- 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 early 18th 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.