Pulling our legacy: and being not shit

The Paradise Circus view on the legacy of the Commonwealth Games.

Adrian Chiles does not miss when he (often) praises Birmingham for not being boastful. Stephen Knight and all the other creative collaborators around the Commonwealth Games resisted the call to bang drums and blow trumpets while shouting loudly and removing bushels. Instead they just sort of got on with it, and produced something very special.
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Have a Cow, man

Birmingham has gone bull crazy during the Commonwealth Games, as well as rhythmic gymnastics crazy and admitting Birmingham is OK crazy. These are all good things, but why is our latest bull the first to really represent something about us, and what next?

“It’s been years since there was any bull baiting here… colourful markets remain.” says Kojak in the 1981 short film Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham

At the time he was talking about the ‘old’ 60s Bull Ring. Not the old, old, one. He was talking about the concrete walkways and sidings, the bridge next to the island by the Rotunda, the one featuring the lost nine-tonne bull sculptures cast by Trewin Copplestone. The ones that many a kid thought looked like dinosaurs. 

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 8: Mr Egg

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. In our new book we lay out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it. Mr Egg has had a spate of attention during the huge omelette of activity that is the Commonwealth games, so we thought we’d share our meditation on the meaning of it to Brum.

Mr Egg is not what it was, or rather it never was what we thought it was. The idea of Mr Egg and the reality have just drifted further apart.

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Too Much Monkey Business: The Return of Kong

Giant monsters are always analogies. Godzilla, in early incarnations at least, is agreed to be a 30 storeys high metaphor for Japan’s terror of the atomic age. Not just the destruction it could cause, but the ineffable effects of nature itself.

When King Kong first appeared in 1933 the story was worked on by Edgar Wallace, a writer who as a reporter had covered the Second Boer War and the atrocities committed by Belgium in the Congo. A liberal (capital L too, he stood for David Lloyd George’s party for parliament), he would have thought hard about the fear of Africa engendered in the European white working class. A fear that built the idea of racial differences in order to excuse the slavery and colonialization.

That othering would be crucial to ‘jungle pictures’ of the sort that were popular when RKO made the first Kong film, cinema providing new ways to exploit any cultural fears to make a buck. They did as much to promote the trope of the Great White Hunter as turn of the century literature had done, and the wildness those hunters faced would — perhaps subconsciously — reflect a fear of reprisals for the treatment of Africa.

Meanings evolve: Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla film seems less nuclear-scare than to reflect American nervousness in the face of increasing episodes of seemingly random terrorism — such as the Centennial Olympic Park pipe bomb a few years earlier  — which conventional forces could not contain. Peter Jackson’s Kong is more about how much Peter Jackson loves the process of filmmaking that anything to do with monkeys, like much of his output.

But Kong had already had a re-invention: in Birmingham. In 1972 the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation commissioned the statue to sit in Manzoni Gardens. (Yes, it was cigarette marketing all along. But more darkly the company was named after Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland, their colony on the east of the USA.) Nicolas Monro was one of the few pop artists working in sculpture, so taking the brief to make something ‘city orientated’ he chose King Kong because of its association with New York City and, he said, “for my own petty reasons”.

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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — Reason No. 7: The things that might be under Spaghetti Junction

We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. In our new book we lay out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it. On Spaghetti Junction’s 50th anniversary (May 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Gravelly Hill Interchange) we give you an exclusive essay from the book on some things that might be under there. 

Billions of people have been on top of Spaghetti Junction, from the early days of the first motorists on 24 May 1972 at about 4.30pm to today. They estimate that around 200,000 cars a day travel on it now, with literally some of these finding the right exit. 

But how many have been to experience the wonders beneath? 

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Birmingham: we invented Christmas – our history with the German Market

Paradise Circus Christmas 2013 Graphic

Most of our notions of modern Christmas come from the Victorian author Charles Dickens, who being the rock star of his time toured the country reading from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Turning a then barely-noticed mark on the calendar into the jolly family oriented affair we associate today.

He really saw the value of a time of year where we take time to connect with family and give out nothing but love. The story of Scrooge is ultimately one of redemption, not one of spiritual redemption but one of redemption through the forgiveness of others and connection with his family.

The place where Chucky D chose to first read from this book? Birmingham Town Hall, So really Birmingham is Christmas’s Bethlehem: and so we here celebrate the Brummiest Christmas thing going: our relationship with the German Market.

Stuck for a present? Why not try the new Birmingham: It’s Not Shit the book, or 101 Things Birmingham Gave the World.

German? Market?

A few years ago Danny told us about how each Decemberwe welcome the disruptive crapfest most call the ‘German market’ but the council insist calling the ‘Frankfurt Market’ because according to the website, ‘Birmingham has been twinned with Frankfurt for more than 40 years. But the connection is so tenuous you might as well say that Birmingham is twinned with Elvis, or Monster Munch or the colour blue.
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Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – The Book – Buy 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, Buy Here  >>

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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