There is no such place as Birmingham. I’m pretty sure it’s there when I walk down New Street, but by the time I get home and turn on the TV, it vanishes.
Occasionally I used to amuse myself watching Hustle. It wasn’t so much the plot or the characters that especially attracted me, it was the location.
There they would be, planning some unlikely heist outside Alpha Tower, and next thing the gang were to be seen wandering down the south bank of the Thames, opposite the Houses of Parliament. How did they manage that? Teleportation? Or has HS2 arrived earlier than I anticipated ?
The recent BBC 2 series, Line of Duty, is pulling a similar geographical stunt. In the background of the police HQ I can distinctly see the Rotunda, and a snatch of Lancaster Circus. Yet the cops on duty are talking about some murder in Greek Street in Soho. (And not the Soho in Handsworth, either.)
So gritty northern cities on TV remain gritty northern cities. But Birmingham is, apparently, London.
Nor is this approach restricted to the crime dramas. Doctors, the lunchtime soap over on BBC 1, is perennially showing me places I know in Harborne and Moseley and Edgbaston. But the show floats in some mythical town called Letherbridge, which looks just like Birmingham, and is full of people with Brummie accents, but apparently isn’t.
The only programme actually to mention our unmentionable city by name is The Archers, and that is only when someone needs picking up from the airport, or the youngsters are planning some clubbing expedition.
We have to presume, then, that Birmingham is just not glamorous (or gritty) enough to feature in its own right, but is cheaper to film in than the capital.
And yet, before we put the city on the scrapheap, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are TV companies operating from here. I’ve recently been working with North One TV, which is based in Digbeth, and produces programmes for Channel 5, such as The Gadget Show. Just around the corner is Maverick Television, which makes Embarrassing Bodies for Channel 4.
No fiction, then; only harsh reality.
* Dr Chris Upton is Senior Lecturer in History at Newman University College in Birmingham