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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Christmas Market Jokes to Continue Despite COVID 19

For Immediate Release 

Paradise Circus is saddened to hear that there will be no German Christmas Market in 2020 but has vowed to continue in their annual tradition of poking fun at the “well-loved” institution.

As such we are announcing, today, that we will continue making the same jokes about Birmingham’s Christmas Market but in a COVID safe manner including:

  • Regular hand-washing using soap from one of 27 identical fancy soap stalls
  • Order the joke direct to you using our app, currently being built by Capita
  • Second-best track and trace in Europe so we can try to locate every current line up of UB40
  • We will make sure the hundreds of identical stalls selling polished rocks in our jokes are spaced out

We are very sorry that due to the required hygiene protocols you will no longer be able to return the joke at the end of the evening to get back your deposit, instead, you can keep it as a souvenir.

During these unprecedented times we will be pleased to serve you from a limited menu of other jokes from our repertoire, which have also been prepared in line with current advice:

  • You can now go up the Ackers so long as you are in your social bubble 
  • You may not blow trumpets, whether they are our own or not
  • That picture of Albert Bore and the clock but photoshopped so they’re further apart 

Our popular book with 101 of our best jokes is available for takeaway orders only.

Jokes about Andy Street’s absolute failure to tackle homelessness and reduce the number of rough sleepers will be suspended completely. Because it’s not funny. It’s really not. (You can help with a donation to a local charity, maybe?) 

Please be patient with us at this difficult time, and kindly remain 2 metres from Twitter when reading our jokes.

Now, more than ever, it is important we find King Kong and embrace the new normal.

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. 100: Heavy Metal

When Africans arrived in America as slaves during the 17th century, they brought with them a five-note musical scale that had evolved over centuries along the trade routes between Africa and the Middle East. Upon encountering the slightly different musical scale that the plantation owners had brought over from Europe, the Africans found that not all notes could be easily resolved. This led to a certain amount of improvisation and bending of strings that eventually resulted in what became known as ‘blue’ notes. These became the distinctive characteristics of wholly new African-American forms of music such as jazz and blues.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 99: Gynaecology

I can’t speak for other social strata or areas, but in a working class home in Birmingham if you ever start a sentence “I’m not a…” Dads in other rooms will bound over furniture and push small children out of the way to run in and say “I’m not a gynaecologist, but I’ll have a look,” and then walk away with a giant shit-eating grin.

As well they might if they knew of long time resident of Birmingham Lawson Tait. Lawson is known for a few things: his strong anti-vivisection views, his demonstrating the link between cleanliness and mortality rates before the theory was generally accepted, but, maybe most famously, he is known as one of the fathers of modern gynaecology. Lawson, born Robert Lawson, is responsible for pioneering a bunch of lifesaving lady bits operations and kick-started a field of medicine that has kept women healthy ‘down there’ ever since. Any friend of the vulva is a friend of mine.

He was also responsible for the appendectomy, so if you ever had to have a few weeks off school and got to eat ice cream to recover, you have Lawson to thank. Wait, that could be tonsils? Who knows? I’m not an otolaryngologist… but I’ll have a look

No, that doesn’t work.

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 98: Israel, and tensions in the Middle East

Of all the things Birmingham has given the world – there’s more than 101 – nothing provides a glow of pride quite like the bloodshed in the Middle East.

At the close of the 19th century, an area known as Palestine was home to Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews, who lived among each other in relative harmony. True, the banter got a bit lively on the local newspaper’s forum but it wasn’t an accurate reflection of how well the various people got along.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 97: Going to the Pictures

It’s an incontrovertible yet nonetheless contested fact that Birmingham’s Electric Cinema is the oldest working cinema in the UK. Birmingham can, then, claim an important part in the history of cinema in Britain. The Electric, though, is a peculiar beast. Those who would dismiss its claim to be an historic venue might point out that very little remains of the building of 1910, and so look instead look to the South East – to Brighton’s Duke of York’s or London’s Phoenix (née the East Finchley Picturedome). Of course, it better suits the accepted narrative of arts and culture that such things would belong to the capital or its artistic dormitory town, so The Electric is easily brushed aside by historians and journalists.

In explaining to you how Birmingham invented going to the pictures I will also brush aside any mention of The Electric because going to The Electric is not, you see, going to the pictures.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World. No. 96: Radio 1

The 1960s, as we’re often told, was a turbulent time. A time of sexual liberation, mind-expanding drugs and endless streams of footage of Twiggy walking down Carnaby Street, and George Best pouring sparkling wine into a pyramid of champagne glasses.

When talk turns to radio, however, the cameras always inevitably turn seawards, a bobbing sea trawler covered in radio masts, swiftly followed by fashionably dressed men staring earnestly at dials and switches, then wheeling their chairs over to pick another seven inch from the rack.

I am talking, of course, about pirate radio, and if you were a hip young thing in the early to mid 1960s, pirate radio was the only way you could listen to pop music over the airwaves. That is, until 1967 when, after pirate radio stations were outlawed by an act of parliament, the BBC split the Light Programme into two stations, BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2, the former having a remit to play popular music.

Radio 1 sprang into life at 7:00am on 30 September 1967, with Tony Blackburn introducing the very first record, Flowers in the Rain by The Move, marking the beginning of the establishment’s acceptance of post war rebellion, and the end of the ’60s.

The Move were, as any fule kno, formed in Moseley in 1966, and the band have a strong Brummie pedigree. Vocalist Carl Wayne went on to star in Brummie wobbly soap Crossroads and lead guitarist Roy Wood later formed Wizzard (and enjoyed having his Christmas dinner at Walsall Rugby Club, though not every day). Bassist Chris ‘Ace’ Kefford was so cool, even the mighty Sabbath were in awe of him after catching a glimpse of him climbing out of a Rolls while they waited for the number 11 bus. Bev Bevan, drummer and Jasper Carrott’s best man, was once told by Paul McCartney that he was a better drummer than Ringo Starr and rhythm guitarist Trevor Burton went on to form Birmingham supergroup Balls (no sniggering at the back there).

It’s often said that the first step you take on a journey sets the tone for the rest of that trip: The Move, for all they were pop stars, were never properly cool, and Radio 1 would never really be either.

Who knows what journey Radio 1 could’ve taken if Tony Blackburn had picked Massachusetts by The Bee Gees (which turned out to be the second track he played) instead of The Move’s opus.

Perhaps the airing of such a middle-of-the-road track would have set the station on the road to cosy conservatism, with Tony Blackburn’s breakfast tenure lasting well into the mid-90s and a young John Major shockingly rising to power in 1979 instead of Margaret Thatcher. Or it could’ve gone the other way, a revitalised rebellion seeing John Peel doing drivetime, and dinner tables across the country being treated to The Fall in session every other Thursday, influencing a socialist revolution and Britain becoming a rock ‘n’ roll utopia.

This is of course all idle speculation, but one thing is certain, we can categorically state that the Tea Cosy’s first choice of record gave a distinctly Brummie twang to a national institution.

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’.