Birmingham, the second largest city in the United Kingdom, is not unanimous in popular opinion among the British. From snide remarks to total disinterest in this former industrial city, the factors behind this split are many more, according to historian Carl Chinn, author of more than thirty books about the city. The specialist describes himself as a “proud Brummie” (resident of Birmingham, editor’s note) and points to the arrogance of the upper middle class in the south of England.
“Most of them have never been to Birmingham”he begins by emphasizing. In the famous accent of the “Peaky Blinders” (the name of a gang that existed between the end of the 19th century and up to the 1920s), Carl Chinn denounces the prejudice he had to face, which for him is the result of ignorance. The “brummie” accent would be perceived as “rude” to use the words of the historian, a stereotype that translates a “class rivalry” among average Britons.
“The working class is bound wherever it is, which the upper middle class is not,” he says, highlighting a competition between London and Birmingham. He also extends his analysis to other cities with an industrial past, such as Glasgow or Liverpool. Also aware of French linguistic diversity, he compares the British example with France, which opposes Paris and the various patois such as Basque or Provencal.
A “pathetic” debate
Besides, it wouldn’t just be a matter of accent. Carl Chinn’s indignation is also felt when he evokes certain media speeches. Actually he calls “pathetic” the debate between Manchester and Birmingham over the site of Britain’s second city. “It does not matter!”, he exclaims.
The historian also refers to studies of “Brummies” published in the written press about thirty years ago, and condemned them as not based on scientifically proven social facts. The media would therefore feed certain prejudices.
Historically, one of the best governed cities in the world
But going further back in time, Carl Chinn reminds us that this bad reputation was not always the case. In fact, before the centralization of economic governance in London in the early 20th century, Birmingham was among the best-governed cities in the world.
But under Margaret Thatcher, the policy of privatization of industries such as gas or water was described as “greedy” by the specialist changed the situation in favor of London.
Finally, Carl Chinn cannot mention Birmingham without mentioning Peaky Blinders. This gang of criminals from the end of the 19th century is today mainly known to the general public through the series broadcast on BBC and Netflix of the same name. The historian, whose great-grandfather was a Peaky Blinder, finds it fitting to remember that they were nothing but human “Wrong”. “There is no glamor in this kind of gang as the show might suggest”he asserts.
Despite this episode, the specialist specifies that the chronology of the series does not correspond to reality. In fact, as early as 1910, the newspapers were talking about this gang in the past tense. Thus it rehabilitates the image of Birmingham, which in the 1920s was a peaceful city.