Friday, May 23, 2008

A New Job for Digby Jones: Selling Birmingham

When I was driving to Birmingham last night I realised it was only the sixth time I had ever been to Britain's second city - two of those visits were to Villa Park, one to the Eurovision Song Contest, one was to attend an interview at Aston University and another with David Davis during the Tory leadership contest.

Birmingham just doesn't come across as Britain's second city. It has none of the self confidence of Manchester or Liverpool, and no one singing its praises. I asked a few friends to name me one famous person from Birmingham. Jasper Carrot was the name most mentioned, Deadly Doug Ellis came second, and Meg Mortimer from the late lamented Crossroads Motel even got a mention. Not exactly top notch names.

The event I was speaking at was organised by Harvey Ingram, a Leicester based law firm which has recently opened a new office in Birmingham. They've built up a thriving practice in a very short time and obviously see Birmingham as the place to be. For those of us who live and work in London we just don't notice what is going on in Birmingham in the way that we seem to know what's happening in other cities around Britain. I'm sure I am not alone in thinking that.

I suggested to the audience that they needed a high profile champion to shout about Birmingham's achievements and oppotunities from the rooftops. Maybe they need a proper mayor. Much of the audience (made up of lawyers and business people) seemed to agree. And the name they suggested was Digby Jones.

Lord Jones may well be looking for a new job soon. Birmingham could certainly do worse than invite him to become Birmingham's ambassador to the rest of the country and the world.

Footnote: When I arrived last night I was horrified to discover the dinner was a black tie event. No one had told me. Cue a quick jaunt to the local House of Fraser. Thank God for late night opening!


Anonymous said...

Are you a Eurovision fan, Iain? Please don't tell me you like Sweden's entry this year. Me - I like Spain.

Anonymous said...

UB40, Led Zepellin, ELO...Tolkien's Shire...

Anonymous said...

I agree Iain, Birmingham has always seemed to me to be a 'nothing' place, lacking the icons and images of other cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle et al. (wether it be people, buildings, music etc)

I'm pretty sure I've only been there once as well, for a job interview (actually, two I remember)... I can't really tell you anything about the place.

kinglear said...

As you say, Birmingham lacks confidence - almost certainly because its football teams are rubbish - but under Martin o'Neill you will be astonished what will happen to Aston Villa.
ps - I was born ( by mistake) in Birmingham in Loveday Street. They've knocked it down now.

Anonymous said...

Digby Jones is the last person they need. His name is forever associated with that of Gordon Brown.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite fond of Birmingham actually. Lived in Moseley for a few years. I couldn't fathom, when I visited London, why they saw their poxy little slums in squalid ghettoes as "cottages" in "Kentish Town village".

Famous Brummies? Slade, UB40, the Beat, Tony Hayward of BP.

I'm surprised it's not more of a gay Mecca considering it has both what it calls "boulevards" and a suburb called Bournville!

Anonymous said...

Birmingham has a huge amount of self confidence- it just doesn't need to shout about it:
test match cricket
2 premiership football teams
2 world class concert venues (symphony hall and the newly reopened Town Hall)- which is at least 1, if not 2, more than London!
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
Birmingham Royal Ballet

Famous Brummies (off the top of my head):

JRR Tolkien
Jonathan Coe
Enoch Powell MP
David Willetts MP
Sir Alan Hazlehurst MP
John Hemming MP
Field Martial Slim
Bill Oddie
Ken Tynan
Sir Francis Galton
Sir Dudley Docker MP
Peter Jackson (England Rugby)
Alan Smith (England Cricket)
David Hill (Campbell's replacement at No 10.

And all of those were produced by the same school....

Anonymous said...

Much though it'll irk a Little Englander such as yourself Iain, Glasgow was regarded historically as the second city of the empire, and is easily Britain's third city nowadays ahead of either Manchester ("me, I'm 5'6" and want everyone to know about it, I am!") and, ahem, Liverpool (which could more credibly claim to be Ireland's second city, or maybe third if you go so far as to regard London as the largest Irish city!).


Anonymous said...

P.S. What is it with Digby Jones and lost causes? First the Merchants of Death (aka fighting for Big Tobacco's right to poison kids), then the Labour Party (Arise Sir Digby!) and now Birmingham. When will Digby back a winner?

Tapestry said...

How about Gisela Stuart MP Edgbaston winning the Labour Party leadership?

The three who've attacked Brown openly today are all from the 29 rebels who backed the Lisbon referendum amendment. McDonnell, Stringer and Simpson. Just a few more to have a go and it's a battle between the eurosceptic wing of Labour to seize control of the Party from the europhiles.

Gisela would make a good leader I would think.

Chris Paul said...

Birmingham isn't really second city by any stretch of the imagination ... it just has a much more extensive incorporation through a quirk of history than say Manchester which has its nine satellites totalling some 2M or so. Plus another couple of million in wider journey to work area.

There are more famous and importanmt Brummies - including industrialists e.g. in the Lunar Society which has a latter day revival.

Ozzie Osborne would be a more amusing choice as mayor that Lord Jones. The listing of notable Brummies omits Steel Pulse, Musical Youth, two tone acts from the city region, Benjamin Zephaniah, and though it has UB40 it is pretty ethnocentric. Asian-led popsters Cornershop are a near miss with leader born and bred in Wolverhampton.

More Music data.

Digby Jones? Jasper Carrott? My arse!

John Pickworth said...

I echo your sentiments Iain... Birmingham is a really nice city (somewhere I've visited often) and they've done much to improve the city centre over the years.

There is a life and a vibrancy about the place, especially the nightlife but it is also prone to being too introspective. Its not so much we don't notice Birmingham but that they don't notice the rest of us. Strangely, they seem so disconnected from us, almost island like. Manchester by contrast is aware of the rest of Lancashire, of Liverpool or Leeds and they certainly see themselves as a second city (in the UK context).

A mayor for Birmingham would indeed be a good idea.

Iain, I thought all you Toffs had a spare top hat and tails, black tie and hunting jacket packed away in the boot of the car? Are you sure you're a conservative? ;-)

Oh Eurovision? You know, your 'coolness index' has just crashed alarmingly!

Gareth said...

" A New Job for Digby Jones: Selling Birmingham"

I'll start the bidding at £50

Anonymous said...

I lived in Birmingham for many years. Digby Jones is one of those motor-mouths who can be relied upon to say very strong things at a moment's notice. His hobby horses include making Britain into a "model labour market", "like China" and "ending unions". All very odd then that he has been a NuLab minister - I guess by flattering him, Iain is working to some agreed plan with CCO to recruit him. You are very welcome to him!

As for famous residents of Brum, I would refer you to the following few examples. Perhaps you've heard of some of them, even though you're from Essex?

Sir Michael Balcon --- (Film Director)
Alfred Bird - (Inventor of custard powder)
Matthew Boulton --- (Pioneering industrialist and member of the Lunar Society)
Geezer Butler --- bassist of (Black Sabbath)
John Cadbury --- (Founder of the Cadbury chocolate company)
Ali Campbell and Robin Campbell --- (Music band UB40)
Barbara Cartland --- (Novelist)
Jasper Carrott --- (Comedian)
Austen Chamberlain --- (Politician)
Neville Chamberlain --- (Former Prime Minister)
Lisa Clayton --- (Solo yachtswoman)
Cat Deeley --- (Television Presenter)
Oscar Deutsch --- (Founder of the Odeon Cinemas chain)
Frederick Roland Emett --- (Cartoonist, artist and kinetic sculptor)
Trevor Eve --- (Actor)
Sir Francis Galton --- (Scientist, founder of eugenics)
Roland Gift --- (Actor and musician - Fine Young Cannibals)
Mark "Barney" Greenway ---(Musician - Napalm Death)
Rob Halford --- (Musician - Judas Priest)
Tony Hancock --- (Comedian and actor)
Tony Iommi --- (Musician - Black Sabbath)
Jamelia --- (R&B singer)
Seth Johnson --- (Sportsman Derby Footballer)
Ann Jones --- (Tennis player)
Sir Digby Jones --- (Director-General of the CBI)
Edward Burne-Jones -- (Pre-Raphaelite painter)
Albert William Ketèlbey --- (Composer)
Frederick William Lanchester --- (builder, with his brother, of the first petrol-driven car in Britain)
Jeff Lynne --- (Founder of the Electric Light Orchestra)
Nigel Mansell --- (Sportsman- F1 Motorsport Driver)
Nick Mason --- (Musician - Pink Floyd)
James McFall --- (Musician - Lounge Around IX)
Christine McVie --- (Musician - Fleetwood Mac)
Shazia Mirza --- (Comedian)
Alan Napier --- (cousin of Neville Chamberlain, great-great grandson of Charles Dickens, acted in Orson Welles Macbeth, MGM's Julius Caesar and Joan of Arc, he is better known as Bruce Wayne's faithful butler Alfred in Batman)
Henry Vollam Morton --- (Journalist and travel writer)
Constance Naden --- (Poet & Philosopher)
Ernest Willmott Norton, --- (Cricketer)
Ozzy Osbourne --- (Musician - Black Sabbath, TV star)
Carl Palmer --- (Musician - Emerson Lake and Palmer)
Alexander Parkes --- (Inventor of the first thermoplastic and celluloids)
Dave Pegg --- (Musician - Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull)
Enoch Powell --- (Politician, poet and classical scholar)
Michael Pinder --- (Musician - Moody Blues)
Alfred Radcliffe-Brown --- (anthropologist)
Nick Rhodes --- (Musician - Duran Duran)
Pat Roach --- (Actor and wrestler)
Sax Rohmer (Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward) --- (novelist - Fu Manchu)
Gary Shaw --- (footballer)
1st Viscount Slim of Yarralumla and Bishopston --- (British Military Commander)
Andrew Symonds --- (Famous cricketer now playing in Australia)
John Taylor --- (Musician - Duran Duran)
Roger Taylor --- (Musician - Duran Duran)
Will Thorne --- (Trade union leader and Labour MP)
Charlie Timmins ---(Former Coventry City Football Club Captain)
Murray Walker --- (Racing driver and commentator)
Bill Ward --- drummer of (Black Sabbath)
Bill Watkins --- author now living in the USA.
Brooke Foss Westcott --- (Theologian and Bishop of Durham)
Willard Wigan --- (Sculptor)
Toyah Willcox --- (Singer, actress and television presenter)
Steve Winwood --- (Musician)
Benjamin Zephaniah --- (Poet)

Anonymous said...

Chris Paul, you are talking rubbish. Try looking into it in some depth, as for example people have (exhausitively) on the Wikipedia - Britain's Second City article. The population totals for Manchester are very close (within statistical margins of error) for all conurbation totals drawn in different standard ways. But in strict local authority boundary definitions, Birmingham is much bigger than Manchester.

There is a lot of history here - Londoners have "heard" of Manchester because it had a strong regional media for a long time with separate national papers, etc, in a way that Birmingham did not because it was "near" London.

This anti-Birmingham prejudice in the corridors of power in London has been maintained into recent decades with, for example, much more investment being ploughed into either the North-West or London. The classic example is the new nationals stadium, which should have course (and would in a a rationally-run country) have been located near the M6/M42 junction in the West Midlands at the transport centre of the UK.

Parliament should be relocated to York and all London privileges, for example, massive subsidies to London upper-class arts and culture, terminated.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite fond of Birmingham actually. Lived in Moseley for a few years.

So did I. A great place to be in the early 1990s. I think the MSM is more to blame for the city's apparent low standing in people's minds. This is hardly surprising as MSM = London, and Londoners live in a world of their own.

I think a Mayor for Brum is an excellent idea, and could go a long way in solving this problem. Any chance of that becoming Conservative policy?

Unknown said...

That's because it isn't Britain's second city.

Edinburgh is.

Unsworth said...

If Jones is selling Birmingham I can't afford it this week - my Giro hasn't gone in yet. If he could hold off until next week I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.

The again, maybe the Saudis would like to snap it up - what with the increased oil revenues it must be in their price bracket.

Mind you, it should only be sold as long as the buyer promises to take it all away and sweep up afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Digby Jones? Stuff him!

"horrified to discover the dinner was a black tie event." -- you could have said you learned your manners from Gordon Brown.

Birmingham? Well it gives me an opportunity to tell my only joke ... "If you dropped an atom bomb on Wednesbury it would do £5 worth of damage.

I have just had another horrible thought, Brown as PM would be entitled to a peerage when he is sacked oops sorry retires.

Anonymous said...

Iain, it's a great city where the quality of life in fantastic.
But lets keep this our little secret. Fortunately there's a little blind spot which aflicts many, usually Londoners. I had a friend working up here for a few weeks and she insisted on buying her engagement ring from Hatton Garden... I tried to explain she'd get a much better deal in the Jewellery Quarter but she wouldn't listen.
Perhaps the best thing about Brum is just how well it's managed intergrating such diverse people so well.

Anonymous said...

Er, as a Brummie now resident in the Metropolis I will thank you not to slag off Britain's second city (especially given as it's full of marginals: I expect Gisela Stuart's next leaflet will have this post in it). Just because we aren't as brash and loud as the grim North does not mean we shouldn't have our rightful place.

Plus Brum has the Tory conference this year, and you don't want to get duffed up down a dark alley in Nechells for this post.

Plus you've given that ---- Chris Paul a handle, very well done, but don't do it again.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Iain. Has anyone seriously pushed the idea of a referendum in Birmingham to see if they want a Mayor? Seems like a very good idea to me.

Digby Jones would certainly be an interesting candidate. If he stood as an Independent, he might find himself in the unique position of having Tory support and Labour support (well, I doubt they would really support him but how could Brown oppose him).

Praguetory said...

Lots of interesting contributions here. As a Brummie from Moseley who used to work in the Prince of Wales in the early 90s it is interesting to see how many contributors have lived there.

Moseley is quite a political place. Despite the fact that we are fourth in the local elections across the new Hall Green constituency we still have 200 or so members.

Brum would be more well known if it wasn't for some unfortunate oversights. Many people have mentioned our unique musical heritage - if we had a music museum it would attract enthusiasts worldwide.

Re literature think of Shakespeare's Stratford and then consider Tolkein's Birmingham. I live a stone's throw from the cottage where Tolkein grew up (and drew the inspiration for his books), but the building doesn't even have a plaque. There are embryonic attempts to make more of the Tolkein brand, but apparently his family is a bit of a roadblock.

The Jewellery Quarter is unique and the council has recently applied for it to receive Unesco World Heritage Site status and Cadbury's factory and surrounding estate is a superb example of civic heritage.

As you can see, I could go on. Comparisons with the educational slum, suicide and street crime hotspot that is Manchester are laughable.

Praguetory said...

Oh and forget the Mayor idea. We've got 49 elected Conservative councillors. The last thing we need is another layer of bureaucracy/alternative power base. We've seen what happened to council bills in London since 2000.

Anonymous said...

Iain, I'm in the market for buying up Birmingham and my final offer is £152.00 (+VAT).

But if Sandwell is part of the deal,my offer is £0.27p all in.

This going to make Bob Piper very angry indeed.

strapworld said...

Gosh, are we that hardup we are now contemplating selling Birmingham? Who will buy this wonderful city which for as long as I can remember -too long I am afraid- it has been a building site!

Will the Barclay Brothers purchase it?
Will a rich Sheik? or Rusiian come to that!

I spent many happy hours working in Birmingham and commuting from Wolverhampton. Who will ever forget Marlene from Dudley?

Perhaps, Iain, you could organise a whip round!

Anonymous said...

Good things about Birmingham.

1] it's not Coventry
2] erm that's it.

Anonymous said...

Lot's have people have pushed for a referendum in Birmingham on the subject of an elected mayor but despite massive support from the local paper they couldn't get signatures of 5% of the electorate. The people of Brum do not need a mayor and we certainly want don't want one. Furthermore we couldn't give a toss what the rest of the country think about us. Brummies do not lack pride or confidence in our city we just don't feel the need to shout about it.

Anonymous said...

I am highly amused to read that Praguetory is a Brummie. (I guess Moseleytory doesn't have quite the same ring.)

I can cheer myself up when reading his short-sighted and tendentious posts if I can do so in a Brummie accent.

Armchair Sceptic said...

I don't agree that Birmingham, where I worked for 3 years, has no self-confidence. It is a prosperous, thriving and entrepreneurial city - all credit to the Conservative/LD administration that runs it.

As for Manchester and Liverpool, despite some regeneration, the dominance of Labour means that they are a shadow of their former glory.

Anonymous said...

Stuff the elected mayor idea..... it's a gimmick we don't need. Brum is a fantastic place, and doesn't need to jump up and down about it like Manchester and LiverpoolQ

Anonymous said...

As a Brummie from Moseley who used to work in the Prince of Wales in the early 90s

I was more of a Fighting Cocks and Malt Shovel man myself. Still, I was around the PoW for the spontanious snowball attack on the police station. Good times.

Anonymous said...

And yet for me, it somehow has the feel of a major city, with neither Liverpool or Manchester, nor Leeds or Newcastle do (and these are all places I have connections with and have a lot of affection for. My wife is, however, a Brummie...)

Maybe they need a major infrastructure project - sort out the tangle of motorways and expressways, dig some tunnels, create a tram or metro system: these always make a city seem grown up!

Anonymous said...

Bit disappointed you didn't warn me you were coming up to Brum, Iain! :)

Understanding that the city has identity problems, Birmingham's Tory council recently launched the (rather cumbersome) Big City Plan. See:

PoliticalHackUK said...

So nice to see the traditional Tories looking down on us in Birmingham. I'm only an adopted Brummie - unlike PragueTory, I chose to live here - but I love my city. I don't need to feel superior to anybody else.

As for a mayor - we don't need one for Birmingham. The recent pressure has arisen because the Tory/Liberal council is so bereft of competent leadership that people are getting desperate, but despite demands from Cameron and yourself - surely the royalty in the party - the local Conservative leadership just don't want to go there. Maybe they are scared of losing....

And if you've only been to our city six times, Iain, then that's your loss.

tory boys never grow up said...

Very unfair Birmingham has something for everyone - cannot do much better than Neville Chamberlain for all the useless Tories out there.

BTW who counts that they have been six times to a particular city - how sad is that.

Anonymous said...

If it's good enough for Kojak, eh Iain?

I'm just going to echo what many people on here have already saod - Birmingham doesn't need to boast like Liverpool or Manchester, it's a lovely place. As are the outlying areas.

As a Coventrian, I must say, however, that Two Tone music is from Coventry, not Brum. And further to what an anonymong put, Coventry is fast improving too - The Enemy (a popular beat trio some of you may have heard of!) have put us back on the map. And they're great lads too!

As well as Coventry, Birmingham isn't too far from Stratford which is a beautiful town, as is Warwick. On top of this we have some absoutely gorgeous countryside too.

The Midlands is shockingly overlooked, but maybe it's a blessing in disguise.

Anonymous said...

We're not talking about "famous Belgians" here! Birmingham has a huge number of distinguished people past and present. Nobody's mentioned David Lodge who, although from London, is synonymous with the place and its university ("Changing Places", Nice Work"), Louis Macneice taught in Brum, W. H. Auden grew up there, Cardinal Newman founded the Oratory, Gerard Manley Hopkins taught in Birmingham, Dr Johnson lived there for a while etc...

Anonymous said...

And if you want scientific achievment, the atomic bomb was invented at the University of Birmingham...

Anonymous said...

Birmingham. What a place.

It's got a branch of Selfridges that seems to be more expensive, and is certainly a whole lot more snotty, than the one in London. The rest of the shopping centre isn't bad (for those unfortunate enough to live any near the place) for a quick visit. But you need to make sure you leave town before nightfall otherwise you'll probably be knived. Though if you're lucky you may get a quick glimpse of the local peasantry stabbing each other - always fun.

As for the price, on this occasion I am amazed to find myself agreeing with 'Enemy of the People' Gary Elsby.

Anonymous said...

England's secound city.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 11.16am - prat - you want real knife crime (with an 'f'), try London.

Political Hack - Yeah, the city council is so bereft of competent leadership that it went from zero stars under Labour (with Social Services and Housing about to be taken over by the government) to 3 stars in less than 4 years under the Conservative/Lib Dem administration. For the avoidance of doubt, Political Hack (aka John O'Shea - he's outed himself) is a (perennial?) failed Labour candidate in Birmingham, and, to be open, I'm a Conservative Councillor.

At the recent Mayor-making, I did a straw poll of the table I was on - 3 (perhaps 4 - they didn't stop talking so I couldn't ask) were born in the city; 6 (perhaps 7) had moved into Birmingham over a period from the early 1960's to the mid-2000's. Most of the arrivals are, or have been, pretty successful businessmen or professionals.

For Birmingham to be attracting people of this (and higher) calibre, it's clearly doing something right - but maybe we locals (new and old) want to keep it a secret from London. Quality of life's pretty good too.


Anonymous said...

Where is Birmingham?

Anonymous said...

Let's have Digby Jones for London. Birmingham can have completely useless five-jobs Johnson.

Anonymous said...

I left Birmingham four years ago having lived there all my life. I was disgusted with how the city has changed into the dump it is now with all the ghettoes, shootings and stabbings. Best thing I ever did!

richie said...

Ralph Heaton was a pioneering man born in Birmingham because he was largely responsible for creating the Birmingham Mint. Furthermore Heaton's employees set up mints in Imperial China and in South America amongst other places. Heaton also patented a button-shank machine in 1794, one of the first to perform a whole series of consecutive operations without human intervention. 4 of his sons developed a steam-driven vehicle, and it was driven between West Bromwich and Birmingham in the 1830's. Clever Birmingham innovators!