"The Peaky Blinders as we know them, thanks to the hit TV series, are infused with drama and dread. Fashionably dressed, the charismatic but deeply flawed Shelby family blind enemies by slashing them with the disposable safety razor blades stitched in to the peaks of their flat caps, as they fight bloody gangland wars involving Irish terrorists and the authorities led by a devious Home Secretary, Winston Churchill.
But who were the real Peaky Blinders? Did they really exist?
Well-known social historian, broadcaster and author, Carl Chinn, has spent decades searching them out. Now he reveals the true story of the notorious Peaky Blinders, one of whom was his own great grandfather and, like the Shelbys, his grandfather was an illegal bookmaker in back-street Birmingham.
In this gripping social history, Chinn shines a light on the rarely reported struggles of the working class in one of the great cities of the British Empire before the First World War. The story continues after 1918 as some Peaky Blinders transformed into the infamous Birmingham Gang. Led by the real Billy Kimber, they fought a bloody war with the London gangsters Darby Sabini and Alfie Solomon over valuable protection rackets extorting money from bookmakers across the booming postwar racecourses of Britain.
Drawing together a remarkably wide-range of original sources, including rarely seen images of real Peaky Blinders and interviews with relatives of the 1920s gangsters, Peaky Blinders: The Real Story adds a new dimension to the true history of Birmingham's underworld and fact behind its fiction."
There is probably not much more that I can add about the book that is not already said in the blurb above.
The TV series Peaky Blinders has been drawing viewers (at least here in the UK) to their TV screens like moths to a flame. It is an absorbing, creative, well-acted and superbly filmed TV drama about the violent gangsters of Birmingham in the years between the Great War and WWII. Like the TV drama the book includes the poverty of the post-war era and the violence of the ‘Peaky Blinders’ themselves, but unlike the series the book is not full of action-packed edge-of-your-seat unable to look away thrills a minute.
This is a social history. It is well researched but does tend to read a little like a transcript from a history lecture in places. There is quite a bit of repetition of things already said, but, all the same, I found it an interesting read, and it would be very useful as a reference source for any authors writing about this period of Midlands England.
I’m not sure how it managed to become a Sunday Times Bestseller (I give it four stars), though I suspect readers bought it because they expected something similar to the TV series. Judging by the number of Amazon low-star reviews, many of these readers were disappointed. There are more than a few typos – the book needs another proof read; however, it is free on Kindle Unlimited if you are a subscriber, so worth a look if this period of history is of particular interest.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Jack Holt