Four cities shortlistsed for culture crown

Two, until recently, were more closely associated with crimes against architecture and terrorism than the high arts. The most renowned contribution to mass entertainment of another is a film about strippers and the final candidate does a nice line in mustard and cardigan-clad fictitious DJs when it comes to enriching its denizens’ intellectual existence.

But when it comes sorting the United Kingdom’s urban cultural powerhouses from its artistic also-rans, it seems that only Birmingham, Derry, Sheffield and Norwich will do when it comes to producing a shortlist of the cities competing for the title of the nation’s first City of Culture in 2013.

The quartet beat off challenges from hard-fought competition from the likes of Reading, Southend, Chorley and, enigmatically, the Countryside to make the final selection before the winner of the competition - and a predicted economic and artistic windfall - is announced this summer. Bath, the early front runner, failed to make the shortlist.

The initiative is designed to emulate on a domestic level the success of the European City of Culture scheme, which was last hosted by a British city in 2008 when Liverpool won the title and saw an estimated £1bn in economic and publicity benefits from its year of events ranging from a concert by Sir Paul McCartney to an invasion by a giant spider.

Phil Redmond, the television impresario and creative director of Liverpool’s year of culture, who heads an advisory panel which drew up the 2013 shortlist and will recommend a winner, said: “It was a hard choice but also heartening that all bidders had recognised the power of culture to bring people together.”

Each of the finalists now has three months to catalogue their high-brow assets and draw up a list of events considered sufficiently dazzling to win the title, which will be awarded once every four years and comes with permission to use the “UK City of Culture” branding for 12 months - but not a penny of central government funding.

Bookmakers immediately installed Norwich, the home of Alan Partridge and Colman’s mustard, as the favourite for the title at odds of 6/4, followed by Sheffield (the setting for The Full Monty) at 9/4, Birmingham (once pilloried for its Bull Ring shopping centre) at 3/1 and Derry (which is harnessing its bitter experience of the Troubles as part of its bid) at 4/1.

It is unlikely that narcissistic BBC Radio Norfolk DJ Partridge will feature prominently in the Norwich campaign after city elders complained that actor Steve Coogan’s less than cutting-edge character had helped torpedo its bid to become European City of Culture in 2008.

But the shortlisting of the East Anglian capital already represents a significant victory over its regional rival, Ipswich, which had featured on the longlist for the award. Traditional enmity between the two towns flared when the leader of Norwich City Council, Steve Morphew, said: “It is fair to say that, when it comes to culture, the discerning people in Ipswich get on a train and come to Norwich.”

The eventual winner could benefit from being chosen to host a number of high-profile cultural events, including the Turner Prize, the Brits music awards and the RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture.

At least one city which did not make the shortlist was quick to set its disappointment aside. Durham announced it would be holding its own year of culture festival in 2013 anyway, including the return on loan of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

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