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An Ensemble of Public Servants

An Ensemble of Public Servants

🕔12.Nov 2013

For most of the time on this site, our articles are full of talk of service reviews, social care disasters, jaws of death, Clancy’s camp or Bore’s latest grand plan. Occasionally, we might mention HS2 or even how much Commissioner Bob really, really doesn’t want to be a Police and Crime Commissioner (but somehow he manages to battle through).

So last night’s edition of The Choir, the BBC hit series with choirmaster Gareth Malone, was a welcome respite from the politics of the Council to some of the real people who make up Europe’s largest metropolitan authority. For Files readers who don’t double up as Choir watchers, the series essentially featuring the now bearded Gareth Malone pops along to big workplaces and attempts to put together a choir which goes on to perform and compete with other hastily assembled company choirs. It’s ideal BBC2 reality stuff – a mix of something a little cultured and educational with the characters and journeys that the genre demands.

So, it was with last night’s show set in and around the Council House, with choir members drawn from a civil enforcement officer (traffic warden) through to a particularly bossy Assistant Director. Seemingly, Chief Executive Stephen Hughes popped along to the auditions and presumably was told that his voice did not fit. Apparently, this was not the cause of his recent decision to retire. Being reality and being Brummie, there were characters and stories. The soloist, the highly likeable and talented social worker Siobhán Patton, featured strongly with the juxtaposition of preparing to perform both in court and on stage.

It would be easy to be dismissive of the show and the simple narrative painted by the producers, summed up by Gareth’s drive into the city – “in my mind all I can see is bins…god bless you for emptying the bins…” to his emerging realisation that the Council (especially one as big as Birmingham) does so, so much more.

Telly always simplifies a story and it has to look for shortcuts and soundbites, particularly in the factual entertainment strand. Nevertheless, The Choir – Sing While You Work was a timely reminder that beyond the budget numbers and the party and group politics, the Council and its staff are doing jobs that are at the heart of our lives and communities. The functions are not always sexy or headline grabbers, but are important nevertheless. Many of us would run a hundred miles from jobs involving emptying bins, issuing traffic orders or life and death decisions on children in ‘troubled’ families.

We can, we should and here on the Files we will always provide a platform for endless debate about the value of services, how they should be managed and who should run them.  However, this episode probably helps us appreciate even more the people who provide those services and the value placed on them by users.

At the outset of the episode, it was obviously going to end up as a brilliant performance. We knew because Gareth appeared to dread the prospect of this council choir. True to form, in this political environment, the characters were not pulling together; some showed a poor work ethic and were nowhere near performance ready. Who’d have thought? Then, on the night, with the Chief Executive returned to a front row seat, they pulled it off – not least in the form of the show’s star Patton.

It was a triumph. A good performance, a great showcase for the Council (even in times of austerity) and for the city which looked splendid. All credit to the producers for not falling into the familiar trap of painting Birmingham as something of a second rate city, but visually treating this urban metropolis as the attractive, diverse and dynamic place that it is.

To adopt a phrase you won’t see on here too often: encore, Birmingham City Council!

Cover Image: via

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