The increasing prevalence of reports citing the North-South divide become so commonplace they really began to annoy Robert Shore.

What about the third of the country that was being passed over just as much as the proverbial piggy in the middle, he wondered?

To those of us who live here, Birmingham is the country’s second largest city at the heart of a super region that has given the world so much.

Except, as we all know, it doesn’t get anything like as much credit back in return.

Places like Birmingham and the Black Country, of which Robert is fond.

And Mansfield, the mining town of his birth, which most people know only because it has a football team?

To try to set the record straight, to fly the flag and to galvanise opinion, all at the same time, Robert set off on his travels and put pen to paper.

The result is a new book called Bang In The Middle, a bright-and-breezy read which salutes the contributions of everyone from pop star Robbie Williams to lexicographer Dr Johnson and Britain’s first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

It also recognises how everything from the Industrial Revolution to the theory of evolution all have their deepest roots here in the Midlands.

Robert’s first visit to Birmingham was for a completely different reason – to see US rockers Metallica on their third album Masters of Puppets tour at the New Street Odeon in 1986.

Today, he admires the city’s energy and its can-do “Forward” attitude.

But he is also acutely aware that it deserves a better reputation around the country.

To that end, he believes Birmingham should begin to boast about its musical legacy.

And be willing to accept that it can no longer stand on its own two feet if it’s to get noticed.

Robert, now a London-based arts journalist who edits a quarterly publication called Elephant Magazine, believes there’s a case for publicity in numbers.

“As a visitor, I was surprised how exciting Birmingham felt,” he says.

“There are lots of squares and they keep sticking bits on, one on top of another. It feels dynamic.

“But Manchester has been a lot cleverer with its musical legacy, sticking lots of posters up saying ‘this is where that happened’.”

If the Midlands is so overlooked, why are there so many immigrants here from all corners of the world – how do they find us?

“That’s a paradox,” he admits.

Robert Shore, who argues that Midlanders have been happy to be 'middling' for too long. His latest book, 'Bang in the Middle' aims to blow our region's trumpet.
 

“There are so many big, former industrial cities in the region and Birmingham is a tremendous melting pot.”

The idea for the book began when Robert’s five-year-old son Hector began to ask where, why and when questions.

Dad realised that selling his wife’s origins in the positively-viewed Paris was quicker than trying to explain his own background in the Midlands.

But while he saw the anonymity of the Midlands as a personal challenge, there was another conundrum to be solved – finding a publisher willing to take a punt.

“‘Jeremy Clarkson does the Midlands’ would have been of national interest,” he says.

“I was lucky that (publishers) The Friday Project were interested in it immediately.

A fun list of 50 Great Things to Come Out of the Midlands is included at the end of the book.

But in order to understand some of Robert’s more left-field choices – Bob Dylan and The Sistine Chapel – readers are directed towards the explanations to be found in a free online ebook after the publishers decided that Bang in the Middle would have become too long had they been included in print.

A very personal choice by Robert sees Mr Darcy at No 1, but, especially considering he’s an East Midlands’ man, the next three things are very Birmingham – hobbits (2), Tony Hancock (3) and the balti (4).

It’s at this point that Robert has a confession to make.

“In absolute terms, a lot of the list is, and should have been, about Birmingham,” he says.

“But I was worried the book could easy have been dominated by the city, so you’ll find the chapter about Melton Mowbray is just as long.

“And the funny thing about writing so much about Melton Mowbray is how seriously the people there have taken it, when it’s meant to be just a bit of fun.”

There’s another interesting choice at No 51 on the ebook – Phil Lynott, the late Thin Lizzy star.

And that’s because although his favourite rocker was universally seen as Irish, Lynott was actually born in West Bromwich just like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.

“Lynott was my favourite,” says Robert. “When he died (aged just 36 in 1986) I couldn’t listen to his music for a long time.”

Other subjects which fascinate him include Midlands’ humour and accents.

“It’s a very distinctive, self-deprecating humour,” says Robert.

“It’s the best of English humour and people are very attracted to that.

“We could do with a very popular soap opera – we have The Archers, but that’s too rural.

“As for the accent, if it was a northern one, then people would love it and it would have a much better reputation.

“Birmingham needs to make itself part of a big block of the country.

“I think there was a time in the 1970s when government felt Birmingham was getting too big for its boots and kept things away.

“On the M1, there are only two signs which say ‘Midlands’.

“But when you put all of the (Midlands towns and cities) together you get a different idea about this part of the country.”

One other thing which fascinates Robert is how people will claim to know something about Birmingham, but not about other places nearby.

“People will have no idea about Leicester,” he says.

“So, in that respect, it’s good to get some cliches in circulation in order to be identified in national culture.

“At least, then, you can say you are not like that.”

* Bang in the Middle by Robert Shore is published by The Friday Project, priced £8.99.