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.
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.
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.