In some ways, where you are in the world no longer matters. Geography is history.
Especially in the tech and creative industries. Everyone’s work space is in the clouds so what the hell?
Well the hell for Channel 4 is this…
Should the broadcaster be required to physically move out of London, the people who didn’t vote for it would be taking the consequence.
Uprooting themselves, their families and going to a place they don’t know or even want to know.
It’s a big deal.
So, knowing this, here is my point of view about why moving to Birmingham isn’t hell at all.
If someone were asking me to move to a city or a region, they would have a difficult task.
I don’t respond to power points showing cutting edge architecture or cute cobbled streets or to statistics about Michelin-starred restaurants, five-star hotels, buzzy night life, museums galleries and on and on.
(Though Birmingham has all of the above).
A city has a life and an image. People have an image of Birmingham.
It’s mostly wrong but, as I have said, a city is not something you can sell to someone like a car or a movie.
Of course, it’ll look good in the ad
But I believe the case for Birmingham is way more simple, hard-headed and pragmatic. It’s about location.
Let’s forget regional loyalties.
I love Birmingham and have written about it in a way that I hope does it justice but I don’t expect anyone else to fall in love on the strength of an article.
So let’s go back to the idea that geography is history, this time in the physical world.
By train, Birmingham International is just over an hour from Euston.
On a bad day, lots of places in Greater London are an hour from Euston.
Whisper it but when HS2 is completed (2026), Birmingham will be 36 minutes from London. Yes, 36.
Effectively zone five of the underground. And you won’t have to stand up all the way.
It means in Birmingham you are not exactly in exile, either professionally, socially or gastronomically.
Just be aware, it ain’t that far.
And, if you think it’s strange to sell Brum by pointing out how close it is to London, I’m just imagining what my concerns would be if I were being asked to move.
What about the life I have?
I like my life. Selling Birmingham on its own merit we will come to later.
So, you’ve moved and it’s not so far but far enough to mean you still have to get the kids into a school and you still have to go to meetings and find a place you want to live and at the weekend get somewhere green and quiet and a bit wild.
And you may have to go on business trips abroad and you need connectivity.
Well, being slap in the middle of England, Birmingham is positioned perfectly not only for getting to London but also the north, Edinburgh, the east, the west.
There are direct flights from Birmingham Airport to New York, LA and Beijing and, I swear, if you are accustomed to using Gatwick and Heathrow you will arrive at Birmingham Airport, look around and say ‘Where are the queues? Why am I already through customs? Why do I feel OK?’
The schools in and around Birmingham are excellent. I can’t even begin to sell them here, google them.
The universities are excellent too and have a strong emphasis in digital and media studies.
For wild and green, take a look at the Cotswolds, 20 minutes south of Birmingham.
Half the British film industry already lives there anyway.
There’s a Soho House and a Daylesford and in Leamington Spa a shopping mall that is basically a Prada/Gucci theme park.
People travel up from London. In no time.
You don’t even have to go into town and visit the giant Selfridges there (though it’s worth a look).
If you detest those kinds of places then, in the country all around Birmingham, the landscape is green and pleasant with outcrops of industrial revolution legacy.
Coffee is good these days, the people are dry and fun and, if you want, they leave you alone.
The pubs have stars. The restaurants have stars eating in them. Just like home.
But without the traffic and the unaffordable housing. And there is another pragmatic reason to embrace this idea.
Houses are, on average, a third of the cost of buying in London. What will buy you a two-bed flat in the capital, will get you a house in the country, or on the canalside (sales pitch) and, for a little more, you can get a real proper country house and commute to work in half an hour and get home to a big log fire, without the stress and the smell of the District Line on your clothes.
When HS2 gets closer to completion, house prices will inevitably rise sharply (this will now be zone five, remember).
Big investors are already buying up brown field sites all around south Birmingham.
Forget Hackney, Shoreditch and Deptford, next it will be Small Heath, home of the Peaky Blinders, being taken over by the swaggering gangsters of real estate gentrification.
Get in early hipsters.
But what about culture? I kid myself I go to theatres and art galleries way more than I do but it’s important.
If it’s theatre and performing arts you are interested in, I will do a little sales pitch here and point you to Stratford-upon-Avon, half an hour from Birmingham.
The RSC has a home there which tourists fly thousands of miles to visit.
Then I will point out the new Library of Birmingham (biggest in the Europe), the museums, the galleries, the Rep theatre, the blossoming music scene and on and on.
In terms of culture within the fabric of the city, Birmingham is a big, culturally diverse place with a history of innovation, industry, radicalism and innovation.
The Arts and Crafts movement was born here. Tennis was born here.
JRR Tolkien lived here and Middle Earth was born here so that means Gollum and Bilbo Baggins were born here.
Not many people know it but Charlie Chaplin was born here. Heavy metal music was born here (Ozzy, Led Zeppelin etc). William Shakespeare was almost born here.
Also, the whole of the modern world was born here.
Engineers and innovators James Watt and Matthew Boulton started and established the industrial revolution in a back room in Handsworth.
They were called the The Lunar Men. Google them – it should be a TV series.
Unfortunately, there are no football teams to shout about in Birmingham but you can’t have everything.
So that’s my personal take on Birmingham and Channel Four. In summary, ‘why the hell not?’
Now, on the assumption you don’t object to a little bit of sales pitch, here is some sales stuff on the city itself (which might actually astonish you).
Around 40 per cent of the population of the city are aged 25 and under, making it the youngest city in Europe.
Commercial inward investment in the past five years has been higher in Birmingham than any other city outside London.
Our tech and digital sector alone employs more than 90,000 people.
We are working hard to support creative development – whether it’s the Producers’ Forum for film makers or Silicon Canal for tech businesses, the West Midlands is well placed to encourage innovation.
Birmingham has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city outside London.
It is the most culturally diverse city in Europe. An absurd number of languages are spoken here.
A lot of our city was destroyed in the Second World War and it was rebuilt badly but now it’s been rebuilt again and it looks rather dramatic.
The new Grand Central shopping centre above the revamped New Street station has a glamour and romance to it.
We have more miles of canal than Venice, apparently.
And, best of all, when you come here, you feel that this young-again, dry-humoured, unassuming city is getting confident in its own style and you get the feeling the best is yet to come.
Channel 4 and the UK Government need to be bold and brave in order to fully realise the broadcaster’s potential as an experimental and creative broadcaster.
Relocating outside of London would provide them with the chance to do this.
The West Midlands is ready for Channel 4 – we have the passion, talent and ambition to ensure that it is a success.
Steven Knight is a Birmingham-born screenwriter and director and the creator of hit BBC drama Peaky Blinders