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Art graduate directs major film exploring a missing piece of punk history


A University of Wolverhampton arts alumnus has directed a major new high profile film that explores a missing piece of Birmingham’s punk history.

Michael Cumming graduated from the University of Wolverhampton School of Art in 1985 with a Degree in Fine Art. Since then he has pursued a successful career in film and television. The ground-breaking director and filmmaker was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 2017.

Michael, who has won numerous awards for his directing, has been working at the cutting edge since the 1990s. His credits include the comedy series Brass Eye & Toast Of London.

His new film, King Rocker, is a collaboration with comedian Stewart Lee. Billed as an ‘anti-rockumentary that takes a diverse journey through Indian food, bewildered chefs, vegetable gardening, prescription medicines, pop stardom and pop art.’, the film tells the story of Robert Lloyd, best known for fronting cult Birmingham bands The Prefects and The Nightingales and is Britain’s ultimate post-punk survivor.

The film - shot in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Shropshire & London -  features a surprising mixture of high-profile entertainers, actors, singers and comedians including: Frank Skinner, Nigel Slater, Samira Ahmed, Robin Askwith, John Peel, Marc Riley, Danny Fields, John Taylor, Gina Birch, Paul Morley, Fuzzbox, Kevin Eldon, Nish Kumar, Bridget Christie & Seann Walsh.

Michael said: “The film, which also offers a narrative of Birmingham from that era, explores how Robert might want to be remembered as well as taking a critical & funny look at the way documentaries are constructed. Robert has been undervalued in the same way that the King Kong sculpture, which was commissioned for display at the Bull Ring Shopping Centre in the early 70s, was - hence the title.

“Stewart & I are both from a comedy background and this is our first documentary, but we knew from the outset that we didn’t want to make another dull rockumentary. This is a film about an interesting and funny life and you certainly don’t need to know, or even like, the music to enjoy the story of Robert Lloyd’s very singular journey.

“It’s also a personal film for us. Stewart grew up in Solihull and I spent a formative part of my life in Wolverhampton. We knew each other (I directed the pilot for Stewart’s Comedy Vehicle) but neither of us realised we were both Nightingales fans. It was whilst doing a screening of my film ‘Oxide Ghosts’ at the University of Wolverhampton in 2017 that I met ex Prefect & Nightingale Alan Apperley - now a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University - who I think told Stewart that there was another fan of the band who worked in comedy out there. Stewart got in touch and just a short four years later, here we are!

“The film is a labour of love for us. We crowd/self-funded it so whilst there are limitations on what you can do, the positive side it is that you can make the film you want, with no backers or executive opinions to distract. This DIY approach is very much in keeping with the Nightingales and also a way of working I remember fondly from my art school days at Wolverhampton.”

‘King Rocker: A Film About Robert Lloyd & The Nightingales’ will premiere on Sky Arts on 6 February 2021 at 9.00pm and be shown in selected cinemas later in the year.


Michael added: “The University was an oasis of stimulation. It gave me all the cultural experiences I needed.

“I came to Wolverhampton with the vague idea that I wanted to study Fine Art and was guided and gently steered in interesting new directions I had never thought possible. Wolverhampton encouraged me to dream and enabled me to discover a passion that has stayed with me all my life. I have much to thank it for.”

Michael’s list of collaborators reads like a who’s who of British comedy: Chris Morris, Matt Berry, Stewart Lee, Omid Djalili, Mark Thomas, Jo Brand, Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune, Mark Steel, Peter Serafinowicz, Sir Lenny Henry, Alistair McGowan, Matt Lucas and David Walliams.

In a directing career spanning 30 years, Michael’s work combines a strong visual sense with a talent for capturing extraordinary performances. His work includes the ground-breaking and controversial Brass Eye series; five series of political pranks and polemics on The Mark Thomas Product; cult classic Snuff Box; Jo Brand’s improvised comedy drama Going Forward and three series of Matt Berry’s BAFTA winning sitcom, Toast Of London.

The new KERMODE ON FILM podcast with the King Rocker interview is now live to download from your preferred podcast supplier. Mark will also be reviewing the film on the BBC News Channel Film Review on 5th February 2021 and on the Kermode and Mayo Film Show on BBC Radio 5 on the same day. 

Anyone interested in studying in the Wolverhampton School of Art should register for one of our Virtual Open Days taking place during 2021. Any alumni who would like to stay in touch with the University should check out this website link for information about mentoring, discounts on further study and volunteering programmes.

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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