Birmingham Fest 2016

A highlight of the year, Birmingham Fest takes place from 15-31st July. The theatre festial organised by the energetic Darren Haywood promotes new plays, dance, music, comedy, magic amongst it's performances all with low-price tickets.

I headed to the preview and have highlighted a few must-sees [FAVE]

Honey [FAVE]

Alice in the Wilderness


Sentimental Journey of Jazz

The Austerity Games [FAVE]

Fanny a New Musical

Learned Friends [FAVE]

Sings Ella Fitzgerald

Our Kylie’s Getting Wed

Make Britain Magic Again

Green Witches & Funny Girls

Rivers Up [FAVE]


All the Things We Could Have Been

The Voices in My Head


Back again this year, the fabulous

An Audience with Gorgeous George [FAVE}

Find out more: Website @BhamFest #BhamFest

Brum Trail: The Winter in the City Trail

Ideal for: people who love both breakfast and board games

Avoid if: you're a bad loser

Bring // Youll need: your woollies

Terrain: high ropes and high stakes

The start: Bar Opus, Snowhill

Nothing takes the winter chill away quite like a hearty brunch. Bar Opus do a swish version with a choice of either trendy bar plates to share or a menu of classic dishes such as the New York Bagel, steak and eggs and, of course, a good old English - all delivered in the swanky surroundings of this popular Business District bar. Their Saturday brunch comes complete with drinks upgrades - why not indulge in unlimited Bloody Marys for a mere £12.50? Yet another compelling reason to travel by bus...

One Snowhill, city centre

Brunch served on Saturdays from 10.00am

The middle bit: Sandwell Valley Country Park, West Bromwich

This time of year may feel a bit grim, but it throws up the opportunity for crisp, sun drenched walks to put a smile back on your freezing face. The largest national nature reserve in the Midlands, Sandwell Valley has it all. Its 660 acres are home to an RSPB reserve, a working Victorian Farm complete with tea rooms, a cycle route, woodland, meadows, open countryside and some nice lakes to boot. There's even a high ropes aerial adventure course, for those feeling brave after all those Bloody Marys.

Salter's Lane, West Bromwich - just a few miles out from the city centre

The 74 and 75 bus routes stop a few minutes walk from Bar Opus at Colmore Circus, and take you into the centre of West Bromwich.

The Valley is a ten-minute walk from West Bromwich centre.

The end: The Queen's Arms, Jewellery Quarter

This comfy, Grade II listed proper boozer is the perfect place to kick back with a pint of cask ale and fall out with loved ones, as you take advantage of the pub's generous selection of board games. They're barmy for sausages here, and the rest of the food offering isn't bad either - comfort guaranteed. If you're seriously into your games there's a very popular quiz night here, every Thursday.

150 Newhall Street

If you're travelling back from West Bromwich on the bus, alight at Water Street - Newhall Street is a stones throw away

Open every day from midday, 11.00am on weekends

Tips: You can mix and match your choice of sausages at The Queens, and you get three - go for it!

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for…? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!

Words by Gemma Corden – writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.



Meet the Artist: Liskbot

From Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, to Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Banksy. We all have our favourite artists - and we all have our from styles of art. Those who enjoy a Rembrandt may not necessarily like work by Shepard Fairey or other street artists.

Me, I do. I'm a big fan of street art. You only have to take a walk through Digbeth to appreciate some of the fantastic street art on offer in Birmingham. And to fully appreciate some of the street art available, I highly recommend you visit Millennium Point before February 16th 2016 to see the amazing art being exhibited by Liskbot.

To wet your appetite, get to know the artist a bit better, find out how they got involved in street art, why they've chosen their style and which artists they recommend we look out for, by reading the Q&A I did with them recently.

There are a few famous street artists, perhaps none more so than Banksy. But who inspired you to get into street art?

My earliest introduction to street art was while I was studying at Walsall College, when an older student brought a tiny street art book back from a trip to London. I was aware of graffiti but was blown away by the different ways artists in London such as Banksy, Toaster, Invader and D-face used different mediums to create humorous and cleaver art in a public space.

Who are the street artists both locally and further afield whose work we should be looking out for?

I'm always excited to see new work popping up on the walls and lampposts of Birmingham. Lately 'Johnny Vcnt's' use of poppy images and stylish fonts remind me of nostalgic advertisements.

'Foka Wolfs' been going for a while but still gets me excited seeing his paste ups around town. The work of Gent and Newso always leave my mind blown, such skill and imagination, creating some monstrous pieces of work around Digbeth.

Your art predominantly features robots, why?

While failing to support myself living in the Netherlands, sometimes I drew a little box like character that illustrated my thoughts and worries while I was in a different country. I came back and people seemed to like my character more than my holiday photos, so I drew some more onto stickers and over time each bot I drew developed its own character and sinister motives, it has been fun unveiling the plans for our future.

Your art has popped up in some places it may not be expected, such as stickers on lampposts (including outside Dismaland) & bins, but where's the most unusual place you've left your mark?

I've come to find stickers on lampposts as the norm, and I try and make my art available and accessible to all. Putting my robots in super public places up and down the country, from dark and dingy city alleys to rural village towns, whenever I'm on my travels I always have a back pocket full of stickers and if I've been anywhere new or see a fellow artists work I'll put a bot up.

How did you first get into street art & can you remember your first piece (& is it still there)?

The first boxy character i did was hand drawn on a set of sticker labels and I sheepishly put five up around the grounds of my university, luckily they weathered off within a few months. I'm glad they did, they were terribly naïve.

Where do you get your ideas / inspiration from and how long does it take to turn the idea into the finished art work?

I'm fascinated with history, especially with the remains of what was left from before, like Birmingham’s dying industries and the deteriorating factories left behind. I also love all things Science Fiction, especially cartoons, movies and games, depicting apocalyptic landscapes. I take inspiration from these visions of the future, and from there the bots demand I put them into worlds similar to the ones in the movies, so I'll pencil quick ideas into a sketch book and normally sit on the idea till I'm able to apply it to the street. sometimes for months.

For you what's the best and worst thing about being a street artist / street art?

Well the worst thing is working with Birmingham's not-so sunny weather. It's hard to pick the best part. Meeting people who are as passionate as me about the art-form, being able to create collaborative pieces of art with some of my heroes, even hearing that the sight of one of my bots makes somebody’s bus journey to work a little better.

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief street art spotter.

At The Flix with @Timmy666


Greetings one and all! Welcome to this week's trawl through all things cinematic and hitting the screens in Brum this week.

Spotlight (15)

Todd McCarthy’s passionate portrayal and appreciation of the work of Spotlight, an investigative journalism team of the Boston Globe, is brought to the fore in an old-school procedural style.

The Spotlight team brought the Catholic Church to account over their cover up of child abuse endemic within the church. This is a no-nonsense love letter to journalism, brought to life by an excellent case led by Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo who plays the journalists who uncovered the stories.

The film will no doubt be compared to All the President’s Men, but irrespective of such a comparison, this is a story that needs to be told, and like the journalists, the cinema viewing crowd should lap up the old style journalistic thriller style.

Youth (15)

Paolo Sorrentino is a director of such visual flair and style - The Consequences Of Love, Il Divo, The Great Beauty - these films serve as proof of the man’s greatness.

So when he writes a film specifically for Michael Caine to star in, curiosity has been peaked. Set during a spa break in Switzerland, Caine teams up with Keitel as old friends reflecting on life. Caine himself is a composer dreaming of fronting an orchestra again.

The film is clearly both style and some crazy substance, coming in from left field as fast as a pop star cameo or an outlandish hallucination scene. Like his previous film, The Great Beauty, Youth as a title in itself is a touch of irony, a statement on the brevity of life and the fear of death.

Critics haven’t cast this film anywhere near the level of his previous work, and even it is something of a mess, what a  mess it looks like it is, and with a scene chewing Jane Fonda cameo to book.

Dirty Grandpa (15)

Our man Bob de Niro continues to wipe away our glorious memories of his great cinematic legacy with a frankly baffling decision to appear alongside Zac Ephron (the grandson). He plays the dirty grandpa on a trip to Florida. He is the one making the gross out decisions whilst poor Ephron follows along, and the poor audience gets to endure as well.

Or perhaps it isn’t baffling any more. We have become accustomed to seeing Bob make crazy decisions ever since Rocky and Bullwinkle. The big question is, is this some kind of spoof and knowing in-joke from de Niro? If not, one really has to question who is advising him. Anyhow….

The 33 (12A)

As filmic a piece of recent history as you can get, the 33 refers to the Chilean minors who were trapped underground. It’s a feel good film with Antonio Banderas as the unofficial leader of the miners providing heart and drive to the film.

The film goes for the big cast treatment across the board albeit with some bonkers casting including Juliette Binoche as the miner’s sister.

I’m yet to see the 2010 Chilean film, Los 33 de San José, but in reflecting on the big English speaking version, one wonders how much more authentic a native language version of this would be.

Nonetheless, this film’s intent is on delivering a feel-good disaster flick and in those terms, the film’s intentions are seemingly met.

Don’t forget that the Electric continues its excellent Cinematic Time Machine season with FW Murnau's legendary silent film Sunrise (U), the film which won star Janet Gaynor the first ever Best Actress Oscar. Be sure to also catch the Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (U) on Tuesday, a film which took the mechanics of cinema to a whole new level.

At the mac over the next week, watch out for two showings of Jean Luc Goddard’s Le Mépris (15) with Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance, as well as a showing of the documentary Chemsex (18), looking at the lives of men whose lives have been changed by the Chemsex phenomenon, which refers to the use of drugs in a sexual context.

That's it from me. As is usual, any queries or comments, please let me know at @timmy666 on twitter. Have a great week and be sure to support your local cinemas when you can.

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week's trawl through all things cinematic and hitting the screens in Brum this weekend. After last week’s tranche of awards season contenders, what will this week bring?

The Big Short (15)

This week’s biggest release, this adaptation of Michael Lewis’s non-fiction best seller, provides a dark satirical take on the financial crash. It tells the story of a bunch smart misfit analysts who made their fortune when they predicted the bubble was going to burst back in 2005.

Anchorman director Adam McKay’s black comedy benefits from a zippy, informative and quirky approach alongside the multiple talents of great cast (Bale, Gosling, Carrell, Pitt), some of whom do that thing of ‘wigging up’ and altering their appearance a bit, because that’s what you do! Amongst the film’s many artistic oddities, expect lots of asides, cameos and assaults on the fourth wall.

This is a film that dares to entertain, inform and appal in equal measure. I’m converted.

The 5th Wave (15)

If alien invasions and a slice of apocalypse are your thing then The 5th Wave aims to peek your interest! This well-trodden cinematic setup is an adaptation of Rick Yancey’s book. At the heart of the film is a simple tale with Chloe Moritz attempting to provide some ‘small scale human’ dynamics to a high body count film in an attempt save her brother.

The film eschews a dystopian backdrop for something a little more familiar which allows for the alien devastation to be that much more cutting! That alone might sustain the film’s interest. Judging by the critics, the narrative might not be one of the film’s strengths.

Our Brand is Crisis (15)

The other satire to hit the cinemas this week is the big film adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name, which follows  a management company who are recruiting by the failing Bolivian president to turn around his predicament. Sandra Bullock plays a talented strategist with a damaged past who comes face-to-face with her nemesis played by Billy Bob Thornton. Cue the film’s satirical setup.

David Gordon Green’s film has a grand setup and provides plenty of opportunity for weighty satire and a cynical take on politics. That said, the film hasn’t quite ignited the excitement of critics Stateside. That said, Bullock’s performance has been widely praised and is probably the main reason to watch!

Ride Along 2 (15)

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart return as bickering buddies, and now both cops assigned from Atlanta to Miami to work with their PD to take down a drug lord played by Benjamin Bratt. The film effectively plays out as one long comedic schtick for Hart to do his notoriously energetic histrionics. I guess much of your enjoyment of this film will be determined by whether you find it funny!

Truthfully, when I saw the trailer for this, I had to remind myself of Ride Along or perhaps I didn’t need or want to remind myself?

Star Men (PG) 

Showing at the mac (Mon 25-Thurs 28), Alison Rose’s touching documentary follows four astronauts on a road trip as they celebrate 50 years of work together, a portrait of lifelong friendships, old age, facing death and reminiscence at their life in astronomy and space.

Finally The Electric continue their excellent Cinematic Time Machine season with Sunday showings of Buster Keaton’s 1928 silent classic, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (U) and the eponymous Singing in the Rain (U).

That's it from me. As is usual, any queries or comments, please let me know at @timmy666 on twitter. Have a great week and be sure to support your local cinemas.

At the Flix with @Timmy666 - the best of 2015

Hello one and all. Welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix. This week is all about my favourite films of the year, along with some honourable mentions and a few I missed along the way. What were yours? Top 10
  1. Inside Out
  2. Carol
  3. 45 Years
  4. Brooklyn
  5. The Martian
  6. Mad Max: Fury Road
  7. Songs of the Sea
  8. Ex Machina
  9. Sicario
  10. Spectre

Missed list

  • Tangerine
  • Crimson Peak
  • The Assassin
  • The Lobster
  • The Duke of Burgundy
  • What We Do In The Shadows

Honourable mentions

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • It Follows
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

As always, any comments or queries, please drop me a line on Twitter @timmy666. Normal service resumes next week. Until then, have a great week at the cinema.

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix, the weekly trawl through all the cinematic releases in Birmingham.

It's a quiet week in most respects, as there aren't that many new releases. There is one though.

I think you know the one.

Star Trek: The Force Awakens (12A)

Okay, so, what needs to be said! I imagine most of you reading this have already seen this or have been wrapped up in the incessant hype.

The anticipation for anyone who grew up loving the original three films has been marked.

Thankfully JJ Abrams has proven that he is the master of crafting a successful ode to the things we loved whilst growing up. He does this whilst seamlessly managing to bring everything up to the technical standards and audience demands of the cinema going crowds today.

In Abrams, there is frankly no one better to deliver the goods and, boy does he deliver. I'll say no more other than this is the Star Trek film you might have hoped and expected.

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (3D) (U)

With Snoopy and Charlie Brown returning to the big screen for the first time since 1980, I think this film supersedes The Force Awakens in terms of a pure nostalgia trip.

One would argue that the film's prime audience with be that of the 50/60+ generation who grew up with the comic strip. It is an iconic part of American culture.

The Peanuts Movie chooses computer generated images rather than hand-drawn representations, an obvious concession, but one where Schultz's drawings are faithfully referenced.

Elsewhere, check about various Christmas fare, including various showings of Elf, Home Alone and It's a Wonderful Life at the Electric.

That's it from me. Next week, I will reveal my favourite films of the year. Be sure to tune in. In the meantime, have a great week at the movies.

At the Flix with @timmy666

Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix.

Like John McClane declaring his need for a regular, normal Christmas, one has to measure up the festive film season with a mix of joy and befuddlement. It’s joyful because of the crescendo building up to awards season which means that we get to enjoy fantastic films like Carol; yet it’s also befuddling as we get a lot of executive produced, committee-led Christmas trash which puts your seasonal faith in other things than cinema.

To be blunt though, this feels like the ‘quiet’ week before The Force Awakens, when everything else will appear secondary.

Anyway, let’s have a peer at what jollities are in store for us at cinemas across Brum over the next week or so.

By The Sea (15)

Angelina Jolie stars and directs alongside hubby Brad Pitt in this tale of a rich artistic couple trying to rescue their marriage and deal with their unhappiness.

The film is set in the idyllic surroundings of the French Riviera - the opulent surroundings for less than opulent relationship. Fame and fortune does not buy happiness. The French Riviera is no coincidence. The film looks like having a certain Gallic arthouse regard and miserabilism - cameos from the likes of Richard Bohringer only add to Jolie’s knowing sense of French cinema and where she is nodding towards - cigarette smoking, sexual frustration, post-coital philosophy - this is the sort of French-style fare that critics and film lovers lap up.

Critics Stateside have been scathing about this film. Contrary to certain reviews, I’m not too bothered about whether or not it is a vanity project or not - isn’t most cinema, a vanity project? I’d rather watch the ambitions, however flawed, of this film, that than Christmas with the Coopers.

Grandma (15)

Lily Tomlin plays a punkish lesbian Grandma who fresh from breaking up with her partner, gets a knock on the door from her granddaughter Elle who needs to raise $600 for an abortion. Paul Weitz’s low budget comedy is not just a vehicle for Tomlin’s extensive talents but an ensemble cast of great actors including Julia Garner as Elle and Marcia Gay Harden as her mum.

What’s promising is that this isn’t typical of many low budget quirky comedies with big casts, where the performances are mere cameos and an excuse for actors to do their ‘thing’. There appears to be well drawn characters and purpose to them. All in all very promising.

Christmas stuff...

In the week’s Christmas fare, the Electric have a number of festive events such as Film Food Club presents It's A Wonderful Life with Hotel Du Vin (U) on Sunday and Conjurer's Kitchen presents The Nightmare Before Christmas in 4D (PG) (yes, 4D) next Tuesday and Wednesday. Also be sure to check out the excellent Trash Film Night showing of the delightfully dreadful Silent Night Deadly Night 2 (18).

True to form, the mac know their audience and have gone with classics such as Gone With The Wind (U) (Sunday) and True Romance (18) (Sunday) as part of the BFI Love season.

In other one off events, Urban Coffee Company are doing their annual Christmas Film & Supper Club (Thursday) a double bill with the classic short How the Grinch Stole Christmas followed by the 1951 version of ScroogeTickets are £20., 0121 2331599.

That’s it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666.  Until then, have a great week at the cinema and I’ll be back to pour over Episode VII next week.

Brummagem: City of 1000 Trades

A Birmingham Poem by Keith Bracey as a tribute to the 'City of 1000 Trades'


If you’ve never been to Birmingham then you ought ta

It’s a grand city made up of many a quarter

There is jewellery to be sold, diamonds, platinum and gold

Boulton’s silver to assay, precious gems from far away.

Guns were made nearby, helping soldiers fight and die

In the English Civil War we made musket, cannon and ball

A more powerful Lewis gun helped the British beat the Hun.

Mr Webley made a revolver fired by many a pitiful soldier

On a lighter note in The Theatre Quarter

The stage is set for talented daughters

The Rep, the Alex and Hippodrome

Encourage performers to make Birmingham their own

Chaplin, Burton and Olivier

Travelled here to perform their plays

Musicals, ballets and pantomime

Ensure cultural visitors have a good time

The NEC and NIA have changed their names along the way

The Good Food Show, Crufts and fashion galore

Ensure our visitors come back for more

In the Symphony Hall there was often a battle

Between the CBSO and Sir Simon Rattle

The Chinese Quarter is colourful and bright

A fantastic place to go out at night

Stir-fried noodles, a tantalising odour

A grand Dragon Parade from Wing Yip’s Pagoda.

The Balti Belt, full of saris and spices

Tasty Asian food cooked with different rices

An area to visit to sample a curry,

At Adil’s or Imran’s there’s no need to hurry

Bring your own beer, share various starters

Poppadoms, Pakoras, Aloo with tomatoes

A ‘curry in a bucket’ naan size of a table

Mild, medium or hot, eat it all, if you’re able.

Our City has Cadbury, Jaguar Land Rover too,

Speedway, rugby, and cricket for you

A passion for sport, you can hear the roar

For a goal scored by Blues or Villa football.

Indoor and outdoor, The Bull Ring Markets

Sell everything from cheese to carpets

The Germans come at Christmas time

Bringing Bratwurst, Schnitzel and Gluhwein

Part of Brummagems…..Birmingham History Buff Keith Bracey’ s fantastic historical facts about Brum……

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Greetings one and all. Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix, a weekly trawl through things coming out at the cinema in Birmingham.

Steve Jobs (15)

Having Steve Jobs to the big screen is always going to bring forward some semblance of anticipation. Add to the mix a Sorkin script, Danny Boyle’s direction and a cast including Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogan, Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels and the interest might just peak a little more.

The story looks at three specific events in the Jobs era at Apple - each looking at the personal and business dynamics of his relationships with those around him. Expect lots of walking, long intense scenes of dialogue and a sense that everyone is smarter than the smartest human has any right to be!

The big question is which cinema flavour will win out here - is it the Sorkin universe, Danny Boyle’s visual flair or Michael Fassbender’s clear talents in the role of Steve Jobs? From what I’ve said above, I’m going to hazard a guess at Sorkin, and even in his most indulgent, it’s nearly always an intense ride.

A great film? Well, let’s wait and see.

The Lady in the Van (12A)

Earning a universal splattering of strong reviews at the London Film Festival, this film stars Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd, who 'temporarily' parked her van in Alan Bennett's London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years.

The film sounds like a cosy Sunday in a cinematic can - imagine a filmic version of earl grey served with crumpets and it might be somewhere close to what this is!

Maggie Smith can pretty much read the phone book and you’ll know it will be entertaining. The bit that people often miss though is that in playing these charismatic, eccentric older ladies, she isn’t playing herself or a caricature. They are all ‘definitely’ Maggie Smith - but they are all quintessentially different and that’s what makes the prospect of this film so enticing.

Love 3D (18)

With one showing at the Electric next Wednesday, Love 3D is French director Gaspar Noé’s semi-autobiographical, sexually-charged melodrama shot in stereoscopic 3D - and is Noé’s most ambitious work to date.

Murphy is a young filmmaker who wakes up on New Year's Day to a frantic phone call. His ex-girlfriend, Electra, has been missing for months and her mother fears the worst.  Over one day, Murphy reminisces about her former love, two years spent with Electra - to eye-opening, no-holds barred impact.

The film was deemed a must-see and controversial talking point from this year’s Cannes Festival and here’s your opportunity to find out why.

This screening will be preceded by a recorded introduction from director Gaspar Noé, followed by a recorded interview after the film.

Shout Film Festival

Watch out for a plethora of films as part of this year’s Shout Festival which runs from the 12th to 22nd November. Run since 2009, the festival is a fixture in Birmingham’s arts and cultural calendar promoting and showcasing the best in LGBT Arts and Queer Culture throughout Birmingham the West Midlands.

Films showing at the mac over the next week include Futuro Beach (15), My Beautiful Laundrette (15), 52 Tuesdays (15), A Girl At My Door (18), Dressed As A Girl (18) and a number of Shout Shorts.

For more info, click here.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners plus Q&A (18)

Showing on Sunday at the mac, is Shola Lynch’s impactful documentary about the life of young college professor Angela Davis, and how her social activism implicates her in a botched kidnapping attempt that ends with a shootout, four dead, and her name on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

That's it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666. Until then, have a great week at the cinema.



Brummagems: Birmingham's MPs

Brummagems: Birmingham History Buff Keith Bracey' s fantastic historical facts about Brum

William Attwood MP laid the groundwork for the First Reform Act of 1832 and was responsible for the setting up of the first Trade Unions at the time of The Tolpuddle Martyrs who were transported for Trade Union activity with his '#Birmingham Political Union. Attwood held a political meeting of the Birmingham Union on Newhall Hill overlooking Birmingham in 1832 which was attended by over 30000 people. The Government of the day feared that 'Revolution was in the air' and decided to allow limited reform and the abolition of 'Rotton Boroughs' thanks to the words and political action of Birmingham MP William Attwood whose statue once reclined next to the Chamberlain Memorial in Chamberlain Square.

John Bright MP who was instrumental in both the Abolition of Slavery and the 1867 Reform Act which gave the working man the vote......his statue is at the top of the stairs on the first floor of #Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Bright's bust was once on display in The White House of President Bill Clinton as Hillary Clinton found a dusty old statue in a store cupboard. Bright had written to his friend and fellow Abolitionist President Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln was wavering about continuing the American Civil War against slavery. This letter was found in the pocket of Lincoln when he was assassinated in 1865 it had meant that much to him to have the support of his friend. The Clinton's researched the bust and found its great importance to a previous President. Imagine a Birmingham MP in The White House.

Joseph Chamberlain: The 'Modern Municipal Father of Birmingham' The first of the Chamberlain family to become an MP. Former Colonial Secretary and the man behind the University of Birmingham when Mason College was transformed to create the first of the 'Redbrick' Universities. The Clock Tower, the tallest free-standing campanile in the world at 350 metres is named after Chamberlain and called 'Old Joe'. At his funeral in 1913 over 30000 Brummies lined the streets to pay tribute to 'The Father of Birmingham'.

Sir Austen Chamberlain MP Birmingham's first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for his work on the 1920's Locarno Pact and Joseph Chamberlain's son and Neville's brother. He held the post of Foreign Secretary. His brother Neville Chamberlain MP held the post of Chancellor of The Exchequer and helped set up the Birmingham Municipal Bank, whose headquarters stands at 301 Broad Street. He is probably better remembered for returning from Berlin with his ' little piece of paper' after meeting Herr Hitler and proclaiming 'Peace in our time'. The result was the Second World War.

Denis Howell MP, the 'Minister for Drought' in 1976 & the first proper Sports Minister as a former FA Cup Final referee. Howell was MP for Small Heath and a Minister in Harold Wilson's 1974 government. In the summer of 1976 there was a long drought after one of the best summers of the twentieth century. Denis Howell was brought into the Cabinet as 'Minister for Drought' and advocated the sharing of baths to save water.....soon after he was appointed the summer broke and it started to rain.......and Denis was credited with the change in the weather by the Wilson government. Who says 'spin' is new...? Denis Howell's real impact was as the first proper Sports Minister as befits a former FA Cup Final referee. He also led Birmingham's Olympic bid for the 1988 Olympics which were eventually held in Barcelona.

Part of Brummagems…..Birmingham History Buff Keith Bracey’s fantastic historical facts about Brum……

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu

At The Flix with @Timmy666

So, with Bond likely to be supplanted at number one for the next weeks, here are the few alternative offerings, a few of which have a Halloween flavour.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (15)

Comedy horror from Paranormal Activity director Christopher London. As the title might suggest, the film has a knowing teen-edged audience at its heart, following the exploits of three Boy Scouts hoarding of the walking dead with an attuned survival instinct.

The images and screenshots hint at something that is knowingly cheesy and as a result it could fall one of two ways. It could be clever or it could be trite and stupid. Sometimes, there's a third way and that's a combination of both those things.

To date, there's been little press reviews.

Shock and Gore presents A Nightmare on Elm Street (18)

With the great horror director Wes Craven having passed away very recently, it seems very appropriate that Shock and Gore's contribution to Halloween this year is a showing of A Nightmare on Elm Street at the Electric. No matter how many years pass by, this still remains one of the archetypal horror films of all time. Unlike most films under the slasher monicker, this is one that is intelligent and as seeing it (under age) for the first time left a real mark on my cinema viewing habits and attitudes towards horror.

Phantom of the Opera (PG)

Winning the cool awards for Halloween this year could be the mac, who not only are putting on a rare screening of the 1925 silent horror  'Phantom of the Opera' but are doing it to a live music score composed by Mark Willetts and performed by the Black Country Guitar Quartet.

Halloween Film & Supper Club - Urban Coffee Company.

Urban Coffee Company are screening the Hammer horror classic ‘Dracula – Prince of Darkness’ starring the late Christopher Lee. The showing is on Thursday 29th October at their JQ emporium, supper will be served from 7pm and the film starts around 8pm. Tickets are £17 and include supper, a drink (wine, beer, or coffee) and popcorn! Bookings - ; 0121 2331599.

That's it from me this week. As always any queries, please drop me a line on twitter @timmy666. Until then, have a great week at the cinema.


Frieze Art Fair/Ikon Gallery

Frieze Art Fair at Regent’s Park, London is the annual extravaganza which provides an opportunity for international fine art galleries to show off the work of selected artists from their stables, make a bit of a splash and often enough court controversy with some outrageous offerings. If the many regulars I met last week are anything to go by, this year was a much more considered and serious event than some in previous years.

There was nothing that I saw which in any way outraged me, and much that delighted and engaged me. Chief amongst the latter were works by Frank Auerbach, Carmen Herrera (whose wonderful show at Ikon a few years ago remains an abiding memory), Roy Lichtenstein, Kwon Young Woo, and John Hoyland. But especially enjoyable was the sole offering from The Sunday Painter, an artist-led gallery based in Peckham, which showed a water feature by Samara Scott, recessed into the floor and sitting so still and unmoving that, like most other viewers, I initially took it to be a layer of inlaid resin. This colourful, thoughtful, subtle installation seemed to have caught the imagination of many visitors and was one of the most talked about items amongst my fellow visitors on the first day of the show.

That was especially satisfying as this relatively young gallery was taking part in its first Frieze, sited in the curated section in which galleries had been selected by the organisation for inclusion. Samara Scott exhibited recently at Birmingham’s Eastside Projects so there must be some satisfaction in that quarter to have talent spotted at an early stage.

There were 164 galleries from 27 countries in total, spread over the main space at the south end of Regents Park and several more in Frieze Masters at the North East corner, as well as those individual artists whose work was featured in the Sculpture Trail which extended throughout the whole demaisne. In a full day of trekking, looking, discussing, and looking again, I only managed to take in the main event. To “do” Frieze properly I imagine one would need to devote at least two days. However, with so much happening in London’s galleries at the moment, a day was all that could be spared.

Other exhibitions viewed recently included: Barbara Hepworth and Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain (soon to be graced as Director by the inimitable Alex Farquharson of Nottingham Contemporary), each of which was magnificent in its own way, Auerbach particularly thoughtful and thought provoking; Agnes Martin and The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern, the first of which was a WOW (Martin is very much an artists’ artist) but now ended, while the latter might not be too high up on anyone’s list of priorities, insightful as it may have been; Goya Portraits at the National Gallery, which must be seen if only because there will never be such an opportunity to view them all gathered together like this again; the small but utterly gorgeous Barkcloth Textiles at the British Museum, which anyone with an interest in textile art ought to make an effort to see.

No, I didn’t see them all in one visit: it so happens that there have been other business reasons to be “In Town” regularly recently so these have been the bonuses added on to some of them. Additionally, you might want to pop in to the Wellcome Trust on your next visit to London since it is just across the road from Euston Station. There is always something really intriguing here, even if there is no featured exhibition and you simply go to view the permanent collection gathered over a lifetime by Dr Wellcome.

No matter how long you are in London, you will need some sort of food intake. As in all tourist cities, there is much that is awful, plenty that is mediocre and, lots of ripoffs, but if you know where to look or just have a nose (as well as a taste) for it, there are some really good and surprisingly not overly expensive eating places. As I was overnighting at a delightful find from Airbnb in Chalk Farm, I found myself at the Colonel Fawcett in Camden Town. This is a well known and well liked bar with a bit of history and (more importantly perhaps) food and which, I suppose, thinks of itself as a Gastropub. The food is pretty good, the wine seems reasonable, and the beers on tap more than acceptable. I had their Roast Smoked Pork Belly with Confit Potato, Black Pudding Croquette, Kale, and Mustard and Cider Cream which was as good as any Pork Belly I have ever tasted and my colleague the Sirloin Steak with Burnt Shallot Puree, Roast “Heritage” (really?) Tomatoes, Bone Marrow Butter and “Hand Cut” Chips which looked, smelled, and tasted very good indeed. Does that sound just a tiny bit pretentious? Well, maybe, but it was well cooked, and tasted excellent. The pub prides itself on its range of gins and does have an acceptable wine list but it also serves some damned good beers so we both had the Redemption Pale Ale which went down very well with both dishes: rich, hoppy, fresh, a lively tickle on the palate.

Since I think of my main task of food criticism as being principally related to Birmingham restaurants, I am not writing about this one in any more detail but I can definitely recommend the Colonel Fawcett should you be in London and want decent food at a reasonable price. (1 Randolph St, Camden Town, London NW1 0SS)  Two main courses and two beers each, £52 plus tip.

Spending a few days in London and being so excited by the gallery scene there makes one forget just what great venues we have back in Birmingham. The main Museum and its various branches house a collection as good as anything and better than most outside of the capital. In the Ikon was have one of the country’s (indeed one of Europe’s) most interesting galleries, and the various enterprises now thriving in Eastside offer regular events of work by new, upcoming, exciting and often thought provoking, mainly young, artists and groups. We are lucky to have them but we should cherish them and help them to develop by supporting them. The next Digbeth First Friday would be a good way to start.

In the meantime, the new Fiona Banner exhibition at Ikon is at the top of my list. A visit there in the next few days is definitely on my schedule and, of course, Café Opus is always worth a punt. Since my first review some months ago, I have returned several times and each time come away as satisfied as on the first occasion. Consistency is as important as genius.

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman

Fiona Banner, Scroll Down And Keep Scrolling, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016, (With thanks to the Ikon Gallery for these photos)

At The Flix with @Timmy666

The name’s 666, @Timmy666 …. welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix, a weekly cinematic haberdashery of all things hitting screens in Birmingham this weekend.

In a week, where we celebrated the Future, aka 21st October 2015 and the new Star Wars trailer broke YouTube, there’s the biggest franchise of them all returning to the big screen from Monday.

Spectre (12A)

Pretty much blitzing anything else mainstream hitting the screens this week, Bond 24 hits the screens on Monday, Daniel Craig’s fourth outing with Sam Mendes returning to the helm following the astronomical success of Skyfall. Expectations are high to follow-up on one of the very best Bond films. I have no doubts that Mendes wouldn’t have returned if the story, the characters and the scripts weren’t up to the kinds of standards set by Skyfall! With that expect an even more blatant blend of Bond from the classic to the contemporary. Judging by clips and the vibe emanating from Bond HQ, this feels like a greatest hits of Bond brought to life. Roll on the 26th.

Meanwhile, until Monday you can get your cinematic fix with the following offerings ….

Last Witch Hunter, The (12A)

Vin Diesel is your man … yes he is, especially when he’s a witch hunter and (judging by the 25% tomato meter rating) at the time of writing, it’s going down a storm with the critics. There are forces in our world intent on unleashing the Black Death on the world. Vin Diesel plays Kaulder, a warrior who have for centuries gone after ‘rogue witches’, including the Queen Witch (who Kaulder had slain) but who comes back to life to seek revenge leading to a big  battle that will determine the survival of the human race. Clearly channelling a sort of Game of Thrones vibe, albeit with a slightly more family friendly nature, the only reason I’d possible watch this is for Vin Diesel, who amidst the absurdity and bad CGI, is often a likeable presence although you do have to question his judgement between good and bad films. I suspect you’ll need to have a certain tolerance for the things that are ‘cheesy’ in this film to get something meaningful out of it.

Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension 3D (15)

I’m not sure how many Paranormal Activity films there have been so far! I’ve lost count … rumour has it, it’s the fifth. It feels like the 20th. Anyhow, the producers of this film clearly think there’s mileage left in the live/found footage jump-athon style. Cast your mind back to the original Paranormal Activity - this was at a time when found footage type films were still a little bit novel, basking in the glory of The Blair Witch Project. Indeed, I vaguely remember Paranormal Activity being rather effective too and with a few really good jumpy bits. Now, I begin to believe you get more jumps from guys doing “found footage” inspired clips on YouTube and therein lies, for me, a slight issue with the genre. It’s nothing that anyone really goes wow about in an age where we are daily exposed to the live capture of video clips of all sorts of craziness, scary or otherwise, everyday by the usual social media changes.

Sadly, I fear that this entry might only be derivative as a result and the trailer hasn’t given me any other impression.

Mississippi Grind (15)

Outside of Spectre, this week’s other most interesting looking film could be this intriguing slice of Southernness (US style that is) - part road movie, part film about addiction. Beneath the obvious trappings that both genres can fall into, this appears to have captured the imaginations of critics Stateside, garnering glowing reviews and praise for the lead performances of Reynolds and Mendelssohn! In the past few years, there have been quite a few gambling movies which have hit the mainstream but have failed to really tell me anything gripping or provide characters to care about. I’d hope in this case that the film has a level of watchable addiction, at least on a par to the addictions that the film covers. Even if the film is no more than a trip in nostalgia to great gambling flicks like The Gambler, the critics have indicated it’s far better than many of the recent attempts to capture that spirit.

Paper Planes (U)

This lovely sounding Australian film is a children's film about a young Australian boy's passion for flight and his challenge to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. Clearly arriving in time for half term, I’m intrigued to see a kids film that has a ‘real world’ situation, once that for once isn’t an animation or a fantasy or a film rife in commercial tie-ins. Wishing the film every success over half term and for a few weeks beyond!

Mia Madre (15)

Showing from Friday 23rd to Monday 26th October at the mac, this is a chance to see Nanni Moretti’s well-received exercise in ‘meta’ film making, exploring all sorts of issues such as familial loss, ageing, gender roles and the process of filmmaking itself. Fundamentally, it’s a very filmic exploration of what it is to be human.

Pasolini (18)

Also showing at the mac next week, don’t miss out on Willem Dafoe’s performance as 70s filmmaker Pasolini. Directed by the great Abel Ferrara, expect a film awash with style and a clear intrigue in the complexities of Pasolini as a person.

That’s it from me this week. I’m off to make a coffee, neither shaken nor stirred. As always, any queries or quibbles can be directed to me on twitter @timmy666.

Have a great week at the cinema!

#AtTheFlix @BrumFaves

Birmingham Trail: The Spooky Trail

Birmingham is a brilliant city. It caters for the most diverse of tastes and softens the stoniest of cynics. There really is something for everyone. Our resident trail finder, Gemma Corden, is here to prove it. Challenge her if you dare.

The Spooky Trail

Ideal for: Goths

Avoid if: Your friends tell you your 'sensitive'

Bring // Youll need: A Proton Pack and Ecto-Goggles

Terrain: Involves graveyard loitering and an overnight stay (...not in the graveyard)

The start: Ghost Walk/s

It's Friday night, what better to do than head to the nearest dead people? Midlands Discovery Tours run a Graveyard Ghost Walk, taking in four different graveyards in one night (if that's what you're into) and includes a trip to the infamous catacombs in the Jewellery Quarter. Yikes. There's also the Birmingham Sinister City Walk, which takes you on an alternative tour through the heart of the Victorian city. Plague! Execution! Yay! The best bit is when you visit a haunted pub at the end. More info: Midlands Discovery Tours

City centre

Graveyard Ghost Walk - 7.00pm first Friday of the month Feb to Dec

Sinister City Ghost Walk - 7.00pm third Friday of the month Jan to Oct

The middle bit: Depending on the time of year you've got three truly terrifying options here, all of which happen annually:

In July you can get that gore-soaked horror itch well and truly scratched when The Electric Cinema's Shock and Gore Festival comes alive. There are horror and fantasy films old and new alongside live scores, Q&As and a legendary all-nighter. Expect controversy and spine tingles. More info: Shock and Gore

You find yourself out and about in the city centre one August weekend. Something isn't quite right. Ah yes, that's it - ZOMBIES! Everywhere!! But don't panic - all this carnage raises money for Birmingham's Children's Hospital (and clearly, what those kiddies are going through is the scariest thing on this list). Fake blood at the ready!

If you're one of those people for whom fancy dress is not a painful experience, and becoming a zombie has merely whet your appetite, then get yourself on the Big Brum Buz in October for their Halloween Ghost Bus Tour. Take in the darker side of Birmingham from the open top roof (make sure to wrap up warm!) of this old bus, driven by a very shady character indeed. Expect an amalgamation of the two walks introduced above, only with less walking... More info: Birmingham Tours

The end: The Tunnel Club

Why not round the adventure off with some frighteningly cheap spirits at this atmospheric rock metal club, housed under a railway arch. Warning: there will be a lot of Metallica t shirts.

Livery Street, City Centre B3 1HL The Tunnel Club Every Saturday night, 10pm-4am

Tips: If you can't get enough of the haunted stuff then you might want to spend a night at The Station Hotel, Dudley. Your classic murdered-servant-girl-shoved-in-a-barrel stories abound. Head to room 214... More info: The Station Hotel

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for…? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!

Words by Gemma Corden – writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


Birmingham Trail: Get Your Skates On Challenge

Birmingham is a brilliant city. It caters for the most diverse of tastes and softens the stoniest of cynics. There really is something for everyone. Our resident trail finder, Gemma Corden, is here to prove it. Challenge her if you dare.

The Get Your Skates On Trail

Ideal for: petrol heads and wannabe Torvils or Deans

Avoid if: you're really boring

Bring // Youll need: a sense of humour. Leave your pride at home

Terrain: tracks and bones...yes, bones

The start: Roller Disco at The Tower Ballroom

If, like me, you'll always have a place in your heart for Pontins holiday camps then the Tower Ballroom should offer a welcome slice of nostalgia. This mad old place overlooking the gorgeous Edgbaston Reservoir began life as a roller skating rink before transforming into a ballroom. Aptly, they now hold a Roller Disco twice a month. Expect 70s and 80s cheese and hair-raising bathroom trips in this mildly terrifying night out.

Reservoir Road, Edgbaston

1st and 3rd Friday of every month 8pm-1am. £15 (or £10 if you bring your own skates)

The number 80 bus stops nearby (a 7-minute walk), boarding at Smallbrook Queensway in the city centre and alighting at Osler Street. You'll need a taxi on the way back.

The middle bit: Go Karting at Teamsport, Oldbury

After a character building night on the skates you should be feeling suitably brave come Saturday morning, and with 1000 metres of track and 13 corners (unlucky for some) Teamsport indoor go karting is the perfect hangover cure.

Get up in the race-wear provided (the best bit) and channel your inner Sebastian Vettel in petrol karts on a multi-level track that includes a rather daunting flyover. There's a spectator area for the speed-averse and a bar in which to build some Dutch courage. Book in advance.

Unit 7-10 Park Lane Industrial Estate, Oldbury

The nearest train station is Langley Green -15 mins from Birmingham Moor Street station.

The end: Le Monde Fish Restaurant

Like being in a market only much, MUCH posher, this place has a fish counter to die for. Take your time to peruse and, in light of this trail's theme, I heartily recommend the skate... A word of warning, all fish dishes are served a la plancha (cooked on a griddle to you and I) and the result if pesky fish bones. You might want to take them up on their offer of filleting the whole fish for you at the table. For the especially brave, they're big on oysters here.

Brindley Place, city centre. Approximately a 20-min walk from Moor Street station


If your skate-legs are a little dusty, Birmingham Wheels Roller Speed Club do roller skating lessons on Saturdays.

Lunch at Le Monde is a great deal at £12.50 for two courses.

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for...? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!

Words by Gemma Corden - writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


Photos kindly supplied by the venues.

The Big Hoot 2015 - For Little & Big Kids Alike

This year, is the Year of the Sheep (or Goat) - but it would seem someone forgot to tell Birmingham - as in Birmingham, it appears to be the Year of the Owl.

Not just one owl either, 89 giant owls which have been dotted around Birmingham (with one being slightly further afield at Twycross Zoo) - from outside the new library to Gracechurch in Sutton Coldfield, and from Ward End Park to Kings Heath.

Each of the 89 giant owls have been individually created by artists from Birmingham and beyond, whilst many schools and local community groups have had a hand in designing the small owls which have also been dotted around Birmingham. And every single one of the owls which landed in Birmingham on July 20th and fly off again on September 27th are part of The Big Hoot 2015.

What is The Big Hoot 2015:

The Big Hoot 2015 has been presented by creative producers Wild in Art who are working in partnership with Birmingham Children's Hospital to create a trail of fantastically designed owls, each with their own individual QR codes which provide more information about the owls and their creators, along with offering some special awards.

The aim of The Big Hoot 2015, along with providing beautiful owl sculptures in various locations throughout Birmingham which people can explore at their own leisure, is to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - and more information can be found here.

It's Not Just For Little Kids:

By now, if you've been anywhere in or around Birmingham you will have seen groups of people around the owls, having their pictures taken next to them - something which I like to refer to as an "owlfie" - or bending down at peculiar angles to read information available.

And the owl spotting as part of The Big Hoot 2015 isn't just for little kids either, big kids (aka mums, dads, aunts, uncles & grandparents) can and should get involved too....and this is from experience.

During the August Bank Holiday weekend, armed with The Big Hoot 2015 app (which I highly recommend you download if you're off owl spotting), the car - myself and my fiancée set off with the task of finding all 89 owls as quickly as we could. Once we found each owl, one of us would scan the QR code using The Big Hoot app, whilst the other took a picture - we even took a few "owlfies".

For the early stages of the owl spotting it was fairly relaxed, and we saw lots of other families also taking part - everyone was friendly, waiting their turn to scan the code or take a picture. Strangers who'd never met each other had quick conversations about their favourite owls so far or pointed out where some of the trickier to spot owls were.

We were making great strides into spotting all 89 too, with our plan being to start on Broad Street/Brindley Place, and work our way through the City Centre and down to Digbeth.

As the day wore on, more conversations with people we'd never met and more owl spotting took place. By this time, I'd learnt that Dr Whoot (in Snow Hill) was one of the more popular owls, not only within the City Centre but out of all 89 too - and then before we knew it, all owls located in the City Centre/Jewellery Quarter had been spotted, scanned and photo taken.

A quick check of the inbuilt map on the app and a plan was formed to drive to Kings Heath, Handsworth and Perry Barr to spot the owls there, before heading home and finding those at Fort Dunlop.

By the end of Day 1, we had made great in-roads into spotting as many owls as possible, although we were hindered slightly as we arrived at Soho House after the gates had locked so couldn't scan the owl.

Undeterred and adamant to find all 89 owls, we made a plan of action for the following day - which would involve driving to Twycross Zoo first to find the owl there, before heading back to Soho House to scan the owl we were unable to get to the night before.

We still had to find the owls in Sutton Coldfield, Blakesley Hall, Aston, Nechells and Erdington - and despite the rain, we knew we could do it.

It may have become tiring come the last couple of owls (this may also have something to do with walking over 10 miles on day 1), we may have got very wet due to the rain and we may have got a little lost coming out of Twycross Zoo...BUT we scanned all 89 owls, with the last one being Love Owl situated at Moore Hall - and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to do.

Finding all 89 owls also felt somewhat rewarding - and it paid off, as Satnam Rana of BBC news fame, contacted me via Twitter to see if I would meet her to discuss our owl spotting adventures. Whilst I wasn't able to, my fiancée did and featured on the news.

Honestly, if you have time to spot the owls go and do it. I'm not saying go crazy and spot all 89 in 2 days, nor am I saying you'll get on the news - but you will have a great time and you will see some great artwork which highlights how great Birmingham is.

The Big Hoot 2015 is more than the owls though, it's about seeing parts of Birmingham you wouldn't necessarily see or visit - places until I started the owl hunt I knew existed, such as Soho House and Sheldon Country Park.

But it's even more than that still. It's about charity, and helping Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - whether this be by taking part in the auction to buy one of the owls after September 27th 2015 or by texting HOOT to 70099 to donate £2 today to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.

Happy Owl Spotting!

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief owl spotter.

#TheBigHoot2015 @BrumFaves

50 Fascinating Facts about Birmingham

We are mightily grateful to Keith Bracey, local history buff for putting this stunning and informative feature together.  This is part two - please see part one here.

26. PENS

In 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.


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, 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 250,000 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.

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, to make the cars so they could be sold to the public.

  1. GUNS

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.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.


The incredibly prolific author of romantic novels was born in Edgbaston in Birmingham. She wrote hundreds of books, mostly of the romantic fiction variety.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

  1. 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’.

Words and photos supplied by Keith Bracey,  Birmingham History Buff.

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu

The Birmingham Trail: Sweet Tooth Trail Challenge

Birmingham is a brilliant city. It caters for the most diverse of tastes and softens the stoniest of cynics. There really is something for everyone. Our resident trail finder, Gemma Corden, is here to prove it. Challenge her if you dare.

The Sweet Tooth Trail

Ideal for: sugar addicts and old fairground enthusiasts (that must be a thing)

Avoid if: you’re a dentist-phobe

Bring // Youll need: a bus / train ticket. And Listerine.

Terrain: there will be (sugar) highs and lows

The start: The Black Country Living Museum

‘Why are we trekking out to Dudley?’ your companions may rightly ask. ‘I thought we’d be going to Cadbury World?’ It’s simple – Cadbury World doesn’t have the Brooklyn Cakewalk. Possibly the best fairground ride known to man - certainly the most underrated - the concept is deliciously simple and so much harder (and more fun) than it sounds. You have to walk from one end of a gangway to another...only the whole thing is furiously rattling. Nothing beats watching your Dad attempting to walk the plank, vibrating like he's been plugged into the mains. You'll be buzzing afterwards. Literally. Those Victorians knew how to let loose (the ride dates back to 1910).

Tipton Road, Dudley DY1 4SQ

Open daily, 10am-5pm

Take the train from Birmingham New Street Station (or, when it sheds its caterpillar status, Grand Central...) to Tipton. One mile walk to the museum.

The middle bit: Chitty’s Cake Classes – The Custard Factory, Digbeth

Who doesn't love sugarcraft? It seems as though we just can't get enough of cupcakes these days, luckily Chitty's Cakes are on hand to ensure our bakes don't disappoint. They have a teaching studio in, appropriately, the Custard Factory where they offer a whole host of classes in baking and decoration, all of which are suitable for beginners. There are short classes on a Saturday afternoon - best get practising as The Bake Off gets into full swing...

Studio 417-418, Scott House, Custard Factory B9 4AA

Classes run throughout the week

The Custard Factory is a short-ish walk (approx 15 mins) from New Street Station.

The end: The Jekyll and Hyde

You’ll probably never want to set eyes on icing again again. Time for a stiff drink – why not slump from your sugar comedown in a darkened room, fortified by a cocktail from the Jekyll and Hyde's Confectionary Corner. Lemon Bon Bon, anyone? Strawberry Laces? Make mine a Jelly Babies.

28 Steelhouse Lane, City Centre B4 6BJ

Open Mon - Sun, til late

The pub is another short-ish walk (20 mins) from the Custard Factory


While you’re in the Custard Factory it’s worth stopping by McTunneys Sweet Emporium. There’s 40 different lollipop flavours. Yes – 40.

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for...? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge.

Words by Gemma Corden - writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


Photos kindly supplied by the venues.


Birmingham -The Home of Lawn Tennis: The Birmingham Lawn Tennis Trail


1) 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston

Birmingham is ‘The Home of Lawn Tennis’ with the first ever game of Lawn Tennis being played in 1859 at ‘Fairlight’, 8 Ampton Road in Edgbaston. It was then home of Spanish Merchant Augurio Perera and he and his friend Major Harry Gem, Clerk to Birmingham Magistrates played rackets at the Bath Street Rackets Club in Birmingham 

In 1859, Gem and Perera wanted to play a rackets game outdoors and marked out a court on the lawn at ‘Fairlight’. The dimensions of a modern lawn tennis court roughly correspond to those of the back garden of 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston which would be our first stopping off point on the ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’.

2)  Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club, Sir Harry’s Road, Edgbaston

The next place of interest on the ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’ would be the Edgbaston Priory Lawn Tennis Club in Sir Harry’s Road. Edgbaston Priory is home to the important pre – Wimbledon Ladies Tennis Tournament: ‘The AEGON Classic’.

In honour of another hugely important and significant Birmingham tennis figure, the Centre Court at Edgbaston Priory is named after the 1969 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion Ann Jones, who at one time lived in Edgbaston. Ann Jones has devoted a lifetime of service to the game of tennis, firstly as a Warwickshire County Player, then as an international player representing Great Britain in The Federation Cup and as a British Wimbledon Champion and latterly as an official with the Women’s Tennis Association. Interestingly Ann Jones was a World Champion Ladies Table Tennis player as a teenager before turning to outdoor tennis.

3) University of Birmingham Tennis Courts Halls of Residence, Edgbaston Park Road

The ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’ then moves down through Edgbaston, past Edgbaston Golf Club, whose imposing clubhouse was once home to ‘Lunar Society’ member Dr William Withering, who invented the heart drug Digitalis. We turn left down Edgbaston Park Road which takes us to the University of Birmingham ‘Tennis Courts’ halls of residence. It was here that the Edgbaston Lawn Tennis Club was located until the mid 1960’s, when it joined with The Priory Lawn Tennis Club to become the Edgbaston Priory Club in Sir Harry’s Road.

The University of Birmingham kept the shale courts for a while and it was on one of these that Black Country photographer Martin Elliott, who sadly is no longer with us, shot the photograph which became the iconic 1970’s Athena poster: ‘The Tennis Girl’. The model who posed for this shot was also local hailing from Stourbridge in The Black Country, and is now a grandmother!

4) Edgbaston Archery & Lawn Tennis Society, Westbourne Road, Edgbaston

Back via Church Road and past St George’s Church and Edgbaston High School for Girls and down Westbourne Road to the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society (E.A.L.T.S.)

E.A.L.T.S. is the oldest existing lawn tennis club in the world. The society’s six grass courts occupy the same piece of ground where the original courts were laid down in the early 1870’s. Therefore this patch of land holds the distinction of being the oldest lawn tennis playing surface still in regular use anywhere in the world pre-dating the All England Club at Wimbledon by 3 weeks.

5) The Oratory Church, Hagley Road, Edgbaston

The ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’ then moves up the hill to the traffic junction named ‘The Ivy Bush’ after the public house on the corner of Hagley Road and Monument Road, near to Tolkien’s ‘Two Towers’ in  Waterworks Road, Perrott’s Folly and the Waterworks Tower.

The Birmingham Oratory just along Hagley Road in Edgbaston was at one time home to the first Olympic Lawn Tennis Champion: John Pius Boland. The son of a Dublin baker, whose Boland’s Biscuits still retail in Ireland, John Pius Boland attended The Oratory School as an orphan in Birmingham, where he played cricket and lawn tennis.

John Pius Boland’s adoptive parents taught him to play lawn tennis and his tennis skills were honed by the coaching of Father Pereira at The Oratory School in Birmingham. Boland then attended Christ Church College, Oxford. In 1894 Boland invited a Greek acquaintance: Konstantinos Manos to speak at The Oxford Union on “The Revival of the Modern Olympic Games”. Boland and Manos became close friends and Boland was invited to spend the Easter holidays of 1896 in Athens.

It appears that John Boland had no intention of competing in the first Olympic Games in Athens however his host, who was a member of the Olympic Organizing Committee, prevailed upon the 26 year-old Irishman to enter the Olympic Lawn Tennis Tournament.

Boland won two Olympic Gold Medals. He took the singles title by beating Egypt’s Dionysios Kasdaglis in three sets and then joined German Friedrich Traun to win the Men’s Doubles Title.
Andy Murray at London 2012 was not the first Olympic Tennis Men’s Singles Champion from these islands. The ‘Roll of Honour’ was begun by John Pius Boland in Athens in 1896 and was followed in Paris in 1900 by Laurence Doherty and in London 1908 by Josiah Ritchie.

John Pius Boland became a noted Irish Nationalist politician until defeat at the 1918 Irish General Election when he retired from politics and moved to London to become Director of the Catholic Teaching Society.

Another Birmingham tennis link is the fact that the noted Bishop of Birmingham, Alfred Gore whose statue stands in St Philip’s Cathedral grounds, was the brother of the very first Wimbledon Men’s Singles Champion from 1872: Spencer Gore.

By Keith Bracey, Originator of ‘The Birmingham Tennis Trail’ and Birmingham History Buff

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu