09 September 2022

What is the meaning behind Peaky Blinders?

The sixth and final series of Peaky Blinders concluded in April 2022, having had viewers hooked for almost a decade. First airing in 2013 and written by Steven Knight, it tells the story of the fictional Tommy Shelby and his brothers, who lead the Peaky Blinders gang.

Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders were based on real gang of the same name, who operated in the Midlands in the late nineteenth century. But where did the name come from?

The Peaky Blinders name

There are several theories about where the Peaky Blinders name came from. A popular theory is that the name originated from the gang’s practice of stitching razor blades into the peaks of their trademark flat caps. Flat caps were often referred to as ‘peakys’ at the time, and the razor blades would cause damage to the face when victims were headbutted.

In the TV series, the Shelbys are seen removing their caps and using the blades within to inflict injury. However, some suggest this theory is unlikely, as disposable razor blades were a luxury item and would not have been commonplace at the time.

A second theory is that the flat caps the gang wore disguised their faces from victims, so that they could not be identified, while a third hypothesis suggests the name was simply derived from local slang. A ‘blinder’ was someone who looked and dressed strikingly, so the name describes the fact that the gang wore ‘peakys’ and dressed sharply.

Whatever the origins, the name stuck, and was used by gangs long after the original Peaky Blinders’ demise.

The real Peaky Blinders

The Peaky Blinders gang on which the TV series is based emerged from an area of Birmingham called Small Heath. The first mention of them in a newspaper came in March 1890, where a brutal assault was described. A prominent and powerful member was Thomas Gilbert, who went by the name Kevin Mooney. Under his influence, the gang took control of entire areas of the city, bribing police officers, businessmen and other officials so they could continue their activities.

Their notable style afforded them attention, setting them apart from other gangsters, and demonstrating their power and wealth in comparison to their fellow citizens. It was also an act of defiance against the police, who could identify them, yet remained powerless due to the level of corruption within the force.

The gang controlled large parts of Birmingham for some 20 years reaching their peak in the early twentieth century. Their activities included smuggling, assaults, robbery, bribery, fraud, and hijacking. As the violence between the Peaky Blinders and rival gangs escalated, the members’ families moved away from central Birmingham into the countryside. The group was eventually usurped by Billy Kimber’s Birmingham Boys, who in turn were defeated by the Sabini gang in the 1930s.

If you loved the show, don’t miss the Peaky Blinders production, which was also written by Steven Knight. This captivating crime play begins in the trenches of Flanders, and tells the story of Tommy Shelby and his fellow Peakys as they navigate the decisions that determine their fate. Book your tickets today.