CWG - Mascot Perry
Let the Games begin: Two children stand in front of a banner displaying Perry, the official mascot of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. The Commonwealth Games will be inaugurated later on Thursday. Image Credit: AP

Birmingham: The Commonwealth Games get under way in the central English city of Birmingham on Thursday evening.

Here is a look at five things to know about Birmingham:

Steaming along

Birmingham in the late 18th century was termed “the first manufacturing town in the world” and earned the nickname “the city of a thousand trades”.

Scottish inventor James Watt’s revolutionary steam engine was created there in 1776. Letters may be a little outdated now, but it was Birmingham school teacher Rowland Hill who is widely credited with introducing the first postage stamp and the roots of what became the modern postal service.

Playing a Blinder

Birmingham was represented on television in the long-running soap opera “Crossroads”, about life in a motel on the outskirts of the city. It was much ridiculed but had very high viewing figures.

“Some of the acting would have disgraced the humblest of village halls. Many of the plots were so farcical they could have been written in a bad dream,” said television historian Hilary Kingsley.

The more recent hit crime drama series “Peaky Blinders” changed all that and helped put Birmingham on the global map.

“An absolute winner internationally,” purred one local tourism chief.

Currying flavour

Birmingham boasts plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants but its most famous culinary experience is the Balti Curry.

The Balti made its first appearance in the United Kingdom in Birmingham, introduced to the city in the 1970s by Pakistan immigrants who adapted it from Kashmiri recipes to a more westernised palate. Its popularity has grown so much that there is a Balti Triangle and even the Balti Mile, which has 12 restaurants serving the curry.

For those with a sweeter tooth, Cadbury Chocolate began life in Birmingham.

Chamberlain to ‘Mr Blue Sky’

Perhaps Birmingham’s most famous son is former prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

His “peace in our time” declaration proved to be quite the opposite - within months World War II had broken out and he was to eventually step down to be replaced by Winston Churchill. The rest is history.

Other “Brummies” of note include Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, co-founders of the Electric Light Orchestra, whose song “Mr Blue Sky” was used in the handover ceremony to Birmingham at the end of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.

‘Second City’ derby

Premier League side Aston Villa and second-tier Birmingham City enjoy a fierce rivalry, their matches titled the “Second City” derby.

Villa were one of the founding members both of the Football League and then the Premier League, and won the European Cup in 1982.

Birmingham is not a one-sport town though. Edgbaston regularly hosts Tests and other international cricket matches, and former England batsman Dennis Amiss and present international Moeen Ali were born in the city.

Formula One’s 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell grew up in Birmingham and although he was often bullied at school, he looks back with a certain fondness on those days and calls himself “a proud Brummie”.