The StirrerThe Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond

BIRMINGHAM'S TV CRIMES

10-04-2007

Tonight, the TV detective series Life on Mars comes to an end. But as it's yet another drama based in Manchester, Kevin Chapman poses the question - is there Life In Brum? Not as far as media folk are concerned.

Like many people, I will be forsaking the chance to watch a night of European football and grabbing some Garibaldis and a Pack of Watneys Party Seven to watch the concluding episode of television drama Life on Mars on BBC1 at 9 p.m. tonight. We should be getting an answer to the question posed by Detective Sam Tyler, stuck in 1973 Manchester over the last 15 episodes: "Am I mad, in a coma, or on another planet?"

It's a great programme - but it's yet another TV drama set in Manchester. No wonder less educated souls (usually south of Watford) think this Northern mill town is England's second city. Look at the drama set in Manchester: New Street Law, Cold Feet, Queer as Folk,Cracker, Coronation Street... When was the last time you saw a prime time TV drama set in Birmingham?

Gangsters and its use of 1970's Birminghamwith its industrial backdropwould feel familiar to a fan of Life on Mars. Gangsters was made by BBC Pebble Mill in its heyday - when the English Regions Drama Unit was busychurning out hour upon hour of drama a week.

However, many of the most memorable series produced at Pebble Mill, Juliet Bravo, All Creatures Great and Small, Angels, Howards Way, may have been madein Birmingham but were set in places far away from the land-locked Midlands. The practice continues to this day - Dalziel and Pascoe is filmed on location around the city but Warren Clarke's gruffcopper actually works for the Yorkshire police.

ATV did of course produce Crossroadswhich was filmed at the (soon tobe demolished) ATVCentre- however it was set not in Birmingham but in the fictional Warwickshire village of Kings Oak.When the scripts required a "day in the city" though locations around Birmingham were used.

The 1975 wedding of hotel boss Meg was a classic example; ATV decided to use St. Phillips Cathedral as the location. The result was crowds of onlookers crowding outside of the cathedral - the sort of crowds normally only seen in those days when a senior royal was in town.

Central produced some series of Boon(with Michael Elphicks motorcycling private eye)at Broad St. with location work filmed in Birmingham, but when the company decided to transfer its drama production to its East Midlands studios Boon's location scenes became filmed around Nottingham.

Then there is The Rotters Club, written by Jonathan Coe about a group of Birmingham teenagers growing up in the 70's, adapted for BBC television by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and screened on BBC2 in 2005. It may have been set in Brum and used a1970's WMPTE blue and cream bus (loaned from the Aston Manor Transport Museum) but the location filming was done in London, and the Isle of Man! (Perhaps its a testament to Birmingham's regeneration that the producers of a1970's set dramachosenot tofilm ithere!)

Perhaps the most famous dramafilmed in Birmingham was Cathy Come Home, Ken Loach's bleak piece on homelessness in the 1960's. Although set in London the producers made use of many locations around Birmingham (some which have now disappeared under modern development), and utilised interviews with many Brummies living in squalid conditions.

It opened manypeoples' eyes to the problems of poor housing- something the powers that be did not want putting under the microscope. The film was so controversial that questions were asked in the House, a charity to tackle homelessness(Shelter) was formed and it caused Brummies to demand that their city council took immediate action to provide improved housing. Can you imagine a TV drama inspiring that today?

And - unless I have missed any (and please tell me on the forum if I have) that appears to be it. There is plenty of material waiting for the TV companies - the Birmingham set Kate Power novels written by Black Country born novelist Judith Cutler would make an ideal present day crime drama; the action in the opening book Power on Her Own makes Prime Suspect look like Dixon of Dock Green circa 1956. Or perhaps its time to remake Gangsters, not set in the 70's but in the present day, showing the break ups and lost lives causedby street gangs and gun crime.

Or there is that idea I had, a 2006 detective being run over by Spaghetti Junction and waking up to discover that he is in the middle of a building sitein 1973. Now where did I put my typewriter and my Garibaldis...

(For more details about a Gangsters retrospective this weekend, click here http://www.7inch.org.uk/About_7inch/Events/51.aspx)

What other TV dramas have been set here? And why aren't Brum and the Black Country used as telly locations more often? Leave a comment on the Music And Arts section of our messageboard.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

©2006 The Stirrer