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The True Story Behind the BBC Series, Explained – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

The True Story Behind the BBC Series, Explained



The source of inspiration for the popular BBC series Peaky Blinders can be traced back to a real-life gang of Irish men who roamed the streets of Birmingham. These men initially engaged in petty crimes, but gradually escalated to more serious offenses such as theft and even involvement in government affairs. Premiering in 2013, Peaky Blinders took viewers on a thrilling journey through the shadowy world of a street gang during the backdrop of World War I and the dark alleyways of Birmingham.

Many fans of the crime drama series questioned whether the story was based on true events. The creator of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight, confirmed that while the Shelby clan depicted in the show was fictional, the Peaky Blinders themselves were indeed a real gang. They were known for their ruthlessness and distinctive hats with razor blades sewn into them, which they used to assert control over the streets of Birmingham. The gang employed various methods of extortion, robbery, smuggling, murder, fraud, and assault to achieve their goals, with no limits to how far they would go. From the 1880s to the 1910s, they instilled fear in the hearts of their local community.

In the television series, Knight took some creative liberties when developing the Shelby clan. However, the true story behind Peaky Blinders is one of a gang that posed a real threat in England. The gang did not emerge out of thin air in the 1920s; rather, its members belonged to different backstreet gangs in Birmingham dating back to the 1890s and continuing into the 20th century. Yet, their origins can be traced back even further.

Contrary to the wealthy and influential portrayal of Thomas Shelby in the show, the real Peaky Blinders were impoverished, comprised of young members, and not limited to a single family. They began their criminal activities in the 1880s, in a low-class Britain plagued by economic hardship. Their initial exploits included pick-pocketing locals and blackmailing business owners. The Great Famine in 1845 resulted in a significant increase in the Irish population, which, in turn, led to the rise of gangs like the Peaky Blinders. Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiments during this period further fueled the gangs, as hate speech painted the Irish as cannibals and accused their religious leaders of being thieves. The Murphy Riots of June 1867, documented by Oxford Academic, saw a massive uprising of 100,000 people demolishing Irish homes. In response, the Irish formed slogging gangs and retaliated against the police. This eventually gave rise to the younger generation of Peaky Blinders in the 1880s and 1890s. The gang managed to survive until the 1920s.

In contrast to the organized and efficient portrayal of Thomas Shelby’s gang in the series, the real Peaky Blinders were far from it. All That is Interesting reveals that a man named Thomas Mucklow initiated the gang, but they struggled to settle on a specific name. Mucklow was a ruthless leader who seemed to provoke fights with bar patrons and even police officers without any provocation. While gang members often found themselves in jail for minor offenses like bicycle theft, they were not averse to committing murder. The Peaky Blinders were the primary suspects in the killing of a constable and several other working-class individuals in Birmingham. They frequently engaged in skirmishes against the law and rival gangs, using belts, blades, and firearms. The gang’s reputation for violence struck fear in the hearts of the town’s citizens. The people of Birmingham attempted to rise against the gang through a call to action, but it proved ineffective. By the 1900s, the gang slowly began to fade away, and the name Peaky Blinders became nothing more than a nursery rhyme. The gang made an ill-fated foray into the horse-racing business, which ultimately led to their demise at the hands of their rivals, the Birmingham Boys. By 1920, the Irish gang had vanished completely.

Since its inception, the accuracy of the BBC series has been a subject of debate. While Peaky Blinders is set in the 1920s, it is not entirely faithful to historical facts. The show is loosely based on real events associated with the gang, but the characters, particularly Thomas Shelby and the Shelby clan, were created for television. Nevertheless, the depiction of post-traumatic stress experienced by the characters is accurate. Steven Knight, a Birmingham native with a personal connection to the gang through his uncle, who was a Peaky Blinder, wanted to shed light on his family history. Inspired by his father’s stories of the gang, where they would gather around a table overflowing with coins, enveloped in cigar smoke, pints of beer in hand, Knight aimed to create the mythology of the Shelbys.

In conclusion, Peaky Blinders draws its inspiration from a real gang that once posed a significant threat in England. While the show takes artistic liberties with the story, the roots of the gang lie in the impoverished streets of Birmingham, where a young generation of Irish men formed the notorious Peaky Blinders. Despite their violent reputation, the gang eventually faded into obscurity, but their legacy lives on through the popular television series.

The inspiration behind the BBC series Peaky Blinders is found in the real-life gang of Irish men that took to the streets of Birmingham starting, with petty crime and moving up to thievery and working in the government. Peaky Blinders premiered in 2013, and took viewers on a journey of the street gang in the shadow of World War I and through the dark alleyways of Birmingham. A lot of audience members who watch the crime drama began wondering if the story was based on true events.




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The creator of the series, Steven Knight, has revealed that the Shelby clan was fictional, but that the Peaky Blinders were a real gang. They were ruthless and used hats with sewed-in razor blades to control the streets of Birmingham. The gang used several different methods of extortion, robbery, smuggling, murder, fraud, and assault to get what they wanted and had no issues with how far they would go. They terrorized their home streets from the 1880s to the 1910s.

In the show, Knight took some creative liberties when creating the Shelby clan. Nonetheless, here is the true story behind the BBC series Peaky Blinders that was once a real threat in England.



The Real Peaky Blinders Gang

Peaky Blinders gang walking in BBC and Netflix show
Endemol Shine Group
Netflix

The Peaky Blinders gang did not just pop up in the 1920s, but rather the men who made up this gang belonged to various backstreet gangs in Birmingham starting in the 1890s through the 20th Century. However, their story goes back much further. Thomas Shelby, in the show, comes off as wealthy and influential in the streets of Birmingham, but the real gang was impoverished, was not made up of one family, and way younger. The Peaky Blinders started out in economic hardship in low-class Britain, pick-pocketing locals and blackmailing business owners in the 1880s.

The Great Famine in 1845 doubled the Irish population within five years and so did the gangs. The anti-Irish and anti-Catholic movements during this time also forced the gangs to rise up due to relentless hate speech telling citizens that the Irish were cannibals and their religious leaders were pick-pockets and liars. Oxford Academic details the Murphy Riots of June 1867, which saw 100,000 people take to the streets to demolish Irish homes. To defend themselves, the Irish created slogging gangs and started retaliating against the police, which lead into a young generation of Peaky Blinders by the 1880s and 1890s. The gang was able to survive until about the 1920s.

The Rise to Power and the Fall of the Backstreet Gang

Peaky Blinders brothers
Netflix

The BBC series shows that the gang led by Thomas Shelby was organized and a well-oiled machine. That is far from the actual truth of the Peaky Blinders. All That is Interesting explains that a man by the name of Thomas Mucklow started the gang and could never really nail down a name for his gang. Mucklow was a ruthless leader who seemed to want to start fights with bar patrons and even police officers without any cause. Members of the gang were usually found in jail for minor offenses like bicycle thefts, but that didn’t mean murder was off the table. The Peaky Blinders were the main suspects for killing the constable and a few other second-class citizens of Birmingham.

Peaky Blinders were often involved with skirmishes using belts, blades, and firearms against the law or rival gangs. The gang created a name of ruffianism that frightened the citizens of Birmingham. The people of the town tried rising against the gang by having a call to action that seemed to go nowhere. By the 1900s, the gang started to slowly fade away and the name Peaky Blinders was nothing but a nursery rhyme. The gang tried entering the horse-racing business against the rival gang who owned it — the Birmingham Boys. The Birmingham Boys pushed the Peaky Blinders into obscurity and by 1920 the Irish gang had completely disappeared.

The Series’ Accuracy to the Real-Life Gang

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders
BBC Studios

The BBC series created by Knight has been questioned on its accuracy ever since Peaky Blinders was created. As the setting of his show is placed in the 1920s, it is quick to say that it is not as accurate as it could be. The Peaky Blinders were a real gang, but the show is loosely based on some of the real events that happened to the gang. Thomas Shelby and the Shelby clan were created for television, but the post-traumatic stress that the characters were dealing with was absolutely correct.

Knight is a native to Birmingham, who was interested in bringing his family history into the light as his own uncle had been a Peaky Blinder. His uncle was also the inspiration behind Tommy Shelby’s character, and he quickly decided that accuracy wasn’t something he was concerned with if he wanted to tell a good story. Knight told GQ that his father would tell him stories of the gang where the Peaky Blinders would surround a table piled with coins, cigar smoke everywhere, and beer pints in hand that made him want to create the mythology of the Shelbys.

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