Peaky Blinders creator unveils ‘Aladdin’s cave’ that inspired BBC show

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The Birmingham-based show follows fictional character Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shelby on his rise from small scale racecourse racketeer to international crime boss. The BBC show’s next instalment, which will be the final season, could be delayed until 2022. Mr Knight revealed that the show would focus on the “supernatural world” and whether the Shelby family are cursed.

The screenwriter stated that upcoming season six would be a “tragedy” and hinted at the deaths of multiple main characters. 

Mr Knight set the show during the late parts of the Industrial Revolution as it tells the story of the gangsters who previously preyed on those around them. 

He drew from his experiences as a child growing up in Birmingham and stories about his family, who were considered to be Peaky Blinders. 

Mr Knight, who also created Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, was born to blacksmith father, George Knight, who helped to shape the basis for his show.

He explained that much of the drama’s influence stemmed from the “old” and “lost” Birmingham that he witnessed.

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Mr Knight recalled his father working at riding stables around the city and the scrapyards, operated by merchants and travellers. 

In 2018, he told the Royal Television Society: “I used to go in there as a kid and you would see the Peaky Blinders world.

“It was full of the last remnants of what Birmingham used to be – stolen stuff, scrap, all kinds of things. It was like an Aladdin’s cave.”

Mr Knight took influence from the people his father talked to, including a man named Charlie Strong, who turned into a character in the series, and his great-great-uncle Curly. 

He continued: “Very, very funny people, it was that flavour of the last of the old Birmingham that I tried to put into Peaky [Blinders].”

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Mr Knight also took influence from a family who cannot be named for legal reasons and had their name changed to “Shelby” in the show.

His father told him about one visit to his criminal uncles, who were part of the real-life Shelby gang.

When George knocked on the door to deliver a message, he saw eight men sitting around a table covered with the earnings from illegal betting.

He told Mr Knight: “They were immaculately dressed – razor blades, guns, drinking beer and whisky out of jam jars.”

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During a 2019 episode of the podcast Obsessed With… Peaky Blinders, the creator gave further insight into the “Aladdin’s cave”.

Mr Knight explained that his father’s experiences with the travelling community were in the Seventies after he returned to his “first love horses” and “that way of life”.

Often the youngster would skip school to accompany his father to the scrapyard, where he observed characters he would later use in the show. 

Mr Knight said: “He would take us mostly to riding stables and stuff, which was fine and we’d help out, I’d be turning the handle on the forge and all that. 

“But often, we’d go into scrap metal yards in Birmingham, where my dad knew a lot of the [travellers] who ran that trade.”

Mr Knight recalled how the large “iron gates would open” in preparation for his father going into the yard and soon he would be inside the “Aladdin’s cave”.

He continued: “My dad had all his connections with these [traveller] people – they called themselves ‘Didcoy people’. 

“You would be going into all of these scrap yards and see this amazing stuff, some of it was stolen and they were just so funny.”

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Despite some of the travellers serving as a muse for Mr Knight, he explained that they would “never watch” the show because there was “too much swearing”.

Peaky Blinders, which Mr Knight admits is a fictional telling of events with some extra creative licence, vastly differs from the reality of the gangs in Birmingham.

Professor Carl Chinn, a historian, explained that the men involved in that kind of criminal activity were “petty criminals” and “violent thugs”.

He told that they were “nothing like” the “glamourised” depictions seen on TV screens. 

Prof Chinn explained that the Peaky Blinders were racecourse racketeers and “thugs” who “plagued and preyed on the working-class poor”. 

He branded them “bullies and violent men” and revealed that they operated from the late 1800s until around the time of World War 2.

He continued: “These backstreet gangs and any gangs are not honourable – they always portray themselves as men of honour but they prey on their own people.”

Professor Carl Chinn published Peaky Blinders: The Legacy, last year. It is available here.

Steven Knight featured on Obsessed With… in 2019. It is available to listen to here.

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