thomas shelby real life
Source: Netflix

Here's the Real History Behind Thomas Shelby and the Other Peaky Blinders


Apr. 24 2020, Updated 5:31 p.m. ET

Season 5 of Peaky Blinders recently arrived on Netflix and fans are already beside themselves waiting for the anticipated sixth season, the penultimate of the seven total that creator and writer Steven Knight has "almost certainly" confirmed.

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We picked up in the late 1920s with the Shelby family in the wake of the Great Fall of the Stock Market. Soon after, Thomas Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy) is forced to align himself with the real-life fascist Oswald Mosley.

But is Thomas Shelby also based on a real-life figure? Keep reading to find out.

thomas shelby real life
Source: Netflix
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Was Thomas Shelby a real-life person?

For the most part, the Peaky Blinders series borrows a lot from the real-life urban street gang that terrorized Birmingham, England from the late 19th century through the end of the first World War.

The group was a small one, and most of its members were very young and very unemployed. They rose to prominence after defeating rivals for Birmingham territories and were known for their signature outfits that earned them their nickname. 

"Peaky" was shorthand for their peaked flat hats, in which they'd stitch razor blades so as to injure and oftentimes blind their opponents.

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thomas shelby real life
Source: Netflix

While "blinders" came in part from their violence tactic, it's also British slang, still in use today, for someone with very dapper appearance (think: everything the Peaky Blinders wear). 

But even though the Peaky Blinders did exist in England, protagonist Thomas Shelby sadly did not.

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Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, Winston Churchill, rival gang leader Billy Kimber and even trade unionist Jessie Eden were in fact real-life people, but our beloved Thomas Shelby was neither the leader of a gang, a factory owner, nor an MP.

In fact, there are very few historical traces of Birmingham's criminal gangs from the 19th century. But it is known that from the time they reigned the turf wars of Birmingham until their fall in the 1910s to the real-life Birmingham Boys, a man called Thomas Gilbert (also known as Kevin Mooney) was believed to be at the gang's head.

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tommy shelby real peaky blinders
Source: Robert Viglasky/Netflix

According to , there still a select few reports on the Peaky Blinders' gang violence. In an archive detailing a serious assault on one George Eastwood, local papers wrote: "Several men known as the Peaky Blinders gang, whom Eastwood knew by sight from their living in the same neighbourhood as himself, came in" and violently attacked him.

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For writer and creator Steven Knight, Peaky Blinders was inspired by his family's stories and accounts.

"My parents, particularly my dad, had these tantalizing memories from when he was 9 or 10 years old of these people," Steven Knight told the BBC back when the first season of the show came out, adding that the series was "based on real events." 

peaky blinders true story
Source: Netflix

"They were incredibly well-dressed, they were incredibly powerful, they had a lot of money in an area where no one had money and.. they were gangsters!" he continued. "I want Peaky Blinders to be a sort of the view of this world through the eyes of a 10-year-old because the men are smarter and stronger and handsomer and the horses are bigger and everything is big and intimidating as a kid."

Peaky Blinders is now streaming on Netflix.

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