In praise of Birmingham, Britain’s maligned second city

During my gap year in 1981, I worked on the 24th floor of Birmingham’s Alpha Tower for the Regional Manpower Intelligence Unit. The city below, with its express ways racing past the Venetian Gothic of Joseph Chamberlain’s house and the Roman Revival of the town hall, were the realisation of the city planner Herbert Manzoni’s dream of creating a Midlands Motown. The Rotunda, the acres of systems-built tower blocks, even the inverted ziggurat of a modernist central library, together amounted to the antithesis of the smoky, tweedy, horse-powered, cut-throat Birmingham the world now knows from Peaky Blinders. That year, though, was the one which went wrong for Birmingham, Richard Vinen