The television show Peaky Blinders brought Birmingham’s interwar backstreets to life when it introduced us to the violent and compelling Shelby family. Noted historian and Brummy-born Carl Chinn delves into the Black Country’s archives to find out who the real peaky blinders were, separating fact from fiction and showing what a devastating effect this early 20th century gang violence had on working class Birmingham, and how it spilled onto the nation’s racecourses.
In a nation where so much was denied to the poor, the streets belonged to them.
I’m a huge fan of the television show Peaky Blinders, so I was really excited to receive this book as a gift for my birthday, and started reading it a few days after. I already knew that the peaky blinders as they are shown on the TV were fabricated and that there was no organised gang by that name, rather it was a more generalised term for a specific kind of troublemaker, similar to the word ‘hooligan’ or ‘yob’. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see some more specific cases of these offenders and how the early 20th century police form dealt with them, as well as how the press reported on their actions.
Despite there not being much truth in the peaky blinder part of Peaky Blinders, the Shelby’s antagonists in the form of Billy Kimber, Darby Sabini and Alfie Solomons were all based on real people. The latter part of the book looks into their history to see how much of what the show portrays is fact and how much is fiction.
The book was interesting in that in showed the historical influences behind the show, but of course the show is dramatised for entertainment so the real history is naturally duller. There were also a lot of typographical errors in this which surprised me, being a John Blake title. It didn’t detract from my reading but was a little off-putting. It could have done with some serious copy-editing – the supposed origin of the peaky blinders name was repeated about four times in the first forty pages of the book, almost word for word. It was an enjoyable read that made me want to rewatch the show, but I wasn’t eager to learn anything further about the real history of the peaky blinders.
Rating: 3 / 5 stars