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Fiction vs reality Who were the real Peaky Blinders gang?

The real gang operated in Birmingham before the first World War


The real Peaky Blinders gang

The real Peaky Blinders gang

The real Peaky Blinders gang

Did you know that the BBC show Peaky Blinders is based on a real gang of the same name?

The fictionalised story of the 1800s Birmingham gang is told through BBC TV show Peaky Blinders starring Cillian Murphy as the mob’s leader Tommy Shelby.

However, the trials and tribulations of the real gang were very different to that as told through the Shelby family.

The real Peaky Blinders were a well dressed gang who wore dapper clothes including tailored jackets, lapel overcoats, silk scarves and flat caps.

The street gang operated in Birmingham over a 30 year period from the 1880s until the 1910s.

While the show is set in the aftermath of World War II, the real Peaky Blinders operated before it even began

They were a group of violent youths who derived social power through robbery, violence, racketeering, illegal bookmaking, and the control of gambling, just like in the BBC show.

A newspaper article entitled, ‘A murderous outrage at Small Heath, a man's skull fractured’ printed in the 24 March 1890 edition of The Birmingham Mail is possibly the earliest evidence of the gang in Print.

“A serious assault was committed upon a young man named George Eastwood,” the article read.

“Living at 3 court, 2 house, Arthur Street, Small Heath, on Saturday night. It seems that Eastwood, who has been for some time a total abstainer, called between ten and eleven o'clock at the Rainbow Public House in Adderly Street, and was supplied with a bottle of gingerbeer.”


Peaky Blinders (BBC)

Peaky Blinders (BBC)

Peaky Blinders (BBC)

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“Shortly afterwards several men known as the 'Peaky Blinders' gang, whom Eastwood knew by sight from their living in the same neighbourhood as himself, came in.”

The article details how the gang’s leader Thomas Mucklow ordered them to beat the man up leading him to be hospitalised with a skull fracture.

Folklore says that gang got their name from stitching disposable razors into the peaks of their flat caps, which they would then use as weapons.

Gang members would headbutt their enemies and the sharp implement on their hats. The result was either a bleeding forehead, which could temporarily blind them, or damage to their eyes.

Many scenes in the show reflect this tale and show the fictional gang using their flat caps as weapons.

However, Birmingham historian Carl Chinn believes the name is actually a reference to the gang's elegance.

Popular usage of the word ‘peaky’ at the time referred to any flat cap with a peak, while ‘blinder’ was, and still is, Brummie slang for someone who is good looking.


Cillian Murphy, as Tommy Shelby, on the set of series five of Peaky Blinders (Matt Squire/Caryn Mandabach Productions)

Cillian Murphy, as Tommy Shelby, on the set of series five of Peaky Blinders (Matt Squire/Caryn Mandabach Productions)

Cillian Murphy, as Tommy Shelby, on the set of series five of Peaky Blinders (Matt Squire/Caryn Mandabach Productions)

Prominent members of the gang included Kevin Mooney, David Taylor, Earnest Haynes, Harry Fowles, Henry Lightfoot, and Stephen McNickle.

Notorious gangster Billy Kimber, as portrayed in the show by actor Charlie-Creed Miles, was also a former Peaky Blinder.

He went on to lead the Birmingham Boys who eventually took over from the Peaky Blinders when tensions turned violent after the Blinder’s expanded their criminal business onto the country’s racecourses.

As documented in the show, the Peaky Blinders were rivals of Kimber’s gang and the Sabini gang who eventually took control of the area in the 1930s.

Other elements that led to the decline of the gang included harsher policing and sentencing.

As the specific gang known as the Peaky Blinders disbanded, their name came to be used as a generic term to describe violent street youth.

The BBC show Peaky Blinders stars Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and the late Helen McCrory as senior figures of the crime family.

The sixth and final series of the show is airing on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm and on BBC iPlayer.

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