Why has Robbie Williams always been a bit of a square peg in a round hole in Take That? Because he’s from Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands and the other four are all dyed-in-the-wool Northerners, of course. Mercurial, insecure, restless, a natural experimenter, Robbie is the interesting one, the one with charisma – the Take That Midlander. By comparison, the other band members (no offence, chaps) are a bit plodding, a bit meat-and-potatoes, a bit stereotypically Northern. Inevitably, it’s ‘Sir’ Gary Barlow – the really Northern one – who’s being groomed for the Establishment, but it’s Midlander Robbie who’s the national treasure.
These marvellous circular traffic intersections didn’t originate in the Midlands but Telford in Shropshire is the centripetal heart of twenty-first-century England, boasting the highest density of roundabouts per capita of population. Motorists have been known to use up a whole tank’s worth of petrol driving from one end of Telford to the other: it’s only a few miles, but the roundabouts are addictive. Other Midland roundabout towns of note: too many to list.
The great hard-rock heroes all hail from the West Midlands. Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy all let out their first lusty baby cries in and around these parts. Even the great ‘Irish’ music icon and Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott was secretly a Midlander: his birth certificate shows that he was born in West Bromwich. That statue in Dublin really ought to be taken down and re-erected just off the M5. Little-known facts: 1) Off mic, Phil spoke with a broad Brummie accent. ‘Yow all right, bab?’ he would greet guitarist Scott Gorham of a morning. 2) The Boys Are Back in Town was originally titled The Boys Are Back in Brum – Dino’s Bar and Grill was a favourite eatery of Phil’s just off Chamberlain Square. It did a great egg and chips, apparently.
Did you know that the Midlands is home to what archaeologists have recently dubbed ‘the Sistine Chapel of the Ice Age’? Creswell Crags, an unassuming-looking limestone gorge on the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire border, contains the most extensive cache of prehistoric bas-reliefs anywhere in the world. The subject matter of the engraved images – created by modifying the natural limestone topography of the caves – includes animals as well as what appear to be the earliest human nudes in the history of British art. That’s right: Ice Age Midlanders invented BritArt.
Midlanders are very grounded people, so it should come as little surprise that it was a Midlander who discovered gravity. Former Grantham schoolboy Sir Isaac Newton first hypothesized the inverse-square law of universal gravitation in his 1687 page-turner Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. As the noted versifier Alexander Pope wrote: ‘Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; / God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.’ The Royal Society recently named humble Midlander Newton as the most influential scientist of all time (Einstein came second). Beat that, smarty-pants London!