Is ‘Peaky Blinders’ Based On A Real-Life Gang?
Since 2013, fans of the riveting BBC drama, Peaky Blinders, have watched in awe as the criminal gangs of post-World War I Britain have come to life on the big screen. Set in Birmingham, England, we’ve observed the rise of the Shelby family. Helmed by the ruthless and notorious Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), we’ve seen the Shelbys build the Peaky Blinders from a street gang into a full-fledged criminal empire that reached across Europe.
Now, having just wrapped its fifth season, series creator Steven Knight has revealed that the show will continue for a total of seven seasons leading right into World War II. At the 2018 BAFTAs, Knight explained his “ambition of making it a story of a family between two wars, and by ending it with the first air raid siren in Birmingham.” This happened on June 25, 1940.
Since Peaky Blinders has such a textured and historical setting — is the show based on a real-life gang?
‘Peaky Blinders’ is based on a real-life gang
Though the Peaky Blinders did exist in real life–Knight’s story pulls from more fiction than fact. Though the series is set in the 20th century, the real-life Peaky Blinders were in operation during the 1890s.
The Shelby family empire is also much more extensive and organized than the real-life Peaky Blinders were. Since Birmingham in the 1890s was dreadfully impoverished, leaving a ton of men and boys idle, many of them turned to a life of violence. The gang consisted of boys and young men from age 12 their mid-20s, and most of their crimes involved petty theft –though there was some murder sprinkled throughout. Knight told History Extra,
The stories in Peaky Blinders are based on what was told to me when I was a kid, and they were stories of things that happened to my parents when they were kids. They saw all of that through children’s eyes, which makes everything more mythological – everything a bit darker, and brighter, and better. I was a kid when I heard the stories [secondhand] and they were double-mythologised
How did the Peaky Blinders get their name?
On the acclaimed series, the Peaky Blinders are named for sewing razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps. Amid a fight, they take the caps off and blind their opponents. However, in the 1890s — disposable razor blades were a new luxury item.
Instead, the real-life Peaky Blinders were named for their style of dress. They wore peaked caps (aka peakys), cravats, bell-bottom trousers, and a jacket with brass buttons. Their female counterparts donned pearls, silk scarves, and long bangs.
Was Tommy Shelby a real person?
With all of his terrifying charisma and brutality, Tommy Shelby is a work of fiction. Though Knight sprinkles in real-life characters like Oswald Mosley — a real-life politician who brought fascism to Britain in the 1930s, the rest of the beloved characters are figments of Knight’s imagination.
He decided to take his father’s memories of growing up in Birmingham and create his own wide-ranging cast of characters to bring his story to life. Either way, we think it’s all made the entire thing terribly effective.