The true storey of Peaky Blinders - What happened to a real-life gang?

The true storey of Peaky Blinders - What happened to a real-life gang?

Peaky Blinders season five showed what was next for Tommy Shelby and the rest of the gang as they faced the Wall Street crash, their rival gangs, and Fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

But what about their real-life counterparts, huh? Who were they and what happened to them?

Just like the TV show, the real Peaky Blinders were a notorious Birmingham gang involved in gambling, theft, racketeering, and crime.

In reality, creator Steven Knight was inspired to write Peaky Blinders because his father's uncle, the Sheldons, was a bookmaker and part of the Peaky Blinders' heritage. In an interview with History Extra, he revealed that his dad's stories had given him his first vision of the show.

"One of the stories that really made me want to write Peaky Blinders is one my dad told me... His dad gave him a message and said, 'Go and deliver this to your uncles'... My dad knocked on the door and there was a table with about eight men... immaculately dressed, wearing caps and with guns in their pockets. The table was covered with money...

"Just that image – smoke, booze and these immaculately dressed men in this slum in Birmingham – I thought, that's the mythology, that's the story, and that's the first image I started to work with."

The real Peaky Blinders were about the 1890s rather than the 1920s, quite different from the BBC series. Most of their members were young men, and some of them may be as young as 12.

They were a street gang, however, and had no political ambition on Tommy's part. They have, however, gone further than Tommy – or even Arthur – with their casual abuse. At the top of the robberies and skirmishes with rival gangs, the police were also attacked.

If you think that their aggression against others was terrible, the fighting between them was even worse. Knight's uncle said (through The Mirror) that in one fight between two Peaky Blinders: "They didn't care about each other's eyes, ears, throats. They were like dogs fighting."

The famous storey is that their name came from the razor blades in the caps. Historian Carl Chinn (via Birmingham Mail) has indicated that this is most definitely a myth. Razor blades were just beginning to be used in the 1890s, but they were prohibitively costly at the time. It's probably more likely that their name came from the tops of their caps and the fact that 'blinder' was slang for their well-dressed appearance.

The Peaky Blinders had dominated the streets of Birmingham for decades, but the 1910s had lost the ability to rival the Birmingham Boys gang. Although they had lost the top spot, it was proposed that the word 'Peaky Blinders' was used to refer to every street gang in Birmingham.

Billy Kimber, the chief of the Birmingham Boys, may also be Tommy's model. A minor character – and a Cockney – in season one, in real life, Kimber was charismatic and intelligent, being the most successful gangster in England. Kimber had another base in London, establishing alliances with other gangs in Leeds and Uttoxeter.

But it wasn't just the growing domination of the other gangs that led to the end of the Peaky Blinders. Stricter police and stricter sentencing meant that many left the gang and few entered. Children were gradually going to school and practising discipline, and new boxing clubs were offering a lot of alternatives to the gang. By the 1920s, the last Peaky Blinders had moved to the countryside and And largely vanished from view as the Sabinis, another gang, claimed all their Birmingham territories. (Another instance of the history rewriting show).

Many of the Peaky Blinders reformed and became too embarrassed to warn their children about their history.

But don't expect that to happen to the Shelbys, at least not in this season...