What does it mean to be a Midlander?
The Made in the Midlands podcast explores our regional identity through the voices of those who are from the Midlands and have risen to prominence in Britain. Presenter Adrian Goldberg asks guests how being from the middle of England affected their their outlook and their success.
Made in the Midlands is commissioned by Coventry City of Culture Trust and produced by Loftus Media.
The prolific author of the Jack Reacher detective novels talks of two Birmingham libraries which gave him his love of books. He describes the smell of the dusty shelves and the voracious appetite he developed for reading, so much so his parents obtained extra library cards in the name of visiting relatives.
“Even our dog had a library card,” he says. “Without those two libraries as a little kid, I would have been a completely different person. So when you ask ‘what did the Midlands mean to me?’ I mean, everything. That's who I am.”
Midlands heroes: Jerry Dammers and Horace Panter for creating Two-Tone. “It was valuable musically, but it was also very valuable socially.”
A pioneer of Two Tone, lead singer of groundbreaking ska band The Selecter tells the podcast she first came to the Midlands as a student. “I got off the train in Coventry and I felt immediately at home.” She studied, worked in Coventry hospitals and kickstarted her musical career playing folk gigs in Coventry pubs. “Nobody asked me to leave.”
Midlands Memory: Hauling heavy musical equipment up the steep stairs for The Selecter’s first recording session at Horizon Recording Studios in Coventry. “I'd never been near a recording studio before. It was just like walking into a magical place where obviously magical things happened.”
Recorded at an event in Coventry Cathedral, the award-winning film director becomes emotional as he recalls hearing the news from a neighbour that the building had been bombed during the Second World War. “A neighbour came in and said they destroyed the cathedral. I remember the smell of the night air and the horror that people had of course, we knew so many, killed.”
Midlands Masterpiece: Coventry Cathedral. “These two churches together. They speak of tragedy and ultimate hope. And I think we've got to hang on to that.”
The Eastenders actor was a shy and overweight immigrant boy with a stammer, and subjected to horrific bullying and racial abuse while growing up in Coventry. Two teachers persuaded him to audition for a school play, helping him overcome his low confidence and gain a place at Bristol University to study drama.
“I opened my mouth, everything started to flow, no stammer, no insecurity, nothing. I just began to speak in character and I sang a solo and I got a standing ovation.”
Midlands Manifesto: “To create an environment (in the Midlands) to live in, which is a little bit more colourful and a bit more arty."
Content warning: This episode contains graphic descriptions and language relating to racial abuse.
Film director Debbie Isitt played truant after making her mind up at an early age that she wanted to be involved in the arts. A slot on a children’s Saturday morning TV show sealed it. “I went on Tiswas as part of my dancing school. I just thought, what do I need school for? I'm on my way, I'm on the telly.”
Midlands Hero: “My Dad – a real Peaky Blinder.”
The frontman of The Enemy was born in the heart of the West Midlands. “I grew up in Castle Bromwich, which is Solihull or Birmingham, depending on who you’re trying to impress.” He talks of his love of manufacturing, especially cars, and of family plus his determination to offer a leg up to other young Midlands artists.
Midlands Masterpiece: “My Land Rover 1966 Series 2A. On the Land Rover badge it says Solihull, Warwickshire. I feel immensely proud of that.”
The Coventry City FC legend will be answering Made in the Midlands questions at a live event on Wednesday 9 February at the Sky Blue Tavern with an edited podcast edition available on 23 March. Few people have lived the modern history of the club as he has. He also represented Shropshire at cricket and has been the subject of a kidnap intrigue.
The straight-talking Labour Birmingham MP will record an edition at a live event at Coventry’s Drapers’ Hall on 11 February. She represents her home city in Parliament. An edited episode will be available as a podcast on 30 March.