Take a trip ‘Back in Time for Birmingham’

Birmingham is the most culturally diverse city in the UK.

By Claire Cartmill
Sunday, 19th June 2022, 5:00 pm

The ethnic make-up of the Second City changed significantly in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of immigration from Commonwealth countries, and according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 250,000 Brummies have Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi heritage.

When Birmingham was awarded the 2022 Commonwealth Games, organisers pledged to create a “Games for everyone”.

So to tie in with that event, which begins on July 28, the latest run of this living history series is taking a celebratory look at the city.

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Akash, Manisha, Alisha, Vishal in the family's 1950’s lodging

We will witness the vital contributions made to the city and the country as a whole by arrivals from the Indian sub-continent over the last 75 years.

Presented by BBC Asian Network’s Noreen Khan, alongside social historian Yasmin Khan, it begins in the 1950s when immigration from the Indian subcontinent began in earnest.

From then, the Sharmas, a Hindu family with roots in India and Uganda, will fast forward through five decades of rapid change, exploring every facet of British Asian family life.

They’ll take on the jobs of their predecessors, living where they lived, cooking what they ate, learning what they were taught at school and facing the same difficulties (how do you produce authentic home cooking when there’s only swedes at the greengrocers and no-one sells chilli?).

They’ll also devote their spare time to the same activities that were previously enjoyed – from celebrating Pakistan thrashing England at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, gawping open-eyed at what passed for 1970s entertainment in the form of Mind your Language, and bunking school for a 1990s daytime bhangra rave complete with glow sticks.

Presenter Noreen says: “I’m genuinely so excited to be a part of this incredible series! Taking viewers on an insightful, emotional journey over five decades of the South Asian story will be fascinating. Can’t wait for everyone to watch this!”

The series begins as the Sharmas move into a house in Sparkbrook, now a predominantly Muslim Pakistani suburb.

Arriving in 1950, Vishal and his 19-year-old son Akash are shocked at the dingy, limited accommodation they are given, but try to make the most of it.

Vishal puts in a strenuous shift at one of Birmingham’s many factories and Akash tries to whip up a meal from the limited 1950s larder for his dad and guests, Pravin and Saleem, who both lived in shared accommodation when they arrived as economic migrants.

Then mum Manisha and daughter Alisha arrive at the lodgings, bringing home comforts and vital kitchen equipment.

In tomorrow’s second edition, we arrive in the the 1970s, when many South Asian families had realised that running a business was the best way to get ahead.

The Sharmas are now the proud owners of a shop. Mum Manisha and daughter Alisha cook authentic delicacies to entice the customers, while dad Vishal and son Akash take turns to operate the till and restock the shelves.

As the family gather to enjoy Alisha’s traditional Ugandan Asian dish, Yasmin joins them to reflect on the journey of Manisha’s father, who moved from Uganda to Britain shortly before Idi Amin came to power and expelled Indians from the country in 1972.