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 about your mother.
Folksy little Manchester was something of a 14th Century Etsy, producing all manner of cutesy home spun bits of Flemish weaving, that was of course until Birmingham started and then sent the Industrial Revolution up country to them, giving them the opportunity to step up their ideas a bit and start to grow.
Whilst Birmingham, a sort of Cupertino for the 1700s, was busily producing more and more great ideas to send out into the world, Manchester rolled up its sleeves and swore it would be bigger than us one day, just you wait and see.
And so, like Frankenstein’s Monster, it lurches about the place grasping at things it doesn’t understand and crying out. One day its clumsy fists might crush Birmingham, the maker. We can’t stop it and perversely we don’t want to. We watch Manchester, simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by it as it shouts something about having more sausages than us, bellowing something about Salford.
Imagine the chip they’d have on their collective shoulders if they were scousers.
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 eastern mysticism and warrior codes. And no one knew what the hell he was talking about. Desperate to show people his vision he assembled a rough cut of the film. The problem: he needed to show the complicated space battles he’d planned for the finale of his film.
Some 35 years earlier Birmingham’s shadow factories had been churning out Lancaster bombers, Spitfires, and all kind of airborne weaponry to win the Battle of Britain and generally show jerry a thing or two. A few years later the stories of those magnificent flying machines became WWII movies, full of daring-do and high-altitude dogfights. Lucas literally took those movies and cut the battles into his space opera as place holders showing how things would go down. The rough cut did enough to convince the money men in Hollywood that The Star Wars was going to be worth persevering with. With his project saved Lucas reproduced those dogfights shot for shot using his own plastic models and a black sheet for space where Northern Europe used to be. And so it goes, Birmingham’s factories put the bearded Jedi master on the road to building his own Galactic Empire.
No Brum, no X-Wings, simple as that, but we ain’t going to apologise for Jar Jar Binks – you only have yourselves to blame.
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 West”: something other and exotic, but never seen.
All this was set to change when popular Birmingham pointy sword franchise The Lord of the Rings went to those sleepy antipodean islands in 2001. So popular was the film series that it single handedly regenerated New Zealand, taking this abstract idea of a place and fixing it in the minds of a generation of gap year students: a backpacking destination was born.
Before Birmingham’s intervention, the biggest cultural event to happen to New Zealand was the arrival of community radio DJ Henry Mitchell from Erinsborough. No Birmingham, no New Zealand. Imagine what David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy could do for Samoa.