‘This Town’ and the TV Production Landscape in Birmingham

By Vanessa Jackson on March 26th, 2024

‘This Town’, Birmingham Town Hall 19 March 2024

Cast and producers Q&A panel

On 19 March 2024 I had the pleasure of attending the red-carpet screening of Steven Knight’s new drama, ‘This Town’ in Birmingham’s Town Hall.  It was a good watch, especially for those of us who spent some of our youth in 1980s Birmingham and Coventry. The contemporary, but 80’s nostalgic soundtrack was spot on. Knight describes the six-part series as his “love letter” to the area he grew up in. The drama starts on BBC 1 on Easter Sunday 31 March. 

The series has been heralded as the beginning of a new age of television production in the West Midlands. The production company Kudos Knight, who created ‘This Town’, has a commitment to shooting more dramas in the region, which is potentially reassuring news for the many skilled production staff and crew who are currently looking for work with the closure of BBC Doctors earlier this year. 

From the discussions last night from the BBC and the producers of ‘This Town’ there is an appetite for authentic, gritty dramas that reflect life outside of London. This was said as if it was a new idea, whilst actually the BBC and others have been creating gritty, authentic dramas in Birmingham since the 1950s. There are many examples to choose from, like the 1967 series ‘Rainbow City’, featuring Errol John, which told the experiences of the West Indian community in Birmingham, or the 1976 Play for Today, ‘Gangsters’, which explored issues of extortion, drug dealing and blackmail in Birmingham’s underworld. In fact, in 1971 when the BBC moved into its broadcast centre: Pebble Mill, the English Regions Drama Department was established with the remit to represent life outside London. Something it did to great effect, producing iconic dramas like ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ and ‘Nuts in May’, but also shorter thirty-minute dramas like the 1973 ‘A Touch of Eastern Promise’, the first UK drama with an entirely Asian cast, set in Balsall Heath.  

Sadly, the quantity of production in Birmingham reduced as the BBC disbanded its factual production base in the city in the early 2000s, with only the BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak continuing the legacy of what had been started by the early pioneers when the BBC was in Gosta Green from 1955, and then at Pebble Mill from 1971. BBC Doctors, was the mainstay of the Drama Village’s productions, creating hundreds of hours of continuing drama each year. It gave Birmingham a critical mass of skilled crew and production workers, who would move agilely between productions. The danger is that with the downturn in television production across the whole of the UK, and the closure of Doctors specifically, that some of those skilled crew won’t be able to wait for new productions from Kudos Knight and others to start staffing up in Birmingham. 

However, the future of television production in Birmingham is looking a lot more rosy than elsewhere in the UK. The much-awaited move of ‘Masterchef’ to Birmingham is happening later this year, and ‘Silent Witness’ will be moving here in due course. ‘Masterchef’ will bring a couple of hundred production jobs to the region when it is fully up and running.  

The West Midlands is also privileged to be selected as one of six BFI Skills Cluster areas, which comes with a commitment to fund training programmes to address skills shortages in the sector. We are currently seeing the delivery of the first of these, with the Create Central Skills Accelerator training programmes. These cater for both entry level and more senior roles. Birmingham City University in partnership with University of Wolverhampton are delivering the ‘Rock Up Ready’ training programme for graduate trainees, whilst Mission Accomplished have teamed with BOA Academy to deliver two programmes: ‘TV and Film Fusion’ and ‘Step Up to HoD’.  

The signs look positive that there will be screen industry jobs for these trainees, as well as more established production workers, to move into as production in the region begins to expand again. 

Dr Vanessa Jackson