk by day and at night prowls the city...Read More »
I’m not a psychoanalyst, but in the case of Francis Galton I’ll have a look. Grandson of Erasmus Darwin (erstwhile Lunar Society member, poet, naturalist, and inventor of the PA system), and hence cousin of Charles who was 13 years his senior, he devoted most of his life to promoting...Read More »
In 2015 running is a spectacle and it’s a big business. The Great North Run and the London Marathon are sporting mega-events: televised and commodified, they’re about much more than running. They’re about cities, landmarks, tourism, charity, personal achievements, narratives and mythology. Ultimately they are about ways of constructing those...Read More »
As Philip Larkin said about sex, British satire began in the 1960s and it has never looked back. That Was The Week That Was, Beyond The Fringe, Harold Macmillan impressions and that time when the varying heights of John Cleese and the Two Ronnies taught us all about class. Life...Read More »
Amid the hoo-ha around the fracas, it’s easy to overlook that the current brooha-ha is the result of Birmingham’s influence. Yes, Birmingham invented the mechanisms of modern TV, yes, Birmingham was responsible for the growth of the motor car, and yes Birmingham has made Jeremy Clarkson more upset about concrete...Read More »
Hmmm – what to read…? Celebrity cellulite hell; top-ten handbags-to-die-for; how to bake the perfect chocolate cheesecake; how to lose 15 stone in three days; how to perform the perfect blow-job; how to maintain the will to live….
Amidst today’s flim-flam of celebrity, lifestyle, fashion and beauty publications consumed by much...Read More »
Anyone who regularly travels by train between Birmingham and Coventry will know that the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) is a little like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. As the train pulls into Birmingham International station, every train regular is wondering, which land is at the NEC this week? If the...Read More »
Trap one in the gents at my work is always locked. No one ever goes in; no one ever comes out. I call it Willy Wonka’s shithouse. To myself that is – it doesn’t really come up much in conversation.
That, rather than the two films, the West End musical, or...Read More »
The world of Roxy Music is distant and fantastic: dream homes, smoky nightclubs, crunching gravel drives. Only occasionally is it specific (Acapulco, Havana, Quaglino’s of Mayfair) but it’s always exclusive territory. By being unspecific, Roxy could be anywhere and everywhere… the point was that they were somewhere you weren’t. A...Read More »
This is one for the guys, ladies you might want to sit down. Remember when you were learning how to ‘do a standing up wee’? The hardest thing was getting your little soldier to hit the target. Now then: what did you aim for? That’s right! There was some writing...Read More »
‘Does it have a mini-mart? A small supermarket, fits inside a garage, sells antifreeze and pasties, that type of thing?’. The words of Alan Partridge back in 1997. One of the most loved traits of Partridge is his ability to highlight the absurdity of the banal. Partridge is in thrall...Read More »
I was watching Sportsnight, or maybe Midweek Sports Special, when the first Iraq war really kicked off, it was the 17 January 1991 and the star attraction on the late night TV show was the Football League Cup fifth round tie between Chelsea and Spurs. Dennis Wise was scuttling around...Read More »
The TV box set is a thing. It’s so much a thing that it has now detached itself from its own material: a box set is no longer a TV series collected as a set and presented in a box, it is now simply the thing, collected, and placed in...Read More »
Pretty much anyone who ever invented or discovered anything of note was a nerd.
Just look around you: electronic devices; carpet; the shoes on your feet. All of those things, just like everything else man has created, from the world-changing discoveries to the mundane, everyday items, only exist in the first...Read More »
Bone-idle Brummies have been loitering in coffee shops since way before the likes of Starbucks came over here with their 87,000 different drink combinations; getting our names wrong and shirking their corporation tax.
There were several coffee shops in Brum as far back as the ‘50s, with exotic-sounding names such as...Read More »
We are dismayed quarterly, when the Oxford English Dictionary appears to show no restraint in adding the latest fad neologisms, such as “selfie” (not to be confused with any photo of a person), “hashtag” (not to be confused with the hash symbol), and “flexitarian” (not to be confused with a...Read More »
On Tuesday, November 8, 2016 voters in the USA will choose their 45th President. If it’s not Hillary then Hillary will at least be the story, and behind every great woman is a man and behind that man is a song and behind that song is a woman and that...Read More »
As the orchestra parps, the squiffy toffs bray, and the BBC commentators struggle with pitching their insight towards an audience that pretty much only wants to watch for the 1812 Overture, please remember to direct some of your swelling pooterish patriotism towards Birmingham. For without the global city there would...Read More »
They were the best days of your life, ‘they’ will tell you. ‘They’, being everyone except Bryan Adams who is definite on the point of June, July and August 1969 being better. What ‘they’ will neglect to tell you is that those days wouldn’t be how they are without the...Read More »
Why did Sir Edmund Hillary drag a lot of people up Everest before taking all the glory himself? Supposedly ‘because it was there’. Why do celebrities stand outside (or in other places that it doesn’t matter if they get wet) in old, but presentable clothes (that won’t be ruined if...Read More »
Technically, you could argue that, as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham and the Midlands will eventually gift to all humankind a catastrophic environmental collapse that will ultimately destroy the human race. Some might say it’ll be our just desserts for pillaging the planet’s resources. But knowing what form...Read More »
Suburbia eh? Leafy streets, Terry and June, mock tudor, bay windows – surely that all started in Surrey or Middlesex, and spread to the rest of the country? Well no, it all started in Birmingham, of course.
When George Cadbury moved his factory from central Birmingham to what was then...Read More »
Back in the days before anything was open on a Sunday, the gentleman of the house would repair to the local hostelry and return home pie-eyed at about half past two. He’d then sleep off the roast dinner in an armchair, before it was time for That’s Life and then...Read More »
Oh, America. Hamburgers, Hot Rods, hanging out at the mall, Rock & Roll, Fox News, an out-of-control culture of gun violence. You’ve come a long way since you were a just another undiscovered continent of perfectly happy indigenous tribes.
Your star may now be on the wane, but you won’t find...Read More »
The Beatles, when they started, were not much more than a bunch of pretty boys with guitars. And guitars were going out of fashion. They got popular, but may well have slunk out of cultural history in the same way as, for example, The Applejacks – if it wasn’t for...Read More »
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Despite the protests of anyone who’s ever wanted to make it from one end of New Street to the other, asking people for money is profitable and it will continue. Birmingham has some world class panhandling: the girl with the odd voice and...Read More »
48 years of hurst and counting. On that glorious summer afternoon, 30th July 1966, the sun shone on the British Empire for perhaps the last time. Kenneth Wolstenholme, Alf Garnett, future Birmingham City Manager Alf Ramsey and Jimmy Greaves were all at the apex of their happiness and together they...Read More »
When Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and William Murdoch stood at the bottom of Broad Street and stuck some post-its on the wall to plan their first sprint, little did they know they would set in motion a revolution that would see the word “silicon” put in front of every inanimate object...Read More »
When we were a city of a thousand trades, we had men to produce thousands of words to tell the story. One such was Joseph Priestley who essentially didn’t ever shut up, producing hundreds of pamphlets and books on philosophy, science, religion and even grammar. But that age of voluminous reason...Read More »
Railway enthusiasts get a bad press. If it’s not the anoraks, glasses, and spots it’s the destruction of the Tory countryside in order to build train lines. Or it’s—in the words of Daniel Kitson—that they “aren’t paedophiles [they] just like the look”. The clergy get a bit of that too. For all...Read More »
If you’ve seen any coverage of the Oscar ceremony, or any Oscar ceremony, you’ll know it’s all about the clothes. The women’s clothes. The women’s bodies, the ladies’ bras. Male attendees get to dig out evening dress and pass without comment. It’s an everyday sexist world, but let’s turn the...Read More »
All bands eventually get back together, except for the only two that you might actually want to see again: Slade and The Smiths. They all get back together because they all split up and then find they need the money, and the reason they split up is called ‘musical differences’....Read More »
In 1908 26 men lost their lives just on the edge of Birmingham, but also on the edge of our understanding of the earth itself. Opened in 1876 Hamstead Colliery was at that point the deepest mine in the World—2000 feet down beneath the surface. Not too far from where...Read More »
Before Birmingham gave the World the Internet, information traveled at a much slower and more unreliable pace. Say you were on the terraces of the Spion kop on a Saturday afternoon, depressed, waiting and hoping for some light relief from Billy McNeill’s Aston Villa who were probably losing away at...Read More »
Do you have a Facebook account? If you do, I’ll bet that at some point in the last month or so you’ll have read a mind-bendingly stupid, or downright offensive comment made by a vague acquaintance – someone you went to school with, perhaps, or a former colleague from that...Read More »
1779: James Watt patents a copying press or ‘letter copying machine’ to deal with the mass of paper work at his business; he also invents an ink to work with it. This is the first widely used copy machine for offices and is a commercial success, being used for over...Read More »
Way back in 1963, a children’s educational TV programme aired and not that many people noticed—they were too upset that Aldous Huxley had died (especially Sheryl Crow). It starred an old chap who pottered around the universe in four dimensions. But without a nemesis the story was going nowhere, he...Read More »
Used as a catch all excuse for not letting people get on with things—in the same way as “data protection” means people won’t tell you things and political correctness means you simply aren’t allowed to be a racist, cisexist, ableist, islamophobe—like you could in the good old days, Health and...Read More »
The commonly held view of 1960s popular music is that it was the decade during which the rulebook was torn up. Out of the dull austerity of the black-and-white 1950s the youth of the following decade exploded as one in a Technicolor riot of mind-bending drugs, free love and revolutionary...Read More »
Hair is a problem. It sprouts from places you don’t want it to, shies away from the top of your head (for us older men), and generally needs to be kept in its place. Regular barbering, or hairdressing for the ladies, is vital—as is plucking, shaving, combing over and other...Read More »
Philosophically one can’t really understand a concept until you can give it a name. You might get a headachey feeling when walking down Oxford Road in Moseley in the autumn but until you’re old enough to describe it as ‘smelling like poppers’ you won’t really know why. Or you might...Read More »
Freddie Mercury liked using one while in drag, and it makes an awful mess when you empty the bag. Apocryphally they end up in casualty departments all around the country attached to blokes’ private areas and make a lovely rattling sound when they suck up a coin.
Yes, the vacuum, it...Read More »
We are under attack. Our very way of life is threatened. All because of the fucking Internet. Make no mistake, we are at war with the machines now, today. It’s already started. And there’s one sure fire way to stop a war: KILL HITLER.
The Internet is the biggest problem we’ve...Read More »
“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way…well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”
Oh, Michael Fish you were a weatherman. And so was John Kettley, and so was Bill Giles, and so was Ian McCaskill. And with...Read More »
If there’s one thing you learn at school, and if the current Education secretary gets his way it many be soon the only thing, it’s this: no one likes a tell tale tit.
Watching The Sweeney, you may have picked up this: nobody likes a grass.
In fact the only positive cultural...Read More »
Sometimes we all feel like we’re just not worthy of attention: even though we are perfectly fine women, men, and cities. We share the experience of being unable to reach a subconscious, fictional final goal of subjective security and success to compensate for the inferiority feelings. If we’re not careful we may...Read More »
A number of years ago, during the stag party celebrations for a good friend of mine, I went along to play paintballing. Upon arrival at the centre we discovered that our opponents for the day were a group of men who had evidently been paintballing on several occasions before; they...Read More »
The last time you had a right row with someone at your bank—like you’d changed address with them but they hadn’t updated the one on your credit card—or you had to sit on hold to an ISP (because they hadn’t properly cancelled the account you had before you moved, and they...Read More »
Inventor of fizzy pop Joseph Priestley made other contributions to our society too. On April 15, 1770—not ten years before he would move to Brum—he recorded his discovery of Indian gum’s ability to erase lead pencil marks. He wrote, “I have seen a substance excellently adapted to the purpose of...Read More »
It comes into it’s own in a crisis, you know. It’s how people know that roads are slippery or schools closed because it snowed, other than that the ground is covered in snow. And despite attempts by both ‘market forces’ and ‘stupid government pandering BBC Director Generals obsessed with nothing more than...Read More »
Image CC Ant McNeil
There is a very simple principle to the making of tea and it’s this – to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boiling (not boiled) when it hits the tea leaves. If it’s merely hot then the tea will be insipid.
A watched pot...Read More »
Every tragedy has a beginning, and sadly one of the greatest tragedies of our time begins here, in fair Birmingham. For it was here, in the workshop of the world, that social housing was really born and with it was wrought death and ruin upon the land.
For decades sick-lefitsts have praised...Read More »
Imagine a time before always-on instant communication with everybody. Imagine a world where you had to add your seal to a document in hot wax and have a messenger run it to its recipient. By the time they got there, no-one would care just how lovely the fucking cupcake you...Read More »
The SMS is twenty years old this year—and still no one has managed to come up with a past participle that sounds right when spoken. In a kind of way, the ‘shortness’ in the ‘short message service’ helped get us all ready for the brevity of Twitter, it’s great for...Read More »
Are you troubled by debts, mortgage repayments, or other loans? Do you struggle to make ends meet? Are you tempted by those adverts on television offering short-term loans at rates of interest that would make a Serbian gangster blush?
If you are, then you are far from alone. People everywhere are...Read More »
Essentially it’s eating less food, so how is dieting a huge industry around the world? Heinz (the HP-stealing bastards, see No 8) produce special ‘Weight Watchers’ foods, supposedly healthy versions of their TV dinners. Here’s the rub: the main way they contain less calories is by having less food. And...Read More »
Ah, Manchester! Competitive little Manchester! Gutsy, plucky, Manchester! What makes you tick? What makes you worry so much about Birmingham? What makes you enter into dick measuring contests with us all the time? Well, our Psychology 101 training suggests it’s something oedipal. Tell us, people of the North, tell us...Read More »
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Santa Claus on his sleigh, people moaning about how it all starts too early and has got all commercialised and stuff, I know it’s been said many, times many ways, but Christmas to you.
Most of our notions of modern Christmas come from the Victorian...Read More »
As Anthony Pratt and his family huddled in their Kings Heath fall-out shelter while the Luftwaffe flew over Birmingham, it bothered him that there was nothing to do. He was concerned that, rather like Christmas, all you could do was sit in a confined space with your nearest and dearest...Read More »
The essential ingredients of daytime television are: jumpers, middle aged people, chat. Whether they’re hunting for antiques, buying or selling or failing to sell things (especially houses) or even solving murders or being real in some sort of institution—it’s the middle-aged jumper chat that’s important.
Once all that was on...Read More »
Americans hated New Coke. Scared by loss of market share to Pepsi, The Coca-Cola Company decided in 1985 to reformulate and relaunch their particular brand of sugary mess. As it turned out people don’t like change, and this played even more into Pepsi’s hands.
One chap in New Mexico reportedly stockpiled...Read More »
In the 1970s a young filmmaker named George Lucas began putting together an ambitious project to bring us the story of a boy, a girl and a universe.
He took a pretty standard Proppian fairy tale structure, added some Flash Gordon adventure serialisation tropes, and stopped by Kurosawa for some...Read More »
Every woman of a certain age wants to read about a ‘red room of pain’ it seems. Every supermarket bookshelf is filled with copies of the—originally–self-published and—apparently, I of course haven’t read it—turgidly written mommy-porn.
Just who’d have thought that some women would like reading about s-e-x? I don’t know, what’s...Read More »
“Sing, Lofty.” said Sgt Major Tudor ‘Shut Up’ Williams, and Lofty did—tubby little everyman tho he was. And tubby little everymen and everywomen around the World have sung. Along to backing tracks, badly, when they’ve had just over the recommended amount of booze.
The recommended amount of booze being just...Read More »
For most of living memory New Zealand was simply a fictional village which was used to rehouse spent characters from Neighbours. In Neighbours – and by extension all popular culture of the 1980s and 1990s – a trip to New Zealand was equivalent to the Eastenders trope of “going up...Read More »
Okay, so James Brown got down and Afrika Bambaataa saw b-boy and the freak as a way to change the World with his Zulu Nation. But that was back in the seventies and was that really likely ever to cross-over?
Okay, yes, so the Rock Steady Crew were busting up the...Read More »
Do you do little loops at the bottom of your y’s, do you draw little hearts over the top of your i’s? Do you, when actually pressed to use a pen at all after years of typing and texting, get all flummoxed and end up using block capitals so at...Read More »
It’s made in Holland and named after a London landmark, so of course HP Sauce is the Brummiest thing going. It’s “the best known brown sauce in the United Kingdom” and slavered across sausages the length of the land, despite “brown sauce” sounding more like a euphemism for, well, shit.
If...Read More »
When you pick up Hello! or flick to the most exploitative pages in the tabloids what are you likely to see? One may have upskirt pics of vulnerable young actresses, one may have charming stories where you get to see just what the kitchen looks like in the house Sienna...Read More »
Since disco, all real pop music has been in thrall to the dancefloor and the beats are never more to the floor than when they are sampled. Synthesisers don’t cut it—unless you’re doing the Sparky’s Magic Piano bit on Mr Blue Sky—you need samples.
With samples you can force the four...Read More »
Font family, and hatred magnet, Comic Sans MS was created by Microsoft’s Vincent Connare to be the textual voice of a cartoon dog called Bob who would in some way help people use computers. It looks friendly and soon became the Australian Question Intonation of typefaces: that is, used when...Read More »
No, not Hollywood up by the Maypole. The real one of blockbusters and stars rather than Blockbuster, Poundland and burnt-out cars. Because without a certain city not very far away you’d not be watching George Clooney gurn with his chest out, nor would you be able to grin through gritted...Read More »
Football has had a long and evolutionary history taking in local rivalries, struggle with authority, class warfare and co-optation, and paganism; but enough of St Andrews. Everything we know about football today originated on the other side of the city: from fixture congestion, to dead rubbers, from runaway leaders to...Read More »
Schoolchildren in the 1950s and ‘60s spent as much time learning how to Duck and Cover in the event of a nuclear missile attack as they ever did about algebra and home economics. They grew up in a perpetual and very real fear that the Cold War would one day...Read More »
Ever climbed Murray mount, “come on Tim”, or knocked a sponge ball against a wall while grunting? Then you have Birmingham to thank for the gift of the only sport that doubles the price of a certain fruit for two weeks every year. Yes, Cliff Richards’s favourite game was invented...Read More »