Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – The Book

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 clichés, or past achievements, we must look at the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.

Book CoverWe’ve compiled 50 of the biggest things, places, people and feelings that delight us about the second city. There’s a real story here, and we as the founder and major contributors to Birmingham: It’s Not Shit and then hit Birmingham miscellany, website, book, number one country chart single about the bin strike, and stage show Paradise Circus are people to tell it. Jon Bounds, Jon Hickman and Danny Smith will take you down Dale End and up The Ackers — and we’ll get to the global heart of the local something.

 

Coming in December 2021 – Pre-orders available soon.

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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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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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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.
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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 95: Analysing the Class Struggle

Nancy Mitford was a terrible snob. In a letter to Evelyn Waugh, she mentions with glee a mutual friend who uses the expression “rather ‘milk in first’” to express condemnation of those lower down the social scale.

In an essay for Encounter magazine, called The English Aristocracy, she listed a glossary of terms used by the upper classes along with the equivalents used by those who, to paraphrase Noel Coward, thought that television was for watching rather than appearing on. In doing so, she unleashed a wave of nose-looking-down directed at anyone caught saying ‘settee’ instead of ‘sofa’, or ‘perfume’ rather than ‘scent’.

Yes, Nancy Mitford not only needed to check her privilege, but even created a ready reckoner with which to do it.

Nancy Mitford was a terrible snob, but at least she wasn’t a Nazi. Nor did she come up with the idea of using a list of shibboleths to separate the English upper classes from those that would desire to emulate them. The groundwork, the idea of using synonyms rather than accents as class indicators, was done by Alan S. C. Ross, linguistics professor at the University of Birmingham and inventor of the terms U and non-U.

In 1954, Ross published a paper in a Finnish journal on ‘the terminology of popular discourse of social dialects in Britain’. But it certainly didn’t cause the stir that Nancy Mitford’s use of his ideas did, just a few months later. Proof that it is indeed who (whom?) you know rather than what you know.

Birmingham, home of really understanding the class struggle: sweet. I mean, ‘pudding’.

Paradise Circus Live – full live show

Like an old Monty Python cash-in LP: for lockdown listening the full live show the Paradise Circus troupe did at the mac a little while back. 90 mins of hyperlocal satire now available to listen to in your home.

If you enjoy it, please bung a little something to Brum Baby Bank. Oh, and you can buy our book, which has more of (in some cases exactly) the same.

Paradise Circus Live is old fashioned revue with a local twist – a host of satirical sketches, stand-up, songs, games and monologues. Jon Bounds and Jon Hickman bring a version of their popular Birmingham miscellany, Paradise Circus, to the stage with biting satire of the media and Birmingham itself — all refracted through a thick lens of Marxist critical theory. It’s funnier than it sounds. Hickman is not from round these parts and Bounds will take him through what it really means to understand Birmingham.

Learn just how to be a local Breakfast Show DJ, what happens at a Birmingham City Council meeting about promoting the latest Big Plan, and how to write a broadsheet article about Birmingham in an editorial meeting down in that London. Help us to find King Kong, discover who won the 1972 Snooker World Championship (which was played 60ft underneath the BT Tower) and work out how much the Council has paid to Capita during a stirring rendition of Mr Blue Sky.

Mark Steadman is at the piano with comedy songs like his famous 11 Bus song which mentions all of the 280 stops in order (11A of course). We may even end on some ELOke.

Paradise Circus Live may finally prove that Birmingham is not shit, or die on stage trying.

Listen now:

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