The campaign snowballed rapidly. Maggie and her friend in the PR agency sent out a press release to all the local media, with a copy to the local MP, Giles Oxenham. He saw a brilliant photo-opportunity and invited himself along to one of their regular campaign meetings, along with the Birmingham Post photographer.
‘Would you line up in a group for the picture?’ prompted the nearest thing to paparazzi the city had to offer. He was aiming for a quick click and away. But Anne wasn’t having that.
‘No-one looks at that sort of picture any more,’ she said, and persuaded the photographer that something more eye-catching would work better. She handed a brush and a large tin of paint to the bewildered MP. Led by the luscious Maggie, they all trooped outside and set up an action shot, as they pretended to paint one of the peeling front doors. Not averse to a stunt that would attract voters’ attention, he played along happily. The MP edged closer to Maggie, who promptly decided that a patch of wood on the other side needed attention. The resulting shot made an interesting feature in the next day’s Birmingham Post.
The regional early evening television programme sent a camera crew and an interviewer who spotted at once how much better copy were the two women. He paid lip service to interviewing the MP, with the usual platitudes and non-answers. The journalist knew what he was about, and he turned to the double Act of Maggie and Anne.
‘Now young man, what do you want to know?’ Anne’s erstwhile retiring
manner had undergone quite a transformation thanks to the exciting life she’d been living recently. ‘You see, we can’t let them knock these buildings down. For one thing this is my home, and you wouldn’t get me out of here without a fight. But the important thing is to preserve what is one of the very few remaining Georgian terraces in the city. Look around you. Nothing but monstrous modern rubbish and traffic. How will future generations know that Edgbaston was once beautiful if we destroy every last remnant of the past? You ask your viewers that.’ She paused for breath, and the MP attempted to butt in. ‘Mr Oxenham. You’ve had your turn. It’s my turn now, dear.’ Nodding politely, but feeling silly, the MP withdrew.
The amused interviewer let her have her head. She was doing his job for him.
‘Besides, young man, think of the small businesses that have their offices here. Think of the people who would be out of work if they had to close down.’
Playing Devil’s advocate, the interviewer broke in. ‘Don’t you think that these people would prefer to work in nice modern offices with all the techno wizardry on tap?’
‘They wouldn’t be able to afford the exorbitant rents these grasping property companies ask for their hideous skyscraper offices.’ replied Anne tartly, while Maggie took up the refrain.
‘If you think modern offices are nice, you can think again. I’ve worked in buildings like that and they’re like greenhouses with all that glass. They’re noisy, uncomfortable and totally impersonal.’
‘Game, set and match, I think,’ said Anne and the BBC man gave in gracefully and wound up the interview.
The Georgian Society stirred up a huge ground swell of protest, specially after the publication of an article in Warwickshire and Worcestershire Life, complete with beautiful pictures, some of them dating back to when the whole terrace had been private houses. More and more people with absolutely no axe to grind demonstrated a strong interest in local history and joined their voices to the chorus.
At last the application came up for consideration by the Planning Committee. Maggie’s boss, Peter Arkwright just happened to be a City Councillor. ‘My secretary will never forgive me if I don’t do something to stop this vandalism,’ he said to the Borough Surveyor.
‘Why, d’yer call it that?’ The Brummie surveyor was a practical man. ‘What’s so special about this terrace, right in the heart of an up and coming business area?’
‘So yer ‘aven’t even been to have a look then?’ said Arkwright. ‘Right then, before you make up your mind, we’ll take a little trip down there. The Planning Committee doesn’t meet until the end of the week, so how about right now?’
‘Ay-oop then. Let’s be going.’
‘This dae look like much. Look at all this wonderful modern stuff round about.’ The Borough Surveyor was not about to give in gracefully.
Councillor Arkwright thrust his beaky nose into the face of the official. ‘Not look like much? Can’t yer see the proportions, the symmetry, the beautiful stonework on the cornices? Yer don’t get quality like that in yer modern glass and steel Lego buildings. Nothing but architects’ ego trips if yer ask me. We should be preserving stuff like this for our grandchildren ter see, not knocking it down. What was it Prince Charles called that monstrosity they wanted to build in London? Carbuncle. That’s what it was. We need more ugliness like a hole in the head.’
”Hold on, Councillor. You must admit the terrace looks in need of an expensive renovation.’
‘Aye, and that’s exactly what it’ll get if yer turn down the developers. It’s all organised and there’s some very feisty ladies all ready to fight for it.’
At the next council meeting, the Planning Committee was being forced into a corner.
‘We can’t afford to alienate such a large group of voters.’ The Chairman of the Planning Committee represented a marginal ward, and was not about to jeopardise his re-election the following May. ‘That old lady plans to provide some top notch affordable housing – a sure-fire vote winner. I propose that the developers’ application for demolition and construction of a 10 storey office block be refused, and that the refurbishment and conversion plans, submitted by Mr Lawrence Bunting on behalf of his Aunt, be approved. All in favour?’ And the proposal was carried on a show of hands with no dissent.
As soon as he heard that their application had been refused, the Chairman of the development company called a board meeting. ‘We could fight this’ he said ‘but it will not be a cheap battle, and even if we win after a re-application, that old lady could hold us up for years and it would cost us a fortune in legal fees to get her out. Do you agree that we accept the offer of this man Lawrence whatever-it-was to take the lease off our hands?’ Berkeley Jones was not a man to be argued with, and the remaining directors wasted no time in adding their murmurs of agreement to the suggestion.
‘This is wonderful news.’ Lawrence had flown back as soon as he heard about the Council decision. ‘Now we’re going to have to think about finances.’
‘What do you mean dear? Isn’t my lottery money enough?
‘Well yes, it would be, but we don’t want to tie up so much capital in the one project, and there’s the little matter of refurbishment costs.’
‘Well I’m …. I never thought I’d have to worry about money again, and here’s you saying I don’t have enough.’
‘It’s not that Anne. Why would we put all your assets into this when we can perfectly justify…’
‘I’m not borrowing money, and that’s that. I never have and I never will.’
‘If I might finish what I was going to say, I was going to suggest an application for lottery funding for the project, specially as we’re aiming to provide affordable flats for local people, as well as restoring a superb piece of Georgian architecture..’
‘I’m not sure I understand what you mean: we already have the lottery money. Surely they won’t give us any more?’
‘They might, as part of their good causes programme.’
‘Oh, I don’t think so dear. We don’t want anyone telling us what we can and can’t do. I may have a better idea. If we keep the four middle houses as business premises we could keep those lovely people who have helped us so much in “saving the buildings” as Maggie keeps calling it. Then the two outer houses each end could be turned into – oh I don’t know – probably twelve decent flats. I’m sure we could persuade the businesses to pay for 99 year leases – or whatever is usual for these kind of premises. They’d surely be glad of the security, wouldn’t you think, Lawrence? And the lease money would pay for doing up the houses and converting them to beautiful flats.’
‘Oh Anne, what a brilliant businesswoman you could have been. Why didn’t I think of that?’
‘Because you’re a man, dear.’ responded Anne tartly. ‘What should we do now?’
But man or not, Lawrence himself was no mean wheeler-dealer. It was only a few months later that they were able to start on the conversions, with Anne keeping a watchful eye on the expenses and thoroughly enjoying her sense of importance at being involved in such a huge project, in charge for the first time in her life.