Dom Joly: One look at the Take That crowd and I fled to a bomb site

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The Independent Online

I 've been sent to Coventry... literally. Not by Stacey for spending more than 10 hours a day online shooting people around the world on my Xbox 360. Nor by my children for calling the shepherds "rag-heads" during the school nativity play. No, I'm physically in the city overnight to film some stuff about CCTV. Coventry has one of the few CCTV interactive systems in the UK. This means that not only can the authorities spy on the inhabitants, but they can also shout at them through speakers that sit beside the cameras. It's totally Orwellian, but it's not going to stop there. There are now cameras being developed that will analyse how you walk and then alert the operators to anyone who is not "walking in a normal way".

There's clearly a flaw in this idea, as everyone I saw on camera last night was drunk and staggering about the empty streets. Either the operators will have to set this drunken lurch as the norm and the cameras only point out the occasional sober person, or they will be constantly beeping at everyone under 30 who hobbles past.

I must admit that I was slightly dreading my visit here. In the past couple of weeks I seem to have been touring cities that the Luftwaffe destroyed in the Second World War. Last week it was Exeter, a victim of the so-called Baedeker raids in which Hitler flicked through some Thirties tourist guidebook to decide which beautiful cities should be razed to the ground by German bombs. Coventry was even worse hit the Luftwaffe actually had a term "to Coventrate" which they used to describe somewhere they'd totally wiped out. So I didn't have high hopes for the place as we drove up the Fosse Way from the Cotswolds. As we entered the city I immediately felt depressed. I really do think that I suffer from an acute case of aesthetic depression which renders me unable to work anywhere that isn't drop-dead gorgeous. Sadly, I'm not in charge of this particular production and so I'm getting a whistle-stop tour of every armpit in England. We checked in at the Coventry Hilton, conveniently situated on an industrial estate just seconds from the motorway and sweet escape. As we entered the lobby, it was absolutely packed with badly dolled-up women smoking and drinking pints as, it turned out, there was a Take That tribute night on. Off out filming, I was already dreading the return to the hotel 200 drunk women, heated up by the fake Take Thatters and looking for male action, any male action, and my film crew and I would be the only prey.

We headed off towards the city centre. It was just what I expected brutalist architecture squatting next to concrete palaces of doom, all surrounded by huge looping motorways that acted as some sort of barrier blocking the path of anyone who tried to break for the border.

Then something extraordinary happened. We drove up a hill looking for somewhere to park and suddenly found ourselves in the "historic centre" all cobblestones and old timber houses. We parked the car and got out in the moonlit shadow of the old, bombed cathedral. It was beautiful not a word I thought I would ever use about Coventry. The entire roof is gone, but the old walls still stand. There's something quite breathtaking about looking into a building and up to the night sky possibly this is more common than I might think in this city, but it was one of those unexpectedly beautiful moments.

I spent two hours hurling abuse at the good people of Coventry on the loudspeaker system. Most of them rightly ignored me. There seemed to be a general feeling of grim resignation about the place. Job done, we returned to the Hilton and the dregs of the Take That tribute evening. I hit the lift as fast as I could. There's no business like show business.

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