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Useful Notes: The Midlands

"Northampton, Northampton, Northampton, Middle of England!"
Linda Jardim, "Energy in Northampton"

The Midlands is between Oop North and London. Home to Brummies. NOT the domain of the Mother Confessor. (and especially not that Mother Confessor!)

It broadly corresponds to the old Kingdom of Mercia (the dialect influenced Tolkien) and is split by the UK government into the West Midlands and East Midlands regions, this split is currently only used for statistical purposes and as constituencies during European elections.

The Midlands is usually considered to contain the historic counties of Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbsyhire. Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire and Huntingdonshire are occasionally considered part of the Midlands but fall outside the regions of the West Midlands or the East Midlands and are more often considered parts of The West Country, East Anglia or the Home Counties. Lincolnshire is part of the East Midlands region but it's northern part falls inside the Yorkshire and Humber region and the county is often excluded from being part of the Midlands because of it's large coastline.

The largest cities of the Midlands include Birmingham, Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. Somewhat deprived in places, Birmingham and Nottingham currently have a rather bad reputation for gun crime.

The cities of the Midlands are noted for having a larger than usual percentage of ethnic minorities, particularly Birmingham and Leicester, and with this fact being a matter of regional pride, making a racist comment against immigrants is just as likely to get you punched even in a room filled entirely with ethnic Englishmen - if you can find such a thing in the Midlands.

Midlanders are often thought of as being stupid, possibly due to most accents being non-rhotic with vowels so sloppy that they can successfully drag on any nearby constanants too. This results in the Midlands Drawl, which involves either taking as long as you can to say as little as you can, or saying as much as you can as slowly as you can. The Black Country accent makes people assume 'thickie' whereas a Staffordshire accent is more generic. An East Midlands accent actually sounds much like Oop North to the untrained ear.

By a quirk of geography, the Midlands are actually slanted so "the North West" region is actually further south than the centre of the East Midlands.

Examples:

Comic Books

Film
  • Dead Man's Shoes is filmed and set in Matlock in Derbyshire.
    • All of Shane Meadows' films are filmed and set in the East Midlands, typically Nottinghamshire. Including, unsurprisingly, 'Once Upon A Time In The Midlands'.
  • A film version of Stig of the Dump was filmed in and around the Derby area, which is in the Midlands.

Literature
  • Nottingham of course gives us one of fiction's most famous bad guys, the Sheriff of Nottingham. The title wasn't created until 1449, long after the start of the Robin Hood story but it still exists and was recently held by a woman, Jeannie Packer (who referenced Robin Hood on her biography page).
    • Her successor doesn't, but the page describing the office of the Sheriff of Nottingham does briefly mention its role in the legend of Robin Hood.
  • In The Third World War, Birmingham gets nuked.
  • Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mystery series is based in Shropshire (with occasional forays into Wales).
    • Peters' other series detective, George Felse, also hails from the Midlands.
  • One or two vermin in the Redwall series have a noticeable Brummie Funetik Aksent, as opposed to the usual generic low-class thug or Talk Like a Pirate vermin dialects.
  • Adrian Mole is from Leicester, and the books largely take place in various towns in the Midlands.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien stated that in The Lord of the Rings, he based the Shire (and the Hobbit society there) on his childhood home in Birmingham.
    • An amusing side result of this arises from "Gamgee" actually being a colloquial term in Birmingham for "cotton wool" (the white fluffy stuff), because a local cotton company was run by a family named "Gamgee". Tolkien wasn't aware of the reason, he just remembered it as a term from his childhood and then assigned as the character Sam's surname, sort of like "Sam Cottonwool" (he's this good natured guy who helps out people who are in trouble, sort of like medical dressings do). This even extends to the point that Sam's wife Rosie's surname is "Cotton". Much to Tolkien's surprise, a few years after The Lord of the Rings was published, he received a letter from a real-life man whose actual name was "Sam Gamgee". Tolkien wrote him back explaining he never realized "Gamgee" was a real-life surname, he thought it was just a local word from his childhood in the Midlands, though Sam was quite a heroic character so he didn't think it would be too embarrassing. For a while afterwards, Tolkien had the slight fear that one day he'd get a letter from some poor fellow actually named "S. Gollum" as "that would have been more difficult to deal with."
    • Of course, what the film version controversially omitted for time was one of Tolkien's major points in the book: when the Hobbits return to the Shire after the war, they find that the Industrial Revolution has swept through it, factories have sprouted up everywhere, and all the forests have been cut down. The Shire was taken over by Frodo's evil cousin Lotho using hired mercenaries, and they quickly set about trying to industrialize everything for profit...or to make it a world power...or something. Tolkien usually strongly argued against any allegorical readings of his work (even really strong reflections about the Great War which are kind of obvious), but on this one point, he openly admitted that "the Scouring of the Shire" was his commentary on what happened to the Midlands in the 20th century. Tolkien grew up in the Midlands around the turn of the century, which it was this bucolic Shire-like lush green fairy-tale-perfect place, then he left to fight in the horror of World War I, all but one of his close personal friends were killed in action, and when he returned home to Birmingham, the whole place had industrialized, factories were everywhere and choking it with pollution, and the Midlands he grew up in were utterly swept aside. (Of course, Tolkien was well aware that parts of the Midlands had been industrialized longer than anywhere else—after all, that's why it was called the "Black Country," and the original steam engine company, Boulton & Watt, was based in Birmingham—but the Great War had led the factories to cover even more of the land.) "Mordor" for Tolkien (or more probably "Isengard") was, in many ways, urban sprawl.
      • It is soon revealed that Lotho's rise was funded by Saruman, who later arrives and directly takes control, at which point all pretense to "productivity" is abandoned and the mercenaries just start randomly burning forests, polluting rivers for no real purpose, etc. Saruman had no real goal other than *petty revenge on some country farmers who are three and a half feet tall* (how the mighty have fallen...) — so its sort of implied by Tolkien that there could *be* no rational reason for what had happened to the Midlands, the actual underlying reason for all of this industrialization was for the *sole* purpose of polluting the countryside out of existence out of spite!
  • Tom Browns Schooldays is set in Rugby School (where the sport was also born, at least according to the popular legend), and the quasi-spinoff Flashman stars a character from the book.

Live-Action TV
  • Richard Hammond of Top Gear, who is constantly cast as a sort of country bumpkin by co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson for that very reason.
    • Constantly joked about during the tractor challenge, culminating in Hammond attempting to herd sheep in the background while Clarkson and James May talk.
  • Eric Idle's Rutland Weekend Television, the joke being that Rutland, the least-populous of all counties in England, would have its own TV station, and so be extremely low-budget.
  • Timothy Spall is famous for portraying TV Brummies, despite not actually being from Birmingham. It started with Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and just sort of snowballed.
  • Crossroads: three different versions of a Soap Opera set in a Midlands motel/hotel.
  • Sibling actors Michael Socha (Tom in Being Human) and Lauren Socha (Kelly in Misfits) are from Derbyshire. Notably, they use their natural regional accents in the aforementioned roles, providing rare examples of strong East Midlands dialect/accents in television dramas.

Radio
  • The Archers is set in a (fictional) West Midlands county called Borsetshire, whose inhabitants have Dorset and/or Somerset accents for no adequately explained reason. Presumably someone from the casting department who's never been to either region just went for "generic country bumpkin" and nobody bothered to correct them.
    • Ambridge is based on Hanbury, a village in Worcestershire. The difference between "generic country bumpkin" and the genuine Worcestershire accent (which is not that common these days) is probably lost on most people.

Webcomics
  • Russell and Reggie, the protagonists of Transmission were born and raised in Stoke-On-Trent.
  • Zimmy and Gamma of Gunnerkrigg Court both hail from Birmingham; Zimmy's personal Black Bug Room is a Dark World reflection of the city. (The author himself lives in Birmingham; the portrayal in the comic shows his own feelings about the Real Life city.)
  • Going by a plot-point involving the exact geographic centre of the UK, and one rather specific cultural reference, many of the central cast of FreakAngels are from Northamptonshire.

Real Life
  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Lenny Henry
  • Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Alan Moore are both natives of the Midlands county of Northamptonshire. Also Raging Speedhorn, but we try not to talk about that too loudly.
  • East Midlands Airport has been renamed multiple times because almost no one from outside Britain has heard of the East Midlands. They tried to get it renamed to Nottingham Airport at one point, because more people have heard of this, but as the airport actually isn't in Nottingham at all, or even Nottinghamshire, this raised objections from the other two cities the airport serves, Leicester and Derby.
    • Also there already is a Nottingham Airport, but it's so small that not even some people in Nottingham know about it.
  • Comedian Jasper Carrott, noted for his Brummie accent and routines about supporting the mostly hopeless Birmingham City FC. He also had a routine about being the most average man in Britain:
    "Have you ever stopped to think about how ordinary you are? I have. I'm so ordinary...it's extraordinary. I'm middle-aged, middle-class, and I live in The Midlands, in the middle of England. In fact I live bang slap in the middle of The Midlands in the middle of England. I drive on the middle lane of the motorway while listening to some middle-of-the-road music (usually Bette Midler) and when I get to work I feel like I'm stuck in the Middle Ages! I went to the doctor, he said 'you're having a midlife crisis'. I gave him the middle finger!"
  • All the members of the psychedelic rock band Traffic were from the West Midlands.
  • Duran Duran originated in Birmingham with the 1978 founding of the band (with childhood friends and Birmingham natives Nick Rhodes and John Taylor at the core of this band). They were the house band for the Rum Runner, a club set up to be Birmingham's answer to Studio 54, and every band member who joined up until Andy Taylor entered the picture were from Birmingham. (Taylor was from "Oop North", specifically Newcastle.) Simon Le Bon came from London but was studying drama at the University of Birmingham when he joined the band, and the band were managed by Rum Runner owners (and fellow Brummies) Paul and Michael Barrow.
    • And speaking of the Rum Runner — two other bands from Birmingham, Dexys Midnight Runners ("Come on Eileen") and UB40 ("Red Red Wine") used the practice space above the club to rehearse.
  • Formula One champion Nigel Mansell sounds unmistakably like a midlander. As noted on the trope page fellow brummie Jasper Carrott made fun of his lack of personality: "Potentially, he is the most exciting man on the Earth..." (beat) "... until he speaks".
  • Richard Armitage was born and raised in Leicester.
  • The Stamper Brothers, who founded a company called Ashby Computers and Graphics (literally in the middle of the country - Ashby is about a mile off being the most central point in the UK) which after a period as Ultimate Play the Game, changed its name to Rare, creators of Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark. They're still in the Midlands, but now based in Twycross.
  • John Deacon of Queen was also born and raised in Leicester.
  • The city of Coventry historically has been the "Motor City" of Britain, headquarters to many automobile companies, most notably Jaguar.
  • Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, was born in Coventry.
  • Robert Plant and John Bonham, singer and drummer respectively, of Led Zeppelin.
  • Pro wrestler "Gentleman" Chris Adams was born in Rugby, Warwickshire and usually billed from Stratford-Upon-Avon, also in Warwickshire.

MichiganImageSource/MapsMoldova
LondonHollywood AtlasOop North
East AngliaUsefulNotes/BritainSweet Home Midlands

alternative title(s): The Midlands
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