Our friend in the Midlands: Caren Davies on the ambition and heart of Birmingham

Our friend in the Midlands: Caren Davies on the ambition and heart of Birmingham

Caren Davies (Credit: RTS Midlands)
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From TV to games, the Birmingham area is making a splash on the global stage, explains Caren Davies

Over recent weeks, many column inches have been written concerning the success of the Birmingham-inspired TV series Peaky Blinders.

Its move from BBC Two to BBC One has been seamless. More people watch it in the Midlands than anywhere else in the country.

Peakys has undoubtedly put Birmingham firmly back on the national and global map, but the city’s reputation struggles to shake off some outdated prejudices.

It still appears in lists of the worst places to live in Britain, while the Brummie accent has often been voted as the worst in the country. To add insult to injury, the accent is often associated with being “a bit thick”.

So you must be wondering what it is like for us West Midlanders, living in one of the worst places, with one of the worst accents. Is there anything good about Birmingham?

Where to start? The Commonwealth Games are on their way, HS2 is being built, big businesses such as HSBC are moving to Brum, and the city centre is largely unrecognisable – in a good way - thanks to recent redevelopment.

As the youngest city in Europe, with nearly 40% of the population under 25, and more diverse than any other English city outside London, broadcasters and producers ignore the power of Birmingham at their peril.

The TV industry is having a renaissance here. Peakys creator Steven Knight is opening new TV and film studios, the city has become BBC Three’s second home, and BBC Birmingham is thriving as a base for digital skills and new talent. Some of the country’s finest indies and programme-makers are Birmingham-based. To name a few, there’s North One, Wonder, Full Fat and newly arrived Optomen. Hopefully, more will follow.

"This city has ambition and heart"

The entries for this year’s RTS Midlands Awards are a testament to the great content that is being made across the patch.

And it’s not just TV. Outside London, the West Midlands has the UK’s biggest technology sector. “Silicon Spa” – the global hub for video games companies in Leamington Spa – is a huge stimulus for digital talent. There are 40 games companies in the area, including Sega and Codemasters. The renowned Serious Games Institute is based at Coventry University.

Local universities are at the cutting edge of AI and VR research. Some of the greatest licensed games of all time have been made in the Midlands, including Tomb Raider, produced by Core Design in Derby. This Midlands industry has a worldwide reputation.

The West Midlands Combined Authority has recently announced a new screen industry body for the West Midlands, led by Ed Shedd, a Midlander who works for Deloitte. He has recruited a board of big hitters, including Steven Knight and Adil Ray.

The strategy is to bring together the creative industries in the region, building skills, networks and capacity. RTS Midlands will be working closely with Ed and the board.

So, yes, things in the UK’s second city are pretty damn good. In part due to Midlanders’ self-deprecation, we’re not always very good at sharing how great things are. We need to shout more loudly.

Steven Knight has been an inspiration to Brummies everywhere. He’s made no apologies for his roots. He’s Brummie and proud. He’s proved that these streets are paved with tales worth telling. As for the accent, Cillian Murphy’s made it a bit more cool.

The day-to-day multiculturalism of the city often astounds visitors. For us, it’s just what we do and who we are. But we still deserve to see even more of it on our screens.

This city has ambition and heart. What’s more, we have hundreds of stories waiting to be told on TV, on radio and online.

Caren Davies is Chair, RTS Midlands.