It’s difficult to decide whether you should laugh or cry watching this video of Telly Savalas’s ‘visit’ to Birmingham. First shown in cinemas in 1981 and introduced to me by the wonderful Clive James in Clive James on TV in the mid-1980s, this Harold Baim short did a brilliant job of showing Birmingham in all its shiny – and clean – glory.
On one hand, the hammy commentary (‘the view from up here nearly took my breath away’) and wonderful backing music (Giant Dwarf, by De Wolfe) are pure comedic genius in Harold Baim’s Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham. However, on the other, the modernistic vision of Birmingham during the summer of 1980 when this was filmed, is put into sharp relief by how it looks today – epecially considering the town planners’ later intent to undo all that Brutalist architecture so optimistically erected during the 1960s and ’70s.
For a car-spotter, this is a wonderful little vignette of life in Birmingham at the turn of the ’80s, too. The roads (or should we say ‘multi-lane highways’) are chock-full of delightful home-made metal – and, if you like your Austin Allegros, Ford Escorts and Minis, this is the video for you. There’s also a brilliant moment when a Ford Transit rounds a blind corner to almost hit our camera car, which is clearly blocking lane one of the Queensway Tunnel. Those with more refined tastes will probably love the appearance of the Rover SD1 police car door-handling out of Brum ‘nick’. A joy, a real joy.
Where, though, is the mention of BL Longbridge or even Cadbury’s at Bourneville we hear you cry? Well, Baim had a habit of leaving things to the last minute before putting in filming requests. Both BL and Cadbury’s refused to co-operate at such short notice. The same applied to Chad Valley which, at that time, produced children’s toys for export all over the world. Harold Baim produced a number of cringingly but affectionately naff short films of other places including Aberdeen, Nottingham and Portsmouth, but by a long chalk Birmingham remains the gold standard.
We’re tempted to revisit this video 2020-style, and I suspect Mike Humble and I will do just that as soon as we can to see how it would look now. However, for now, just enjoy this masterpiece.
So long, Birmingham, here’s lookin’ atcha!