I am working on a series entitled “What I will do when the pandemic is over…” For this I am researching Britain using a variety of guide books. I live in Coventry and thought I would just glance at what is said about my city.
I was struck by the expression “ugly Orwellian” which is profoundly inappropriate. By this I assume the author means Like Airstip One from Nineteen Eighty Four. Whilst Coventry can be ugly and certainly has more than its fair share of brutal modernistic buildings I think it’s a misnomer to say that this is Orwellian and certainly is not the description of Airstrip one from the novel.
In the novel Airstrip One is an image of an unreconstructed London with a further forty years of decay. It is an echo of the images that Orwell conjures from his The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin Modern Classics) of the deprivation of the North. Its a vision of decaying 19th century houses, shanty towns and slums. The best vision I could suggest would be the outside scenes in Passport to Pilmico.
Ironically the brutal and ugly buildings were an attempt to build a nice and pleasant environment for the people of Coventry. The concrete canyons replaced slums that were so embarrassingly documented by Nazi spies on the eve of their planned invasion. Indeed the worst slums in Europe were in Britain between the wars. Coventrys slums were being cleared in the 1920s and the blitz finished the process in November 1940. After the war Coventry was reconstructed with a modernist vision of the future, and unfortunately nothing ages faster than a persons vision of the future.