The Real Peaky Blinders wears a different hat but the villain still exists

Historian Carl Chinn explores the real-life stories of the Birmingham gangs that inspired Steven Knight’s hit BBC drama in tonight’s documentary The Real Peaky Blinders

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Peaky Blinders is more than just fiction – as the BBC’s gripping series is actually based on reality.

The final season is going well and legions of fans are hungry to find out what will happen to the Shelby family in the end.

The Shelby family doesn’t actually exist but has three violent brothers, named The Sheldons, who were an inspiration to writer Steven Knight because they were his father’s uncles.

But they don’t wear the iconic flat hats that viewers of the series associate the Peaky Blinders with, but in fact a name more commonly used for a violent thug than for a specific gang.

Although the series is set after World War I, Peaky Blinders was actually active in Birmingham much earlier from the 1890s to the 1910s.

In the show, the gang is named for their special attack method, slashing their enemies with a razor blade sewn into their flat hats.

But according to Birmingham historian Carl Chinn, who appears in BBC Two’s documentary The Real Peaky Blinders tonight, it is highly unlikely that this is in fact the case.

Peaky blindfolders in a demonstration of stitching razors into their flat hats


BBC / Mandabach / Tiger Aspect / Robert Viglasky)

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Disposable razor blades only became available in the UK after 1908 when the factory started production – and by this time Peaky Blinders were close to being beaten.

“It’s really interesting to look back at the mythical version of the story and reality,” says Carl Birmingham Live in 2019.

“There’s no real Tommy Shelby and Peaky Blinders coming out in the 1890s but the series is set in the 1920s.

“As for the razor blades? They only appeared in the 1890s and were a luxury item, far too expensive for the Peaky Blinders used to be.

“And any tough man will tell you it’s hard to get direction and strength with a razor blade sewn into the soft side of a cap. It’s a romantic notion to behold. given in John Douglas’ novel, A Walk Down Summer Lane.

“But I can understand why the series producers would use the name because it’s associated with the gangster regime.”

Historian David Cross, of the West Midlands Police Museum in Sparkhill, is also confident that the razor blades on hats are just an urban legend.


Mr Cross said: “If you think about his grandfather’s hat in those days, it had a very difficult peak.

“They use hats with razor blades to rob others. Peaky Blinder is like that.”

“When they hit someone or headbutt someone’s nose while wearing it, it temporarily blinds the victim.”

The fictional Peaky blind people we love often have a moral compass and don’t take advantage of those who are inferior to them.

But Cross explains that the victims are chosen indiscriminately, regardless of whether they are male or female, young or old, rich or poor.

He added: “They’re going to target anyone who looks vulnerable, or doesn’t look strong or healthy. Anything they can get, they’ll take it.”

Chinn’s research found that the Peaky Blinders were tracked by a large pre-war gang known as the Brummagem Boys, made up of “a loose collection of pickpockets, racecourse thieves and other The perpetrator is wielding a lot of power.”

The real Billy Kimber


Brian McDonald / Birmingham Mail)

Pictures of the original Peaky Blinders gang


Birmingham Mail)

In the 1920s, when the TV series was being filmed, a group called The Birmingham Gang emerged, many of them from the Brummagem Boys.

They became the most feared gang in the country and were led by the fearsome gangster Billy Kimber, whom viewers will remember from the first series.

As a street fighter, “he used to punch men in the solar plexus so much that it would knock them to the ground”.

“Although he and others in the gang may have been traumatized by the war, they were mostly pre-war violent. The war they did was fierce fighting,” Chinn said.

“Kimber was a very intelligent man with combat ability, a magnetic personality, and a keen eye for the importance of an alliance with London.”

Kimber ruled the Midlands until 1921 when Britain’s first vicious gang war broke out and the Birmingham Boys lost their territory to the Sabini gang in London.

Viewers of Peaky Blinders will recall the Sabinis who made them feel their presence in the series five – but in real life their boss Ottavio ‘Darby’ Sabini wasn’t wearing a smart suit.

Newspaper drawing showing a police officer shooting in the back of a pinnacle sprinkler


Birmingham Mail)

Another well-known character is Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons, who did indeed exist and was “one of the most dangerous men in England”.

He was part of the broader Sabini gang and was integral to sparking the war between The Birmingham Boys and Sabinis.

“He’s a really nasty character, but not as deranged as Hardy’s character,” Chinn said.

As for the Sheldon brothers, Samuel, John and Joseph, they are responsible for the worst gang war in Birmingham history.

But there is certainly no honor in this family and they love to bait and bully most of the poor among them.

They don’t wear flat hats, opting instead for the Billycock melon hat, the worker’s melon hat originally worn by Peaky Blinders.

Describing how hatred once saved Samuel Sheldon’s life, Chinn said: “A man hit him in the head with a metal weapon and as he fell, another man fired twice, one through the head. through his hat, the other hit him in the face. the head but didn’t kill him.”

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