(To receive monthly updates on 7inch
events and other fun stuff)
posted by: Ian on:
October 24, 2010 @ 2:32 pm
Sparkhill Home Guard on the steps of the Carlton Cinema in 1940.
Seventy years ago tomorrow, on the night of 25 October 1940, an incendiary bomb fell into the orchestra pit at the Carlton Cinema in Taunton Road, Balsall Heath. It was in the middle of a screening of the Dorothy Lamour thriller Typhoon, and 19 people were killed. Just one horrible event amongst many during Birmingham’s Blitz – over 40 were killed elsewhere in the city that night alone, according to this online database – but I pass this particular spot every day on the way to work and thought it was worth noting.
The cinema survived and reopened in 1943, considered a cut above some of the other local picture-houses; it was one of the first in Birmingham to have a lift. The photo above (from Victor J. Price’s ‘Birmingham Cinemas’) was taken in the early 80s after it had shifted from films to clubnights and gigs – including one by local post-punkers The Au Pairs, by the look of the poster. (Also note the IRA/NF graffiti)
The building was demolished in 1985, and now on the site there’s a memorial garden with 19 stones to commemorate those who died.
Birmingham’s love of threatened species and the soon-to-be-demolished has manifested itself again in a flurry of Central Library activity. Last night VIVID in Digbeth unveiled a new multi-screen video installation by Karin Kihlberg and Reuben Henry, filmed in the guts of the building on empty Sunday afternoons. It’s called Inbindable Volume, and runs until 21 August.
A group have also formed around the notion Project Brutal, aiming to celebrate the library ‘before it’s too late’, and this week Lucy McLauchlan has been painting a bird mural on the side of the building.
This might also be a good time to revisit the documentary about the man who designed the thing, John Madin, back when he had the world in the palm of his hand. This film helped inspire the writing of Catherine O’Flynn’s new book The News Where You Are, featuring an architect whose legacy gets demolished. And finally, when/if they do start knocking it down perhaps someone would like to film a sequel to this:
Stan Morgan worked at BBC Birmingham for over 20 years, a scene hand on the likes of Boys From the Blackstuff and All Creatures Great and Small. After he left he retrained in photography at Wolverhampton University, and then returned to Pebble Mill shortly before the building closed down to capture these behind-the-scenes shots. My abiding memory of the place is that it felt a bit like a polytechnic, so it’s nice to see shots of the Archers studio looking like a shabby 70s seminar room. A selection of the images will be on show next to the cinema at mac, alongside the aforementioned weekend of drama delights.
Stan died last year. His son Stephen took the portrait above and is keeping the photography flame flying. He has a show opening next week at the Wapping Project Bankside in London.
Images by Stan Morgan courtesy of Birmingham Library and Archive Services.
There was a programme on radio 4 this morning about memories of Fort Dunlop, that impressive slab of a building you see from the M6 coming into Birmingham. More info here, and it’ll be on iPlayer for a week.
We’ve also been enjoying a series of postcards posted by Joyfeed, sent by his grandparents after they left the Fort to go and work for Dunlop in Japan.
While you’re consuming your bodyweight in minced pies and mulled wine over the next few days perhaps raise a glass to Birmingham’s Electric cinema, celebrating its centenary on Sunday and almost definitely the oldest cinema in the UK. Earlier this month the current owner Tom Lawes staged a whistle-stop tour of the building’s last hundred years, from its early days as a news theatre (with punters including George Bernard Shaw) via soft porn intrigue in the 70s and 80s to the carrot-cake-and-Tarkovsky era in the 90s and finally its somewhat more upmarket current guise.
I first encountered it as an arthouse fleapit, and cherished memories of being on the dole in Birmingham are all wrapped up with drizzly Tuesday afternoons watching double-bills along with three or four other punters. Its survival seemed to defy the laws of capitalism. But then as the centenary event made clear, 47 Station Street has led a remarkably enduring, chameleon-like existence as it shapeshifted from Electric to Select to Tatler to Jacey to Classic to Tivoli and back to the Electric, while all around it bigger, sexier cinemas have bitten the dust.
This shot is from the 30s Tatler period (not Prohibition-era Chicago, believe it or not), when the cinema shot its own newsreels. We got a tantalising glimpse of original footage from their launch event, and an insight into the building’s creepier side thanks to a letter from an employee who worked there in the 50s. At that time there was a mortuary next door, and he was told that during the war the basement had been used as a store for dead bodies. He also recalls attempting to wake a punter at the end of the night and finding that he had shot himself. “My happiest years, and I hope the cinema always is there.”
This is a selection of images taken by amateur photographer Derek Fairbrother from the same spot in Birmingham’s Chamberlain square between 1963 and 1986. We’ve just compiled them for a new exhibition called Birmingham Seen which opens at BM&AG this weekend; other sequences include the Post Office tower and the Rotunda. With thanks to Pete James and Gaynor Fairbrother.
A brief word for Living by Henry Green, a 1929 novel set in a Birmingham foundry. Not sure how it took me so long to hear of this but it’s one of the most lovely things I’ve read in ages. Strange, elliptical style with very few definite/indefinite articles and amazing eye for detail, although maybe not such an ear for dialect (played more west country than brummie in my head). Anyway, worth picking up.
Please find below our most recent listings splurge… (more…)
Here’s a couple of shots from the Coffin Fittings Works in the Jewellery Quarter, out of action since the 1990s but accessible this weekend thanks to the Heritage Open Days. The workers at Newmans carried on in cosy, slightly lethal, semi-Victorian conditions right up until the place shut down thanks to the decline in folk getting buried. When Birmingham Conservation Trust had a look around they found a treasure-trove of old ledgers, ironwork, embalming fluid and hefty stamping presses, all of which has been catalogued and stored until the day when the place reopens as a museum. Unfortunately that day now looks a lot further off since Advantage West Midlands pulled out of the project. There’s more info here if you wish to voice your support, and some great images in this flickr group.
Being fans of pre-cinema gadgetry and well-stocked with civic pride, we were delighted to discover yesterday that Birmingham is the birthplace of the flipbook. Well, that’s stretching the truth slightly; people had been flicking sheets of paper in quick succession to make moving pictures since at least the 18th century, but it wasn’t until 1868 that someone thought to patent the idea. That someone was John Barnes Linnett, a lithograph printer based in Smithfield St near the Bull Ring (or BullRing, as they like to call it nowadays). He called this ‘device’ the Kineograph, and the picture above is from his patent which can be found in Birmingham Central Library. Linnett apparently died young from pneumonia, contracted while taking photographs in Wales, and his wife sold the patent to an American. A classic Birmingham tale…
Big thanks to Mike Simkin for the tipoff. Flipbook fans should check out flipbook.info, and note that there will be some kineographic action at our Flummoxed event on 3rd July.
With the Rotunda reopening last week it seemed a good time to show Rosalind Fowler’s film about the building’s past. Calling her work “salvage anthropology”, Fowler combines interviews with some of the inhabitants of the old Rotunda – including original architect Jim Roberts – with footage of the building shortly before it was closed down for refurbishment. It’ll be showing at 7inch this Sunday, after Travelling for a Living.
This industry writeup gives some background on the new version, introducing us to some nice building terms like “spandrel panels”.