'Peaky Blinders': Was Thomas Shelby a Real Life Gangster?

Peaky Blinders and Thomas Shelby are coming back after a lengthy hiatus with Season 6, which is rumored to premiere on Netflix in autumn of 2021. The gang has undergone a variety of challenging metamorphoses, as has the Shelby family. As the show continues to weave political intrigue into the story, some fans are left wondering whether the events mirror reality. Was Thomas Shelby a real life gang member?

Who were the real life Peaky Blinders?

The Peaky Blinders were indeed a real gang on the streets of Birmingham. In fact, they were also real rivals of the Sabinis and the Birmingham Boys. 

Similarly to Thomas Shelby’s work in Peaky Blinders, the real gang engaged in bookmaking, robberies, smuggling, extortion, fraud, murder, you name it. However, as it turns out, the idea that they wove razor blades into their peaked caps may be a myth. 

Carl Chinn, a Birmingham historian, suggests that the name Peaky Blinders was a reference to the gang’s clothing, not the use of razor blades. According to Chinn, peaky was a term used for any flat cap that had a peak. 

Meanwhile, “blinder” is a slang term used in Birmingham that refers to anyone who dresses in a way that exhibits fine or dapper fashion-sense. The gang was well-known for wearing tailored clothing as well as the signature peaky hat and overcoat. 

As for the razor blade myth, the Gillette company didn’t introduce the first disposable razor blade until 1903, and they weren’t manufactured in Great Britain until 1908. The Peaky Blinders themselves dissolved sometime in the 1910s. 

Was Thomas Shelby a real life person?

There are some major differences between the real-life Peaky Blinders and Thomas Shelby’s gang on the show. For starters, the gang existed and dissolved sometime around the outbreak of WW1. 

In Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby and many other members of the gang are veterans from WW1, which means the chronology is different from the Peaky Blinders in real life. However, it is worth noting that members of the gang did join the military when the war broke out. 

As for Thomas Shelby in real life, it seems as if he didn’t truly exist. There was, however, a Thomas Gilbert who was considered one of the most powerful members of the gang. 

“My dad’s uncle was part of the Peaky Blinders. It was reluctantly delivered, but my family did give me little snapshots, of gypsies and horses and gang fights and guns, and immaculate suits,” said show writer Steven Knight. 

Steven Knight explained that the Shelby family was created from scratch, and that Thomas Shelby was not a real life gangster. 

“My parents, particularly my dad, had these tantalising memories of from when he was nine or ten years old of these people. 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,” Knight added.

While Thomas Shelby wasn’t a real person, it turns out that Billy Kimber, the leader of the Birmingham Boys in Peaky Blinders, had a real life analogue. Additionally, while the Peaky Blinders were able to oust the Birmingham Boys in the show, they actually lost to the rival gang in reality.

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