The Pageant of Birmingham – 1938

An image of the man made dinosaur, Egbert

(Ref: Misc Photos/Pageant of Birmingham)

In 1938 Birmingham celebrated the 100th anniversary of the city’s Borough Charter with a pageant acting as the climax of the festivities. Eight episodes told the story of Birmingham from its prehistoric origins to its position as the ‘hub of industrial England’ and its final status as a city in its own right. The period displaying scenes from pre-history must have been some of the most impressive on show. In the opening episode, three dinosaurs, hacked together from the chassis of small cars, ply wood and paint and powered by men hidden inside would maraud across the field chasing, and being chased by hundreds of fur clothed cavemen.

A close up Image of Egbert's head.

(Ref: Misc Photos/Pageant of Birmingham)

Egbert (pictured) was the biggest of the three and could emit a ‘terrifying’ roar and breath yellow smoke. It is unclear how the mechanism that produced these affects functioned but it was powered by a couple of old car batteries  tied to the inside of the dinosaur chassis. Egbert’s companion beasts were the almost as large Ogbert who was similar in design to Egbert, and the diminutive Little Sidney who could move his head independently and had his own baby’s pacifier. Sidney’ design was based around the body shape of a Triceratops.

An image of a young girl being sacrificed by a group of Druids.

(Ref: Misc Photos/Pageant of Birmingham)

At no point in the early episodes did the pageant make any claim to historical accuracy. The purpose of these acts were to display the progression from lawlessness to  modern day society. The picture (left) shows a group of Druids preparing a human sacrifice.

If you would like to know more about the pageant there are  a number of online exhibitions created by Birmingham Archives and Heritage. The first takes you through the pageant act by act whilst another takes you behind the scenes showing the work that went into preparing for the shows. This final exhibition focuses solely on Gwen Lally who was brought in to plan and deliver the most successful pageant in Birmingham’s history.


9 responses to “The Pageant of Birmingham – 1938

  1. My grandfather’s last job as a printers proof-reader was to scutinise the programme for this pageant.
    He died in August 1938 in Selly Oak Hospital at the early age of 62.

    • macgregorrachel

      Hundreds of Birmingham’s residents took part in the Pageant either, like your grandfather in a more behind the scene role, or as a participant – we had a lunchtime history lecture on the subject in February and several people came forward with their own memories from it which was really nice.

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  5. James Shellis

    I have a stamp of the pageant of birmingham 1938 aston park- july 11th to the 16th. how much are they worth.

  6. Lynne Orford nee Davies

    OMG am soooo excitedto read all of this and to see the video that is also one google!! My father built those dinosaurs…, I have the mug here in Australia, Bert Davies then and engraving of Egbert and underneath it reads “In appreciation of your work for the Pageant of Birmingham 1938, thanks” and signed “Coaling” whom I assume would have been the Mayor at the time??? I also have a badge that commemorates the occasion. Cannot tell you how happy I am to see all of this!! Cheers !!!

  7. My grandfather Joseph Cohen was the pioneer of the provincial News Theatres and apart from showing the National news, his company Jacey Cinemas Ltd. had it’s own mobile film unit (35mm) and made a film showing the celebrations that after being shown at The News Theatre and at the Tatler, the film was presented as a gift to The Lord Mayor (Councillor E R Canning) for the Birmingham City archives. Anyone wanting to know more, I have added ‘The History of Jacey Cinemas’ and information about Joseph Cohen to my website (over 300 photos) .

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