Recalling Coventry’s great cultural heyday | Letters

John Green remembers growing up in Coventry after the war when world-famous artists and architects flocked to the city. And Ian Joyce wonders why a replica of Frank Whittle’s first jet aircraft adorns a Lutterworth traffic island

Coventry well deserves to be Britain’s city of culture for 2021 (Report, 9 December). After rising phoenix-like from the devastation of the blitz, it suffered a second blitz as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, and saw its industrial base as a centre of engineering and the car industry totally devastated. But it has a strong cultural track record.

While growing up there after the war, I witnessed its architectural innovative flair, with one of the first pedestrianised shopping centres in the UK, a generously proportioned new museum and art gallery, the visionary new cathedral with windows by John Piper, tapestry by Graham Sutherland and a powerful St Michael and the devil sculpture by Jacob Epstein that adorns its portal. Its visionary postwar socialist administration established links with other cities badly damaged by the war, particularly in the communist world, with strong links to the then Stalingrad, Lidice and Belgrade, the latter supplying the beautiful wood for the interior cladding of its state-of-the-art Belgrade Theatre. It was there I saw premieres of Arnold Wesker’s trilogy about an East End Jewish family, new plays by John Arden and productions by a young Trevor Nunn.

I went to concerts where Soviet performers like Emil Gilels, Marx Raizin, Galina Vishnevskaya and Igor Oistrakh were all together on stage; only later did they become world renowned. I was also enthralled by the velvet bass of the African American Paul Robeson at the city’s Hippodrome. During the 1970s, from its roots in Coventry, the Specials with Jerry Dammers brought multicultural ska to a world audience. Sadly, in retrospect, that appears to have been the city’s cultural swan-song. I hope becoming city of culture in 2021 will, once again, bring a revival.
John Green

• As well as Coventry having a replica of Frank Whittle’s first jet aircraft, there is another one adorning the roundabout at the intersection of the A426 and the A4303 just south of Lutterworth. I’ve no idea why.
Ian Joyce
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

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