Category: 101 Things Brum Gave The World

101 Things Brum Gave The World.

You’ve seen him on the motorway: coming in off the junction, he could drop in safely behind you and still keep the needle at 70 but instead he drops a gear and punches it past you to win a racing line on the last yard of the slip road. Firmly in front of you now, he jerks the saloon straight and into your lane, robbing you of the stopping distance you’ve calmly maintained for the last fifty miles. With nobody behind you, your foot is coming over to the brakes to get some space but before you hit the pedal he jerks right again. Now he’s into the half car length between a white van and a people carrier in the middle lane—and your heart is in your mouth. He won’t make it. But he does. He bursts through to the fast lane where once again he …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No.84: Wankers Read More »

Stalwart vessels of early British satire, Ronald Barker and Ronald Corbett had a fine line in jokes about the perceived work ethic of the country’s factory fodder. “An aerial photograph of the track at British Leyland,” they announced, “was spoilt when somebody moved.” You see, it had become an establishment trope that the car workers of Britain – and those in Longbridge, Birmingham in particular – were not industrious and prone to stoppage. That was of course untrue, the workers of those car plants were hard-working: not a house in Birmingham wasn’t freshly painted in mini green at least once a year. But there was media and establishment bias against the workers of Longbridge, and that was often focused on one man: Derek ‘Red Robbo’ Robinson, of Northfield (you wouldn’t want to live too far from where you worked in those days, the cars were terribly unreliable). …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 83: The Great British Worker Read More »

Tagged with:

When Charles Henry Foyle invented the cardboard box, in Birmingham, in the late 19th century, he by turn invented supermarkets: for would they be able to pile ’em high and sell ‘em cheap if they didn’t pile neatly in cartons and boxes? They, including Jack Cohen who came up with that motto and founded Tesco, would not have been able to. That the real idea turned out to be to pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap, force other smaller retailers of ‘em out of business, before using your virtual monopoly of ‘em to control both supply of ‘em and the eventual higher price of ‘em isn’t Charles Henry Foyle’s fault. He just originated the process that made manufacture of brightly coloured containers to put ‘em in cost effective. They call it the ‘folding carton’. Charles was lucky to be in Birmingham. Birmingham as we’ve discovered is a …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 82: The Cardboard Box Read More »

Tagged with:

Like Neville Chamberlain before you, you have the opportunity to hold in your hand a piece of paper. And, per page at least, it could have fewer lies on it. Why not buy 101 Things Birmingham gave the World right now? A fantastic Christmas gift. But there wouldn’t be books about Birmingham without the work of the 18th century’s Thomas Warren, who was the first publisher to come from Brum: and let’s face it no-one from anywhere else was going to publish them. From his house over the Swan Tavern on the High Street, he founded a modest book making empire, and eventually a book shop. No records of the shop remain, or of any other independent bookshop in Birmingham at all. Warren edited and published Dr. Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson’s first book – a translation of Jerónimo Lobo’s Voyage to Abyssinia – which was a huge success …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 81: Books about Birmingham Read More »

Tagged with:

It’s amazing that, with the modern attention span the way it is, the BBC has managed to keep any programme going for over 60 years. That’s a testament to a wonderful variety of writers, producers, and editors, it’s a tribute to the management that held faith and more than anything it’s a case study in how taking a punt on an innovative idea can produce something astounding. The Archers, recorded in the Borsestshire village of Ambridge — but produced and broadcast from the nearby big city of Birmingham — is not only wonderful entertainment, but was the world’s first ‘scripted reality’ show. The genre, with The Only Way Is Essex, Geordie Shore and Midlands Today all riding high in the ratings, feels like the very definition of NOW: but did you know it started in May of 1950 for those of us in the Midlands, and on 1 January …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 80: The Inevitable Downfall of the BBC Read More »

Tagged with:

To be a Cockney, you need to be born within earshot of the sound of the Bow bells. To be a Brummie, so Lawrence Inman’s joke goes, you need to be born within earshot of someone moaning. The truth, however, is somewhat cooler: Anyone can become a Brummie, and that’s the beauty of it. When outsiders do move to Birmingham – reluctantly or otherwise (although it’s usually reluctantly) – they are indeed welcomed with open arms. All they have to do is ride a full circuit on the 11 bus and they can collect their lifetime Brummie pass. It’s as simple as that. In truth, no-one actually checks if you’ve done the 11 thing, and most Brummies haven’t done it themselves. Once settled into their adopted city, these nu-Brummies begin to notice something strange: They find, perhaps in spite of themselves, that they begin to like the …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 79: The White Line Down The Middle Of The Road Read More »

Tagged with:

I’ve got something I need to tell you about Birmingham. It’ll be legend… – wait for it – …dary. 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 white space of oratory design. Just as a graphic designer needs to balance harmony and discord to create, and then play, with tension on the page, so too the public speaker uses silence, the pause, as negative space to better punctuate their message. In broadcasting one cannot be quiet. Radio folk talk of ‘dead air’ – silence in other words, a moment when no one is speaking, no music is playing, nothing is being advertised. The one thing a radio broadcaster can never have on their show is dead air because the moment …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 78: The sound of silence 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 thought only in Birmingham now was honesty left for in the county and Oxford and Eton, in society, words were like sheep while here men created what you could touch, soft like silk, flowing without definite article, which would last, although not as well as those of contemporary Orwell or Oxford tutor C.S. Lewis. He thought, he declaimed to himself, this was life to lead, making useful modernist novels that were beautiful, and glad for making them, which you could touch; but when he was most sure he remembered. He remembered how it has all been said …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 77: The kitchen-sink modernist novel Read More »

Tagged with:

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 constrained by commerce, of authentic culture packaged by a star system. The narrator finds success of a sort, measured in his new possessions and receives acclaim from all around but his song is a confidence trick. The only positive emotion he has is in the first line, and is already linked to the past: “Yesterday I was happy to play”. Musically too this is dour stuff, its leaden rhythm is hidden by a sing-along hook in the chorus. This is a cathartic song. Such melancholia makes You’re a Star a strange anthem …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 76: The hollow promises, lies, and shattered dreams of fame and stardom Read More »

Tagged with: , ,

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 in mask and ever-so-slightly too tight T-shirt ready to thwart drunks and burglars. Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of peace and hope all over the world with a seeming immunity to bullets. And Birmingham’s Lunar Society were a team-up of some of the country’s greatest free thinkers, geniuses, and crusaders for equality. So, why claim Batman?

Tagged with: ,