Ignoring Birmingham: ‘The BBC could be accused of racism’

Birmingham’s potential as a centre of film production took a step forward last week when John West met up with some of the city’s movers and shakers – here’s John’s highly personal reflection on the meeting.


Hollywood in BirminghamThere was a meeting with Gisela Stuart M.P., Timothy Huxtable, Martin Mullaney, Michael Bickerton (from Birmingham City University), members of the Planning Department and myself present.

Detroit Studios

Detroit Studios

Documents were produced to show how other regions with a similar (or smaller populations) not only have their own TV stations but also commercial film studios: Even Stornoway on the Island of Lewis has better TV studios than the BBC has in Birmingham.  Pictures of the new Detroit Raleigh Film Studios complex – with seven sound stages were shown; it was suggested that we should learn from their example. That city has worse problems than Birmingham. It pays them to invest in the $2 trillion dollar per annum screen industry; we should be benefiting from it as well.

There was agreement that there is talent in Birmingham which needs to be exploited to earn an income for the region and to prevent a drain of talent to other regions. We want our actors technicians, dancers, writers etc. to be employed in the region using their talents.  It was commented that some of the best TV drama came from BBC Birmingham and the best light entertainment from the ATV Studios.

There was a consensus that urban regeneration schemes should be used re-establish TV studios in the Gas Street Basin urban improvement area.  (ITV already has studios in 22 Gas Street for Midlands local broadcasts.  The BBC have theirs in Nottingham…).

There was agreement that there was an opportunity to use urban regeneration schemes to establish film studios on the edge of the conurbation, possibly re-using existing large, high industrial buildings, along with new purpose built studios to attract business that is currently going abroad.  As some London studios are expected to be re-developed and the work moved to Salford, Birmingham is in a good location to attract this business, once quality studios and facilities were established.  Hertsmere Borough council bought and restored the Elstree (formerly EMI Studios).  These studios have been a big success in promoting the borough and unlike many council enterprises that need subsidy they contribute 16% of the total rates in the borough.

It was felt that Birmingham and the West Midlands are a beautiful region that has some wonderful locations that would be complimented by having available studios nearby. London is much more expensive due to the high costs of location shooting fees and very slow, congested traffic. We have a young, well-integrated multi-racial population that needed to be promoted.  The BBC could be accused of racism by ignoring our area; they do not ignore the Scots or the Welsh. At least 70% of BBC production is still in London and it is hoped that negotiations will result in our region getting more productions rather than fewer.

It was pointed-out that when we start shooting Hollywood films in the region the BBC would have little option but to compete.  (“Hollywood films” such as “Star Wars – A New Hope”, “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jeddi”, “Batman”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, “Superman”, “Captain America” and “Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides” etc. were all, in fact, shot in UK studios..”).

The meeting ended with a much greater consensus than we dared to expect.

It is hoped that the Planning Department and the politicians will take good advice and move these schemes forward, so that they come to fruition.

John West

The Birmingham Press would like to point out that John’s words do not either reflect the views of the attendees or what was said in the meeting and would be happy to publish their individual impressions should they be made available.

Here’s John’s letter to Birmingham City Council