I received this email from a colleague Keith Bracey. Never short of an opinion, Keith is a writer, broadcaster and avid historian of Birmingham.
I wondered why in your otherwise excellent examination of ‘incomers’ as I call them, rather than immigrants to the diverse City of Birmingham who made a great difference to our city, the Birmingham Jewish ‘Film Triumvirate’ of Sir Michael Balcon, Brummie Grammar Schoolboy and Birmingham and Britain’s first ‘Film Mogul’ who at one point worked for Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Victor Savile, who bankrolled Balcon and the eponymous Oscar Deutsche who founded the ODEON Cinema Chain in Birmingham in the 1930’s were not mentioned in History WM’s special edition on ‘Migration to the West Midlands’ and the effect that migration has had on our region, good (mostly) and bad………………..
All 3 film ‘movers and shakers’ could be found on a ride on the Inner Circle number 8 ‘Corporation Buzz’ in Birmingham’s inner city!
They are the reason Birmingham should set up a ‘Birmingham Film Trail’ with various stopping-off points in the City of Birmingham which as a city was almost single-handedly responsible for the world-wide film industry in the late nineteenth century with Brummie Alexander Parkes invention of the eponymously-named ‘Parkesine’ the first viable plastic in the City’s Jewellery Quarter in 1860, which led directly to the development of celluloid, also in the Jewellery Quarter and thence to the development of ‘film’ and the film industry.
Birmingham needs a ‘Birmingham Film Trail’ to highlight and showcase our cities film and cinematic roots which continue today with Sir Michael Balcon’s grandson, the excellent actor, possibly the best ever film actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, the record-breaking triple-Oscar for Best Actor winner.
The City of Birmingham is also home to the UK’s oldest existing cinema: ‘The Electric Cinema’ run by the excellent Tom Lawes which dates from 1909….and the oldest surviving ODEON Cinema which I think is ‘The Clifton’ in Perry Barr in North Birmingham.
l well recall the early 1970’s BBC TV Black and White TV Series ‘Gangsters’ set in Birmingham echoing ‘The Peaky Blinders’ with an understated lead actor Maurice Colbourne ( like a typical Brummie, modest to a fault!) playing the lead role opposite a Pakistani actor with the surname of Malik (I cannot recall his first name) as they prowled the ‘Mean and Moody Streets’ of Birmingham where the Clubs along and just off Broad Street were run by ‘characters’ like Martin Hone’s ‘Opposite Lock Club’ in Gas Street.
Martin Hone, a big car-racing fan, was the prime mover behind the ‘Birmingham Super Prix’ of the 1980’s.
I was a Freshman at Birmingham University in the mid 1970’s and well remember going to the Fewtrell’s ‘Barbarella’s’ in Sheepcote Street opposite the old Liberal Jewish Synagogue which is long gone.
Birmingham then in the 1970’s was a generally racially tolerant city with an undercurrent of racism and violence pervading the city.
I went to George Dixon Grammar School for Boys from 1969 until 1976 and in that time we had two fine young black men as our Head Boy, both incidentally, who went on to play and coach in top class Rugby Union: Rudi Smith, who I think was the first black schoolboy to play for England Under 18’s International Schools Rugby and Collin Osborne, who is the current Harlequins Rugby Skills Coach, whom I interviewed on my Rugby Union Show on Sports Radio Birmingham a couple of weeks ago.
Collin has coached and played rugby at an elite level with Harlequins and coached Zimbabwe in the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 1987.
As a former Academy Director of Harlequins Collin played a pivotal role in the development of current England Rugby Union Captain Chris Robshaw and England Internationals Full-Back Mike Brown, scrum-half Danny Care, and centre in his own image, Jordan Turner-Hall, a fine young black England international and centre as Collin Osborne was for Dixonians RFC (my Rugby Club) and Birmingham’s Premier Club Moseley RFC who currently play in the second tier of English Rugby, the IPA Greene King Championship, the tier below the AVIVA Premiership where Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints play.
People do not believe me when I tell them that Moseley Rugby Football Club was a bigger rugby club in Birmingham than either The Tigers or The Saints…….!!!!!!!
Other young black men in soccer like the ‘3 Degrees’ Regis Batson and Cunningham the WBA soccer players were those brave young men who changed the attitudes of Britain toward black people by their groundbreaking feats on the football field and beyond, in Batson’s case as a PFA Union Official
They ignored the throwing of bananas onto the pitch and other such vile acts of racism and played the game as it should be played with passion and heart and soul.
I am so glad that their efforts have been recognized with Sandwell Council and the Baggies erecting a statue in the centre of West Bromwich to these 3 pioneers who braved the ‘Monkey Chants’ from the so-called soccer gangs like the Blues ‘Zulu Warriors’ and West Ham’s ‘Inter-City Firm’ as portrayed in films like ‘This is England’.
Back in 1974 I went to see the Reggae star Jimmy Cliff’s Biopic ‘The Harder they Come’ at the ODEON New Street founded by a chap from a previous generation in Birmingham who had suffered from prejudice in the City, a German Jew called Oscar Deutsche, who founded the ODEON Cinema Chain which is still the largest in the UK based on the acronym ‘Oscar Deutsche Entertains Our Nation’ the Greek for to watch is ‘ODEON’ so you can see Oscar was on the ball.
I saw Cyrille Regis, the late Lawrie Cunningham, who played for Spanish Giants Real Madrid, before his untimely early death in a car crash and a young Brendan Batson came out of ‘The Harder they Come’ who was a Black Hero to these young Black men……that typified and exemplified Birmingham in the 1970’s for me…..three young black men out for a good time, watching a violent Gangster Film in racially tolerant Birmingham…….
Another Brummie Grammar School Boy Sir Michael Balcon who founded Ealing Studios which gave us those great ‘Ealing Comedies’ like ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, ‘Passport to Pimlico’ and ‘The Ladykillers’ should be part of ‘The Birmingham Film Trail’ too for me.
Balcon went to my old school George Dixon Grammar School for Boys from 1906 when the school opened until 1913 when he left to join up in 1914 at the outbreak of The Great War.
Balcon 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’ PC George Dixon of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ fame after his old school, named after Education Reformer and the founder of Edgbaston High School for Girls, which my daughter attends and where my wife is a Teaching Assistant: George Dixon MP.
George Dixon was the Birmingham MP and Lord Mayor who was much overshadowed by his direct contemporary, former Colonial Secretary and architect of the modern municipal Birmingham Joseph Chamberlain.
‘The Birmingham Film Trail’ should be set up by Film Birmingham, Birmingham City Council‘s film promotion agency in my opinion, to maximize Birmingham’s film and cinematic history.
And as you can see the film and TV legacy of ‘The Peaky Blinders’ is nothing new in portraying Birmingham as a gritty, edgy city!
Writer, Broadcaster and Historian
Greensward Enterprise Business Consultancy
Oldbury, Sandwell, United Kingdom
Any opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and not the publisher or In Mi Experience.