This was one venue that I was not able to book onto during the #keytothecitybrum project and therefore my visit was a few weeks after the Commonwealth Games.
Simon Topman, managing director of 150-year-old ACME Whistles greeted our small group with the words “You are part of the leftovers”. No, this is not a reference to a meal or a restaurant, rather Simon was referring to the “Key to the City”. During the festival, the Whislte tour only took place on Wednesdays, and as I was soon to realise, only small groups could be taken around the factory premises. Therefore, I was one of many that could not get on a tour during the Key to the City dates. I was determined to complete the full set of venues with my key and so I was more than happy to attend and proud to be one of the “leftovers”.
Whilst we waited for Simon to appear for the tour, we had coffee and biscuits in the upper meeting room. The place reminded me of my grandmother’s sitting room with so many fascinating memorabilia on display. There were items from the two wars, recent links to the England football team and the late Queen’s Jubilees. The furniture was wonderfully luxurious, and the focus was all about whistles.
There are several accounts on the Internet about the ACME whistle tours led by Simon, and these have elevated the experience to a legendary status. What does this account add to a thoroughly entertaining 2 hour tour of the factory? To start with, Simon is a first-class raconteur and a master of storytelling. We learnt about the history of the whistle and how the business started. It all began with Joseph Hudson and his invention of the police whistle in the 1870s and the company have not looked back since.
For a photographer, the tour was a delight and I had fun taking pictures of the various factory scenes that unfolded. At the start of the tour we surveyed the bomb damage in the ceiling from WWII. Then we entered the working factory. Each area provided an interesting viewpoint of the making of whistles. What was intriguing was how the light changed throughout the grand Victorian building. The shiny surfaces of numerous whistles resulted in a host of pictures. There were several macro-opportunities of the whistles themselves. The people who worked at the factory were the stars and I hope they did not mind being photographed as their contributions to the manufacture of the whistles was interesting. I took pictures of the different processes that took place in the production of both the metal and plastic ACME whistles. I took the opportunity of photographing Simon and was taken aback when he informed me that not that many people ask to take his photograph during the tours. But like a professional actor, he quickly posed with both whistles and rackets. I would love to spend the day photographing all the people working in the factory. There is so much that is happening that deserves to be recorded.
Then the tour was over. I looked at my watch 2 hours had sped by. The fee for the tours goes directly to charity and the factory has strong links with a local school for children with special educational needs. I brought one of their silent dog whistles and three of their authentic Titanic whistles which is another story that Simon tells so well. It is worth just booking on the tour to hear about how the original whistle was used on the Titanic and its reprise in the successful film.
I left by the front door, admiring the beautiful tiling and other tokens of a long successful business in the world of whistles. Outside the Victorian building looks resplendent and has seen many events during its lifetime. Simon informed me that the front street was to feature in the new ITV series written by Lenny Henry called “Three little birds”. I forgot to mention to Simon that this was an opportunity to market a new whistle to commemorate the Influx of immigrants from Jamaica. Such a whistle would prove to be very popular at carnivals and other celebrations!
There are many accounts on the Internet about the legendary Whistle Tour led by Simon Topman and I have put some of the links below.
- Acme Whistle Company Tour with Simon Topman
- A trip to remember a detailed account by Ajay from Queen Mary’s Grammar School
- Lichfield Science and Engineering Society
Please follow my blog with all the entries to the “Key to the City” start with my Key ceremony. Please follow further links to view the other venues.
- Key to the City Brum
- Three keys in Birmingham
- Key to the trains and the football
- My key opens another three locks
- Keys to the Blyden’s Garden and the Legacy centre
- Time to reflect with my key
- Key to Green Lane Mosque
- Route 61 and two more keys
- The popular key – 103 Colmore Row
- Open all hours with my key
- No Ghosts were harmed by my Key
- The key opens a special meal
- Whistling a Birmingham success (This article)