Neon Cowboy

Writer Bart Bull explores the extraordinary story of the Neon Cowboy.

With the Iran hostage crisis in full flow in the early 1980s, Bart Bull was drawn into a hostage situation of an entirely different breed.

"Phoenix and Scottsdale used to be really remarkable places and the Round Up Drive-In was right at the dividing line between the two.

"It was desert there still, and when you saw this huge looming grinning Neon Cowboy, with his blue jeans and yellow and red checked shirt and black boots, and huge white hat - all outlined in blue and yellow and red and pink neon - well, you knew where you were.

"In the 1970s the so-called Gas Crisis was to affect American car culture and so the Drive-Ins began to disappear.

"At the very height of all this, I was asleep in front of the TV at my former girlfriend's parents' house - there on the border of Scottsdale and Phoenix - and even more importantly, I had a Chevy pickup truck.

"So my ex-girlfriend's mom Carol, shook me awake and explained that they had cut the Round Up Drive-In cowboy into pieces, and we were about to go steal his head. And, of course, his hat. Which, we did.

"We became the NCLF - the Neon Cowboy Liberation Front. The new owner of the Round Up Drive-In had no sense of humour, and he contacted the police - who laughed - basically, and then the FBI, who announced their involvement in the investigation to the press and it was off to the races..."

For Bart, this odd little event became something of significance, a symbol of the eradication of individuality, of the onslaught of monoculture.

And in this programme he tells the story of the cowboy against the backdrop of Birmingham, a British city that has suffered a similar fate to that of Phoenix, in that its cultural and industrial connections have been severed over the last 50 years, just as its heart has been ripped out to make way for motorways and ringroads.

Available now

25 minutes

Last on

Mon 2 Apr 2012 01:05 GMT

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