'Peaky Blinders' Season 5 preview: A look at the street gangs' history ahead of Birmingham-Glasgow showdown
These gangs weren't petty thieves who would rob when needed, instead, they were organized crime bodies who led the gambling market
BBC One's periodical crime drama, 'Peaky Blinders', has been winning over audiences for its authentic portrayal of the notorious Birmingham street gang, who went by the same name as the show's title. Coming from creator Steven Knight, the show has been following the Shelby family as they rule the Bordesley and Small Heath areas with their army of peaky blinders who were infamous for slitting the eyes of their enemies with razor blades attached to their blinder caps.
It is interesting how, the last four seasons have told the story of the Shelby family as they tackle other gangs from across England and Scotland, in order to maintain their status as the ruling gangster family. Set in between the two World Wars, 'Peaky Blinders' relies heavily on the history of street gangs and rivalry, which had reached its peak during the late Victorian era.
During the late 1870s, England, especially Birmingham, saw a boom in both industrial and commercial growth, and the city soon came to be known as the "City of a Thousand Trades", given its renown for innovative entrepreneurs. With the industrial development, the city also saw an explosion in its population as the number increased from 74,000 to over 630,000, over a few years. As the population grew, poverty struck and soon it came under the tyrannical rule of its street gangs, who sugar-coated their violence with the false pretense of vigilance.
It was easy for the gangs to function in a city like Birmingham since the Industrial Revolution gave rise to a huge number of highly specialized creative small firms each profiting by exploiting niche areas of the market. Anything was possible in Birmingham, and quite expectedly the gangs made use of its resources to the fullest.
These gangs were no more linked to petty theft and robbery, instead, they were organized crime bodies who might have started off as rag-bags but soon began to rule the underground world of gambling and, most importantly, horse-racing. 'Peaky Blinders' gave us a decent glimpse of the race course's relation to the gangs, in the past four seasons.
Race courses, in the aftermath of the First World War, were the only places where legalized gambling was the call-of-the-day, and the annual generated turnover could easily reach £500 million pounds. These places soon became the breeding grounds for crime, starting with mere pickpocketing to planned assassinations carried out by the gangs, who would easily set themselves up as bookmakers since there were no professional associations and protection.
Birmingham saw a rise in the street gangs' rule, based on their hold in the various business sectors of the city, but things were a little different in Glasgow, Scotland. Watch a clip from 'Peaky Blinders' to get a glimpse of what went down on a bright day at the racecourse:
What made things different in Glasgow was that gang rivalry was chiefly based on religious discrimination. Religious sectarianism was at its peak in Scotland, and Glasgow fell at the center of it all. The city was chiefly populated by Protestants until, in the 19th and 20th centuries, a heavy influx of Roman Catholic Irish immigrants began to enter the city in search of jobs in the local industries.
This became a concern for the Protestants as the incoming immigrants meant the employment rate would go down for them. The mass rate of unemployment, significantly led to the formation of street gangs. Longterm mass unemployment compelled many men in their early 20s and 30s to turn to the gangs for help, who, in turn, took in these men to employ as active members of crime and violence.
Men were jobless and they had families to support, hence, their alliance to the gangs was irrevocable and crime became a leading purpose in their lives. Their crime spread wide across the city, and soon police came up with the strategy of planting informants in all the places the gangs would popularly visit, such as the bars in the poorer districts of the South Side and the East End. Confrontations between the police and the gangs were common, and 1939 saw one of the major conflicts between the joined forces of the Beehive Boys with the South Side Stickers, and the police officers.
The late Victorian Era and the Early Modern Age saw hundreds of street gangs infest England and Scotland. 'Peaky Blinders' picked up some iconic moments from these gangs' history, such as race course gambling, bar wars, gang rivalries and conflicts against the authority, and put it all together to give us an account through the Shelby family.
Season 5 is set to see the Peaky Blinders encounter one of Glasgow's most infamous gang, the Billy Boys, led by Billy Fullerton, a former member of the British Fascists. It can be said that not only will Season 5 look into the showdown between two of the most dangerous gangs in the history of England and Scotland, but will also look into the political tension of the Fascists and the Communists, with the latter now being led by Thomas Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy) in Birmingham.