Video : Telly Savalas looks at Birmingham

Keith Adams

It’s difficult to decide whether you should laugh or cry watching this video of Telly Savalas’ ‘visit’ to Birmingham.

On one hand, his hammy commentary and wonderful backing music are pure comedic genius, but on the other, the modernistic vision of Birmingham circa 1980 is put into sharp relief by how it looks today – and the town planners’ 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 motorways) are chock-full of delightful home-made metal – and if you like your Allegros, Escorts and Minis, this is the video for you. 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.

We’re tempted to revisit this video 2012-style, just to see how it would look now. However, just enjoy this masterpiece…


Keith Adams


  1. I think I’m correct in saying he never actually visited the city.

    More recently the council issued a publicity leaflet showing a picture of Birmingham Alabama, and didn’t notice…

  2. Birmingham as I remember it as a child – parts of it really were grim, and yet I can imagine how good the old Bullring must have looked on opening in the 60s. Being dragged around the outdoor market on a damp Saturday afternoon by my grand ‘rents, I must admit I often wished the pace could be bombed again. Huge improvement now – but will people look back on today’s Brum in 32 years time, and think it just as grim as ’80s Brum? Another thing – does anyone honestly believe that Telly Savalis ever set foot in Brum?

  3. well,he must have had a bung to do this,i bet the “old boys club” at the council would have had thier palms greased to give the go ahead! enjoyed it so much i downloaded it onto my realplayer library!

  4. …’Its like being teleported into the 21st Century’…

    Well, here we are in the 21st Century and thank god it doesn’t look so much like it did back then.

    Oh, the irony of those ‘over 40s’ disco dancing to a song with the lyrics ‘Can’t get it up’…

    Well, back then when you hit 40 you were well and truly middle-aged, and they didn’t have Viagra…

  5. I think there’s a longer version with shots of Indian restaurants, which I remember was shown on a programme tracing the original of Balti curries.

  6. Having spent life working in Corporate Film, Video & TV, this is very typical of promo productions that were made for Councils & Local Authorities in the 1970s.

    It wasn’t unusual for Producers to hire a celebrity voiceover without the cost of having them in vision on location. Getting someone like Telly Savalas would be seen as a coup back then.

    Nice to see an old branch of Dixons – my first job, I worked there for 2 weeks before a better offer came in.

  7. I’ve not seen this for years. I think it was on one of Clive James’ shows (such bad news about a brilliant write and broadcaster) where he added his usual dry wit inbetween the interludes of Telly.

    Have to say though that even then there was a lot of foreign hardware on the road – just take the short section on the roundabout – had Britain had enough of the rubbish toshed out by the british factories by then?

  8. Hello from the toilet.

    This short film was one of a series that included Leeds and other UK cities that were made in the mid-seventies for cinemas so that they could fulfill their obligation to show the required percentage of UK made films, at a time when there was a quota introduced for such things. Telly Savalas narrated all of them.

    The flawed bullring is gone, and the new one today is as popular as ever, and will probably be so 32 years hence, as it was properly constructed with the hindsight and experience of 40+ years of public planning.

    Much of the buildings created in the 1960s and 70s remain,however, including the wonderful Rotunda, together with many new ones from the last decade.

    Birmingham city centre is a much nicer place to be than 20 years ago. In fact it’s a great place to be, and with a refurbished New Street Station, it will be even better!

  9. @11. These films were called quota quickies because back in the day a cinema house had to show a certain number of Britsh distrubtion films in order to be allowed to show foreign – eg American fims in their cinemas. It wasn’t specifically made for the local authorities although they did have input. Telly Savallas also did one for Sheffield too. Incidentally Birmingham has what is believed to be the oldest working electrically operated cinema in the UK – all period features. They do play highbrow, art-house and foreign films but they also show Hollywood blockbuster and was the first cinema to employ 4K digital – the format James Cameron demanded for Avatar. So despite it’s age and how amazingly gorgeous and art-deco it looks, it is does in fact have a totally state of the art auditorium and it works very well – It’s tucked in behind New Street Station.

    Another place in town to check out is The Old Joint Stock. Grandiose looking old bank, restored and turned into a great pubs. Fullers of London took it over and even more daringly, incorporated a theatre upstairs for live music and stand up.. worth seeing. Plenty of other places to check out but you cannot take this city at face value.. you have to look.

    To be honest, if people are slating Birmingham based on that film, then they really need to take another good look at the place. Manzoni’s disasters are slowly being removed and the wounds are healing. The Bullring and the Sellfridges are a national landmark and please look at the NewStreetNewStart website and see how they’re transforming the station. And of course we are soon too have Europe’s biggest library.

    Being an outsider and coming to live in Brum as a student and now laying down roots, I can honestly say I love the city, and it’s troubled history- which interestingly reflects in the goings on in the Austin/Rover/MG story. It’s forever evolving and those that still say it’s shit have never really bothered to come and actually take a closer look.

    @13 are you from Manchester by any chance..?

  10. I aren’t sure if Telly did one about Sheffield. I know part of it was used in the opening credits of The Full Monty. Most inner cities were faceless & full of concrete. Leeds for example has the dated Merrion Centre, which even today still looks dank & depressing, and the old Bond Street Centre has had more facelifts than William Shatner, and is completely unrecognisable, as now has 3 floors instead of the single one it used to have. At least the big hole in the ground is finally taking shape, but there will be nobody to take on these retail units

  11. I’d like to query why this film didn’t include some of the plusses of Birmingham- such as the internationally renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (I happen to know one of their cellists), or the extensive canal system- although it may be the case that back in those days it may not have been restored.

    I haven’t been to Birmingham for many years, but I’d be fully prepared to believe, based on news of extensive re-working of the city centre, is probably now the beautiful city that it should have been.

  12. @13 – …..been to the toilet recently have you? It’s been cleaned and a new blu added – you’d be surprised.

    @15 – The Electric Cinema – brilliant place – my cinema of choice – you can pay a little extra and sit in a leather sofa. They’ll also serve you tapas and absinthe at your seat – brilliant place.

  13. @ The Saint

    I agree, the modern Birmingham is a great place.

    You mention Sheffield, Telly diddnt do that one, but the city corporation sanctioned their own quickie called “Sheffield.. a city on the move”

    The first few minutes of which are shown at the start of The Full Monty, albeit dubbed with a different voice.

    This is a great little film about 40 minutes long. Google “the reel Monty” to order on DVD!

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