50 ‘FASCINATING FACTS’ ABOUT BIRMINGHAM
1.CITY OF 1,000 TRADES
Birmingham has always been a hive of activity and was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, which was set in motion by the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of the greatest scientists, inventors and manufacturers of the time who met to exchange ideas and knowledge at Matthew Boulton’s home Soho House in Handsworth.
By 1791, Birmingham was being hailed as the first manufacturing town in the world, and after it gained city status in 1889, it was named the City of A Thousand Trades because of the huge variety of companies based here. It’s also been called the Workshop of The World and the First City of the Empire.
It was at The Soho Manufactory, the first factory in the world – that assembly-line mass production was created by pioneering industrialist Matthew Boulton. It was built on Handsworth Heath in 1766 and it made a range of goods including buttons and buckles and was home to the first steam-powered mint. The Soho Mint opened in 1788 and used eight steam-driven machines designed by Boulton to strike up to 84 coins a minute.
The Czech composer Anton Dvorak ((1841-1904) came to Birmingham and said: “I’m here in this immense industrial city where they make excellent knives, scissors, springs, files and goodness knows what else, and, besides these, music too. And how well! It’s terrifying how much the people here manage to achieve.”
- ECONOMIC CENTRE
Today, figures from Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that Birmingham is the largest centre in Great Britain for employment in the sectors of public administration, education and health, and the second largest centre outside London for employment in financial and other business services.
Four FTSE100 companies have their HQ in the Birmingham area – the largest concentration of such firms outside London and the South-East. Birmingham’s wider metropolitan economy is the second largest in the UK with a GDP (gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services) of £68 billion.
According to the rankings of the Globalization & World Cities Research Network, Birmingham is a beta level city – the third highest ranking in the country after London and Manchester. Birmingham has the highest level of entrepreneurial activity outside London, with more than 16,000 business start-ups registered in 2013. The city is behind only London and Edinburgh for private sector job creation between 2010 and 2013.
- MORE CANALS THAN VENICE
Birmingham has 35 miles of canal compared with 26 miles of canal in Venice. And the entire Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) is a network of waterways connecting Birmingham and the Black Country. The BCN comprises 114 miles of waterways less than the 174 miles it had at its peak in the 18th century. More cubic metres of water flow through Birmingham’s canals than any other city in the world.
- MORE TREES THAN PARIS
Birmingham has “nearly 600 parks and public open spaces” compared with 400 in Paris. Birmingham City Council gave a more exact number with a figure of 571 parks and open spaces with more than 3,500 hectares of public accessible space, and 250 miles of urban brooks and streams. Birmingham City Council estimates that there are six million trees in the city. The 2,400-acre Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield is the largest Urban Park in Europe.
- GERMAN MARKET
Birmingham’s annual German market – officially the Frankfurt Christmas Market – is the largest outdoor Christmas market in the country and the biggest outside Germany and Austria. It attracts more than five million visitors, earning £90 million for the city, and is even bigger than the market staged in German capital Berlin.
Birmingham is the most culturally mixed city in the UK, with 33.3 per cent non-white according to 2007 figures, compared with London’s 30.7 per cent.
Outside London, Birmingham has the UK’s largest Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities, the second largest Hindu community and the seventh largest Jewish community. The city’s Sikh Vaisakhi celebrations are the largest in Europe.
Birmingham is one of the UK’s top conference destinations. According to Core Cities, the National Exhibition Centre Group (which has four venues in Birmingham: the NEC, International Convention Centre, LG Arena and NIA) attracts more than 4 million visitors a year. That’s 42 per cent of the UK’s total exhibition trade and major conferences.
- TELEVISION & RADIO
Birmingham has a long tradition of TV and Radio production with many shows recorded in studios in Birmingham or filmed on location in the city, while others have been produced here but filmed elsewhere. Among the programmes to come from Birmingham are Doctors, Hustle, Crossroads, Boon, New Faces, Spitting Image, Pot Black, Gangsters, Dalziell and Pascoe and Tiswas, plus the game shows The Golden Shot, Bullseye and Blockbusters.The Archers, the world’s longest running radio soap, is recorded in Birmingham for BBC Radio 4.
- ST PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Day Parade is the third biggest in the world, after New York and Dublin with more than 80,000 people turning out to celebrate the occasion. Birmingham has a large Irish community dating back to the Industrial Revolution when Irish people, known as ‘Navvies’ moved here to work in the construction of canals, railways and factories and is estimated to have the largest Irish population in the UK. The city has the UK’s only Irish Quarter, centred on Digbeth and Deritend.
Birmingham is the birthplace of Heavy Metal, with Black Sabbath and coming from Aston in Birmingham Tony Iommi learned to play guitar in a different way following an industrial accident that removed the tips of two of his fingers. He tuned the guitar down and relied on power chords, something guitarist Geezer Butler also did and together they produced the classic sound of Heavy Metal. Subsequent Heavy Metal bands Napalm Death and Godflesh also hail from Birmingham. Birmingham also boasts Dave Pegg (Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), and Blaze Bayley (Wolfsbane). Other music acts from Birmingham include ELO, Duran Duran, UB40, The Moody Blues, Fuzzbox, Ocean Colour Scene, The Move, Toyah Wilcox, Joan Armatrading, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ruby Turner, Fine Young Cannibals, The Streets, Musical Youth, Jamelia and Pato Banton. Mother’s Club in Erdington was voted the world’s best rock venue in 1969 and 1970, with a Blue Birmingham Civic Society plaque unveiled in 2013 to commemorate the iconic venue where such acts as Pink Floyd, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, The Who and Led Zeppelin played.
In the 1960s, Birmingham was the birthplace of modern Bhangra and is also the centre of the UK’s Asian music industry. Birmingham is the global centre of Bhangra music with almost 90 per cent of it made here.
In the classical world, Worcestershire-born composer Edward Elgar was the first conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra (later the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: CBSO) when it was officially founded in November 1920. Elgar was also the first Professor of Music at Birmingham University. In 2002, the CBSO won the most prestigious Record of the Year prize at the Gramophone Awards, the classical counterpart to the Oscars. The CBSO’s most famous conductor is Sir Simon Rattle, for whom Symphony Hall was built, often cited as one of the best classical music concert halls in the world.
Oscar Deutsch, born in Balsall Heath and the son of a scrap metal dealer, opened the first ever Odeon cinema in Perry Barr in 1930. Deutsch was a master of marketing with Odeon standing for ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’.
Star City now has the UK’s largest cinema complex with thirty screens. Six screens are devoted to Asian films, making this the largest Bollywood movie centre in Europe. The Giant Screen cinema at Millennium Point has the largest screen in the Midlands (72ft wide, 40ft high) & the second largest in the UK.
The Electric Cinema in Station Street at the back of Birmingham’s revamped New Street Railway Station is the UK’s oldest working cinema dating from 1909.
As well as its famous waterways, Birmingham is home to the Gravelly Hill interchange, better known as Spaghetti Junction the best known motorway junction in the UK. The M6 passes through Birmingham on the longest bridge in the UK the Bromford Viaduct Birmingham was also the terminus for both of the world’s first two long-distance railway lines – 1837’s 82-mile Grand Junction Railway & the 112-mile London and Birmingham railway of 1838 whose terminus at Curzon Street was the first railway station. New Street station is the busiest train station in the UK outside London In addition, the Number 11 Outer Circle bus route is the longest urban bus route in Europe, reaching a length of 28 miles.
Tennis originated in Birmingham when, in 1859, Harry Gem, Clerk to the Birmingham Magistrates, and his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant, combined elements of racquets and the Basque ball game Pelota on the lawn of Perera’s home at 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston. The oldest surviving club Lawn Tennis club in the world is the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society, which pre-dates The All England Club by 3 weeks.
- J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Acclaimed author JRR Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein South Africa, lived in Birmingham as a child variously in Kings Heath, Hall Green, Rednal and Edgbaston and attended King Edward’s School in New Street. Sarehole Mill, Moseley Bog, Perrott’s Folly, Edgbaston Waterworks Tower, Birmingham University Clock Tower and the nearby Lickey Hills in Birmingham inspired his famous works The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.
The Jewellery Quarter is Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery businesses, and produces 40 per cent of jewellery made in the UK. It has the largest School of Jewellery in Europe, and the world’s largest Assay Office, which hallmarks about 12 million items a year. At its height in the early 1900s, the Jewellery Quarter employed more than 30,000 people. About 3,000 people work there today
- FOOD & DRINK
Birmingham has five Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other city in the UK outside London. Glynn Purnell, Adam Stokes, Luke Tipping, Richard Turner and David Carter are the Chef Patrons.
Birmingham is the birthplace in 1977 of the Balti – a type of curry served in a metal bowl (karahi) & home to the Balti Triangle, an area encompassing Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley, where there are more than 100 Asian restaurants. Well-known food brands that originated in the city include Bird’s Custard, Typhoo tea, Cadbury’s chocolate and HP Sauce. Alfred Bird created Bird’s Instant Custard in 1837 as his wife was allergic to eggs used to thicken earlier versions of the dessert.
In 1863, William Sumner published A Popular Treatise on Tea and in 1870 started a grocery/pharmacy business with his son John in High Street, Birmingham. It was in 1903 that John’s son, John Sumner Jr, created Typhoo Tea – taking the name from the Chinese word for doctor after his sister said she had found relief for her indigestion by drinking a brew made from the tiniest particles of tea leaf, rather than the usual large leaf variety. Sumner Jr sold the tea pre-packaged rather than loose. Typhoo became one of the largest makers of teabags in the UK.
Chocolate giant Cadbury began when John Cadbury opened a grocery shop in Bull Street Birmingham in 1824. Among the products he sold cocoa and drinking chocolate which he prepared using a pestle and mortar. It was in 1831 that he started the Cadbury manufacturing business in a warehouse in Crooked Lane. In 1847, it moved into a larger factory in Bridge Street and when that site became too small, a new works was built at Bournville. The Quaker company produced its first chocolate bars in 1897 and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in its purple wrapper is an icon.
- UNIVERSITIES & EDUCATION
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 25 year olds and under accounting for nearly 40 per cent of its population. Birmingham has five universities: Aston, Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Newman University College & University College Birmingham. Birmingham University was founded in 1900 by Joseph Chamberlain and was the first ‘Redbrick’ University. The region as a whole produces over 111,000 graduates each year making it the second largest student area in the UK. In 2011 Birmingham had more than 78,000 students living in the city during term-time more than any other city in the UK outside London. The national educational charity University of the First Age was founded in Birmingham by Professor Tim Brighouse in 1996.Birmingham Business School founded in 1902 is the oldest graduate-level business school in the UK.
- MUSEUMS AND ART
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery holds the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world as well as Europe’s finest collections of ceramics and fine metalwork. Also on display there is the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. It consists of more than 3,500 items with over 5kg of gold, 1.4kg of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. BMAG also contains the largest complete bronze sculpture of its kind in the world in the Sultangani Buddha found in the North Indian town of Sultangani during the construction of the East Indian Railway & dates from 700-800 AD. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts has been described as one of the finest small art galleries in the world. Birmingham Science Museum Thinktank, has the world’s oldest working steam engine and the UK’s first purpose-built digital planetarium.
- THE POSTAL SYSTEM/STAMPS
Birmingham schoolteacher Rowland Hill established the first modern postal system towards the end of 1839. He invented the first postage stamp the Penny Black designed by artist William Mulready featuring Queen Victoria in May 1840.
- DNA & SCIENCE
In 1962, the physicist and molecular biologist Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for his work revealing the structure of DNA as one of the three (the others being James Watson and Francis Crick) who became known as the Code Breakers. Wilkins was brought up in Birmingham and educated at King Edward’s School, going on to develop wartime radar screens at Birmingham University before his involvement in genetics research. Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The former Forensic Science Service, which was based on Birmingham Business Park in Marston Green, pioneered the use of large-scale DNA Profiling. It set up the world’s first DNA database in April 1995.
- THE LIBRARY OF BIRMINGHAM
The new Library of Birmingham which cost £189million is the largest public library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.
- BANKS & BUILDING SOCIETIES
England’s first municipal bank was set up in Birmingham by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, eldest son of the ‘Father of Birmingham’ Joseph Chamberlain. The Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank later Birmingham Municipal Bank was set up to raise money for the First World War effort. It opened on September 29, 1916. The Midland Bank and Lloyds Bank were also founded in Birmingham. The world’s first building society – Ketley’s Building Society – was founded in Birmingham in 1775 by Richard Ketley who was the landlord of The Golden Cross pub.
- HEALTH & MEDICINE
William Withering, a physician at Birmingham General Hospital, discovered the use of digitalis an extract from the foxglove plant as a heart drug and in 1785 published a paper on his findings. A member of the Lunar Society of distinguished scientists, he lived at Edgbaston Hall and later in Sparkbrook where he died in 1799.
In Birmingham on January 11, 1896, John Hall-Edwards was the first man to use X-rays under clinical conditions by taking an X-ray image – or radiograph – of a needle embedded in someone’s hand. On February 14, 1896, he was the first to use X-rays in a surgical operation. He also took the first X-ray of the human spine.
Birmingham surgeon Dr Joseph Sampson Gamgee invented the surgical dressing called Gamgee Tissue – cotton wool between two layers of gauze – in 1880. His name became an inspiration for The Hobbit character Sam Gamgee in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Birmingham University’s Rupert Billingham and Peter Medawar set out the key procedures and principles of skin grafting.In 1950, the first hole-in-the-heart surgery was carried out at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and in 1960 it was announced that Queen Elizabeth Hospital surgeon Leon Abrams had fitted the first variable-pace pacemaker In 1952, a team of researchers in Birmingham made the link between wheat gluten and Coeliac disease and developed gluten-free diets.
- FOOTBALL AND SPORT
Birmingham businessman and Aston Villa FC Chairman Sir William McGregor founded the Football League, the world’s first football league competition. In 1888 that he suggested that 10 or 12 of England’s top clubs get together to arrange fixtures and the English Football League was formed.in Birmingham and the city is where the first FA Cup was made. The very first trophy had been produced in Sheffield but was stolen from a display window in Birmingham in 1895 after Aston Villa had won the cup. The second trophy – and the oldest one surviving today – was a replica of the first and made by Vaughton’s of Birmingham, which still exists in Well Street,.Birmingham was first British city to be named National City of Sport by the Sports Council and held the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships at the National Indoor Arena in 2003.
Of the 4,000 inventions copyrighted in the UK a year, 2,800 come from the Birmingham area. Peter Colegate of the Patent Office said: “Every year, Birmingham amazes us by coming up with thousands of inventions. It is impossible to explain but people in the area seem to have a remarkable ability to come up with, and have the dedication to produce, ideas.” Among the inventions to come from Birmingham were James Watt’s paper copier, the smoke detector, household vacuum cleaner, cooker, mass spectrometer and microwave oven.
It was in 1856 that Alexander Parkes created the first viable man-made plastic which he named eponymously ‘Parkesine’. This led to the development of celluloid film also by Parkes so indirectly Birmingham could be said to have created the world-wide medium of film and the film and cinema industry as well as the large-scale production of chemicals and the chemical industry.
In 1929, Brylcream was created by County Chemicals at the Chemico Works in Bradford Street, Birmingham. Joseph Priestley who was a prominent member of Birmingham’s Lunar Society and a Unitarian preacher whose inflammatory sermons advocating Revolution earned him the name: ‘Gunpowder Joe’ was the first man to isolate Oxygen in 1787.
Birmingham surgeon John Wright experimented with electricity in his spare time and discovered a process for coating metal objects in gold and silver. Wright’s associates George Elkington and Henry Elkington were awarded the first patents for electroplating in 1840. These two founded the electroplating industry in Birmingham and the technique spread across the world.
The world’s first pneumatic tyre was made by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888. He sold the rights to Harvey du Cross Jr who founded the Dunlop Rubber Company in 1889. The former tyre manufacturing plant Fort Dunlop was built in 1916 and was at one time the largest factory in the world, employing more than 3,200 people. In 1922, Dunlop invented a tyre that lasted three times longer than any other, and Dunlop tyres have helped many drivers and their cars to victory at the Grand Prix, Le Mans, Formula 1 and British and world land speed records.
It was in Birmingham that William Murdock discovered the use of gas for street lighting. In 1798, he used gas to provide internal lighting for Soho Foundry a factory making James Watt’s steam engines in Smethwick,and in 1802 he lit the outside of the building in a public display that amazed local residents. In 1806, Birmingham inventor Joseph Pemberton lit the outside of his own factory with gas and this eventually led to the first public street lighting by gas which was in London in 1807. It was in 1818 that Birmingham had its first street lighting by gas, with the lights made in Gas Street off Broad Street
By the 1850s, Birmingham was a world centre for the pen trade. More than half the steel-nib pens manufactured in the world were made in Birmingham, where thousands of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen were employed in the industry. In 1828 Birmingham manufacturer Josiah Mason developed a cheap, efficient slip-in nib that could be added to a fountain pen. Mason became the largest pen-maker in England and in 1875 he founded Mason Science College, which became Birmingham University. Making pens more efficiently and cheaply encouraged the development of education and literacy around the world
In 1940, just after the start of the Second World War, Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory started production of the Spitfire fighter plane and became the largest Spitfire factory in the UK, producing up to 320 aircraft per month. When production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires had been built – more than half of the 20,000 ever produced.
- WEATHER MAPS
Sir Francis Galton, born in Birmingham in 1822, is credited as the first to apply statistical methods to science. In doing so, he gave birth to the science of meteorology by creating the first weather map, compiled using data from all of Britain’s weather stations in October 1861. A half-cousin to Charles Darwin, whose grandfather Erasmus Darwin from Lichfield near Birmingham had been a prominent member of Birmingham’s Lunar Society, Galton also coined the term Eugenics (improving human genetics through controlled breeding), devised a method for classifying fingerprints and introduced the use of questionnaires and surveys for collecting data on human communities.
- THE MINI AND THE MOTOR CAR
The Mini, an icon of the swinging Sixties, was manufactured at Birmingham’s Longbridge plant from 1959 to 2000. In 1999 the Mini was voted the most influential car of the 20th century, and in 2014 it was named Britain’s favourite car of all time in a survey by motoring magazine Autocar. By the late 1960s, Longbridge was the biggest car plant in the world and employed around 30,000 workers.
And it all started here in Brum. It was in 1895 in Birmingham that Frederick William Lanchester built the first petrol-driven four-wheeled car in Britain. He also invented the accelerator pedal and the carburettor.
Lanchester, who had been working at the Forward Gas Engine Company in Saltley, Birmingham, had first devised an engine that ran on petrol rather than gas. As part of that, he invented the carburettor to get the correct mix of air and fuel.
Having tried the new engine in a boat and created Britain’s first motorboat, he decided to design a four-wheeled vehicle that would run on petrol. He worked on the car at workshops in Ladywood Road, Fiveways, and then he and his brothers set up a factory in Montgomery Street, Sparkbrook, which still exists to make the cars so they could be sold to the public.
Birmingham’s Gun Quarter was for many years the centre of the world’s gun manufacturing industry. In 1865 nearly 10,000 people were employed in the city’s gun industry.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), production soared as more than three million guns were made in the city, with Birmingham supplying two thirds of the guns used by the British army.
- BIKES & MOTORBIKES
Hercules Cycle and Motor Company, founded in 1910 in Aston, had become the world’s biggest manufacturer of bicycles by the end of the 1930s, when six million had been made.
Evolving out of Birmingham’s bicycle industry, firms such as Norton and BSA made Birmingham an international centre for motorbike manufacture.
BSA – the Birmingham Small Arms Company – began as a gun-maker founded in Birmingham’s Gun Quarter in 1861 before venturing into bicycles, motorbikes and cars. BSA was at one time the largest motorcycle producer in the world and Birmingham bikes won many awards for speed and quality. The BSA Bantam was a popular small motorcycle made in Birmingham which is still produced under licence in India today.
Birmingham firm Arthur Price was the first company to make spoons and forks from chromium plate, the forerunner of stainless steel. By the 1950s, it had become the largest manufacturer of stainless steel cutlery in the UK.
In April 1912, A. Price & Co. Ltd, as the company was then known, was based in a small factory in Conybere Street, Birmingham. The firm was celebrating its 10th anniversary with a commission to supply premium cutlery for use on the world’s newest and most luxurious ocean liner, the S.S. Titanic.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage, Arthur Price recreated the Panel Reed cutlery that was used in the ship’s First Class accommodation. In 1976, the firm was commissioned to design and produce the cutlery for Concorde.
- CHARLES DICKENS
Famous novelist Charles Dickens gave the first public performance of A Christmas Carol in Birmingham Town Hall in December 1853, 10 years after its publication. He performed it over three hours 15 minutes in front of a crowd of 2,000 local people – taking only a 10-minute break for a quick swig of beef tea.
- ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE/SHERLOCK HOLMES
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, lived and worked in Aston for several months each year from 1879 to 1882. He was working as a pharmacy assistant in the breaks between his studies at Edinburgh University.
Birmingham’s Sherlock Street – where Doyle is said to have bought a violin – and the surname of Birmingham printer John Baskerville were obvious influences on his later literary works, with the first Sherlock Holmes story (A Study in Scarlet) published in 1886 and The Hound of the Baskervilles appearing in 1901. Doyle’s time here is commemorated by a blue plaque on the building on the site of his former home at 63 Aston Road North.
- THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE
The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, creator of The Railway Series about Thomas the Tank Engine, was a curate at King’s Norton, Birmingham, from 1940 to 1946. While living there in 1943, he invented stories featuring trains – based on his experiences hearing the engines puffing along the railway line at Kings Norton – to entertain his son during a bout of measles.
In 1945, Awdry wrote his first book featuring his locomotive characters. He made a model train for his son and decided to call it Thomas. His son wanted to hear stories about Thomas, and these were published in his book Thomas the Tank Engine in 1947.
- WASHINGTON IRVING
The American-born author of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ which was made into a film starring Johnny Depp and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ lived and wrote for a time in Birmingham during the early18th century.
- BARBARA CARTLAND
The incredibly prolific author of romantic novels was born in Edgbaston in Birmingham. She wrote hundreds of books, mostly of the romantic fiction variety.
- LEE CHILD
The former King Edward’s School Edgbaston schoolboy lost his job with Granada TV in Manchester in 1994 and became an author. His books about his hero Jack Reacher, the 6 feet 5 inch and 250 pounds one-man war machine have sold over 100 million copies. The books have become a film franchise with the diminutive Tom Cruise playing the giant Reacher.
39 RJ ELLORY
A spell in a Young Offenders Institution with his brother for stealing a chicken from a convent convinced Roger Ellory to turn his life around and become a writer. He gleaned most of his knowledge about America, which plays host to his crime novels from 1970’s TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, The Rockford Files, Cannon and Cagney & Lacey. His most famous crime thriller is ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’ and he has written 21 books.
- JONATHAN COE
Another former King Edward’s School Edgbaston pupil, albeit somewhat older than Lee Child, Coe’s novel of growing up in 1970’s Birmingham: ‘The Rotter’s Club’ with its background of the Birmingham pub bombings and the strikes at the Austin Rover car plant at Longbridge struck a chord with readers and was turned into a successful BBC TV series. Other novels such as ‘The Closed Circle’ have been equally successful.
- JIM CRACE
Moseley author Jim Crace has enjoyed great literary success and has been nominated for The Booker Prize, the best known literary prize in the UK.
- LAND ROVER
Four wheel drive vehicles began with the great Land Rover Defender in the 1950’s and the success of the company continues today now it is owned by Indian conglomerate TATA with premium products like The Range Rover Sport and The Range Rover Evoque
- KASH THE FLASH GILL
Handsworth-born Kash Gill was the very first Asian fighter to become a World Champion in a Contact sport in his chosen discipline of kick-boxing where he is a four-time World Champion. Kash’s titles pre-date those of British-born Asian World Boxing Champions Naseem Hamed and Amir Khan.
- SIR MICHAEL BALCON
Birmingham’s ‘Film Triumvirate’ is made up of Sir Michael Balcon, Brummie Grammar Schoolboy and Britain’s first ‘Film Mogul’ who at one point worked for Louis B. Mayer at MGM, Victor Savile, who bankrolled Balcon and Oscar Deutsche who founded the ODEON Cinema Chain in Birmingham in the 1930’s were Brum’s three film ‘movers and shakers’ All three could at one time be found on a ride on the Inner Circle number 8 ‘Corporation Buzz’ in Birmingham’s inner city!
Birmingham Grammar School Boy Sir Michael Balcon founded The Ealing Studios which gave us those great ‘Ealing Comedies’: ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, ‘Passport to Pimlico’, ‘The Ladykillers’ and ‘Whiskey Galore’ should be more celebrated in Birmingham as possibly Britain’s greatest film maker, the man who discovered Alfred Hitchcock, whom many think is Britain’s best film maker…..?
Balcon went to my old school George Dixon Grammar School for Boys from 1906 when the school opened until 1912 when he left after his father a Jewish tailor at 116 Summer Lane, Aston became ill and could no longer afford to send the young Balcon to school
After leaving school in 1912 Balcon joined up in 1914 at the outbreak of The Great War and tried to establish some of the early ‘Birmingham Pals’ Regiments in The Great War but ironically could not fight and serve himself due to defective eyesight……….
Balcon also named his ‘Everyman Copper Hero’ and most enduring character PC George Dixon of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ after his old school which was named after Education Reformer and the founder of Edgbaston High School for Girls: George Dixon MP, a direct contemporary of Joseph Chamberlain MP the founder of municipal Birmingham.
PC George Dixon first appeared in the 1949 Ealing Studios film: ‘The Blue Lamp’ where he was shot in a bungled cinema robbery by a young Rank Starlet on loan to the Ealing Studios Dirk Bogarde….remember him?
PC George Dixon was miraculously reincarnated in 1952 in the first ‘Police Procedural’: ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ where the young PC Dixon pounds a tough East End Docklands Beat around ‘Dock Green’ keeping law and order with his own brand of homespun bonhomie and gentle kindness and good sense, with a ‘clip round the ear’ for young urchins rather than a spell in ‘The Blue Brick’ (‘nick’)
PC Dixon’s cheery Saturday evening greeting: ‘Evening All’ has gone down in TV folklore.
‘Dixon of Dock Green’ ran from 1952 until 1976 when Jack Warner, the actor who played PC Dixon for all those years became too old for the role.
Sir Michael Balcon would premiere his Ealing Films to the Cinema Club at his old school
There are also links to Hollywood as his Grandson is possibly the greatest ever screen actor the three-time Oscar winner for ‘Best Actor’ Daniel Day-Lewis.
- GEORGE DIXON
George Dixon was a former Lord Mayor of Birmingham of the 1870’s and a renowned educational pioneer in the city. He founded Edgbaston High School for Girls in Westbourne Road to educate young women, the daughters of artisans and craftsmen in Birmingham.
The George Dixon Grammar Schools were built in 1906 to honour his memory on the mile-long City Road, built at the turn of the 20th century during the municipal boom in Birmingham inspired by Joseph Chamberlain who at that time founded the University of Birmingham also in Edgbaston.
George Dixon to those ‘Baby Boomers’ who grew up in 1960’s Britain meant a kindly, avuncular copper who pounded the beat in Dock Green in East London on black and white TV on BBC1 on Saturday evenings.
Did you know how PC George Dixon got his name…?
Sir Michael Balcon, then Head of the Ealing Studios was a former pupil of the George Dixon Grammar School for Boys in City Road, Edgbaston in Birmingham.
Ealing Studios released a film called: ‘The Blue Lamp’ in the early 1950’s starring Jack Warner as PC George Dixon. PC Dixon was shot dead by a very young actor named Dirk Bogarde (remember him…?) who played a petty villain on PC Dixon’s beat in bomb-damaged London.
PC George Dixon’s name was inspired by Sir Michael Balcon’s former school George Dixon Grammar in Birmingham.
PC Dixon was reincarnated for the very successful ‘Police Procedural’ TV show of the 60’s and 70’s on BBC1, still played by the original actor from ‘The Blue Lamp’: Jack Warner.
Sir Michael Balcon’s daughter Jill Balcon established links with her father’s old school in Birmingham some years ago. Jill was part of an acting dynasty and married into the Day-Lewis theatrical family which includes Jill Balcon’s double-Oscar winner son Daniel Day-Lewis whose grandfather is Birmingham-born Sir Michael Balcon.
Daniel Day-Lewis has also been nominated for a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar in 2013 for his appearance as ‘Lincoln’ in the Steven Spielberg biopic.
There is another Birmingham link to Abraham Lincoln. One of Lincoln’s greatest friends and influences was Birmingham MP and anti-slavery campaigner John Bright.
Bright encouraged Lincoln to adopt the abolition of slavery as a central aim of his war against the Confederacy and for many years a bust of John Bright MP stood in The White House.
Birmingham therefore is linked via Sir Michael Balcon and his Ealing Studios films to Hollywood and the Oscars won by his grandson Daniel Day-Lewis.
Birmingham also has several other links to the early British film industry. The first ODEON ‘picture house’ was built in Birmingham by Oscar Deutsch.
The acronym ODEON was coined by Oscar Deutsch and stood for: ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’ and the first ‘ODEON’ was in Birmingham. The word ODEON has become a by-word for a cinema in the British film industry.
Birmingham also has the oldest continuously operating cinema in Britain in ‘The Electric Cinema’ in Station Street near the ‘Old Rep’ having first shown news reels and short films since 1909.
Current owner Tom Laws has reinvented and reinvigorated ‘The Electric Cinema’ as a Art Deco cinema with a bar, double armchair-style seats which movie-goers can enjoy, creating an enjoyable personal cinema experience, totally different to the multiplex.
The fact that Celluloid was invented in the city too makes Birmingham a very important place in the history of the British film industry.
- WEBSTER & HORSFALL
Birmingham rope and wire-making company Webster and Horsfall based in Small Heath have two claims to fame. Firstly they provided most of the ropes for the British Naval Fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and for Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flag Ship HMS Victory. Another surprising Birmingham link as the British city furthest from the sea is that around 120 of the sailors on HMS Victory hailed from land-locked Birmingham! In 1865 Webster and Horsfall made the very first Trans-Atlantic Telecommunications cable which Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great steam ship the SS Great Eastern laid at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Webster and Horsfall is one of the few companies in the country with its own dedicated church onsite….St Cyprians of Small Heath
47 JOHN BRIGHT MP & PRESIDENT LINCOLN
John Bright MP who played a pivotal role in the 1867 Reform Act which helped enfranchise the ordinary working man was a friend of the great US President Abraham Lincoln. When, early in The American Civil War (1860 – 1865) Lincoln was wavering as to whether he wanted to retain the Abolition of Slavery as one of his key war aims. Bright wrote to Lincoln to bolster his resolve and plead that he continue his abolitionism. Lincoln kept this letter and when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth at The Washington Theatre in 1865 the letter was found in one of the pockets of his frock coat. Many years later First Lady Hillary Clinton found a politician’s bust in a dusty White House storeroom. After some research it was discovered that the bust was of Birmingham MP John Bright and the bust was placed on display in The Oval Office of the Clinton Presidency.
- THOMAS ATTWOOD MP
The Birmingham MP Thomas Attwood, whose reclining statue can be found in Birmingham’s Chamberlain Square was one of the MP’s who played a great role in the enfranchisement of the ordinary working man with the 1832 Reform Act which abolished ‘Rotten Boroughs’. Attwood held a huge political rally at Newhall Hill in 1830 of his Birmingham Political Union which was one of the precursors to the Trade Union Movement and was instrumental in the formation of the unions. The establishment felt under threat by events like the huge Birmingham Rally at Newhall Hill and for a time it was felt that revolution maybe in the air with events in Birmingham.
- THE ELAN VALLEY PROJECT
Joseph Chamberlain, the Birmingham Lord Mayor and Birmingham MP and former Colonial Secretary was the man who made Birmingham into the ‘workshop of the world’ and ‘the city of a thousand trades’ was instrumental in providing clean water for Birmingham artisans and workers through his plan to pipe clean water over 70 miles from North Wales to Bartley Green Reservoir in South Birmingham. This was known as The Elan Valley Project and eradicated water-borne illnesses in the city of Birmingham and continued the city’s exponential industrial growth under Chamberlain
- OLD JOE
Joseph Chamberlain was also instrumental in the establishment of The University of Birmingham which was the first of the ‘Redbrick’ Universities established in the great Victorian cities. Birmingham University was formed from Mason College and Chancellor’s Court is a tremendous example of Edwardian architecture. Old Joe, the Clock Tower or Campanile is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world and is named after Birmingham Lord Mayor and MP and founder of Birmingham University Joseph Chamberlain. Another Birmingham hero JRR Tolkien was growing up in Edwardian Birmingham at this time when the Birmingham University clock tower was being constructed and some think that ‘The Eye of Sauron’ from the second part of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy: ‘The Two Towers’ was inspired by the building of ‘Old Joe’.
Brummie Writer and Historian