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Everything you ever wanted to know about Peaky Blinders (but were too lazy to Google)

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Since I started a gently humorous series of posts on the Birmingham-set BBC drama Peaky Blinders, I have found all sorts of interesting search engine terms and questions cropping up on my stats. I thought it only fair to try and answer as many as I could. Here goes:

1)      What is the theme tune? Who sings it?

Oh good, an easy one to start with. It’s a song called Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Being a teenager in the 90s helped here. Nick Cave is great and he also adapted a book about the prohibition to make the film Lawless that was out earlier this year. Red Right Hand was also featured in the first Scream film, back in the day.

2)      Why is the show called Peaky Blinders?

If you’ve seen it, you’ll probably know; the gang takes its name from the razor blades sewn into the peaks of members’ flat caps/ baker boy caps that can be quickly whipped off during fights to slash with or left on for head-butting to maximum effect. But it turns out this wasn’t so unusual. Fun Fact: My grandfather (an East Midlands lad) grew up in the 1920s and said that razor blades were secreted in all manner of garments for fighting purposes. During Rugby scrums, players would brutally scrape their boots down the opposition’s shins having pushed extra drawing pins or tacks through the soles. When he was in the Royal Engineers during WW2, some privates used to attach a string of razor blades to the decorative ribbon inside their regimental caps, and flick it across faces during fights. It wasn’t a major weapon but did give the unlucky recipient a decent duelling scar. Granddad once got the cane at school for attaching a pin to a stick and jabbing it up girls’ skirts – I have to add he was only six at the time and went on to be a lovely man but what a little shit he must have been as a child!

Some of the real Peaky Blinders in the book Gangs of Birmingham. Image: digbeth.org

Some of the real Peaky Blinders in the book Gangs of Birmingham. Image: digbeth.org

The best book about this place/time is The Gangs of Birmingham by Phillip Gooderson.

3)      Where is the Black Swan pub?

Difficult one this. Try as I might, I can’t find a historical record of this pub in Sparkbrook. Fact: pubs in the UK come and go like beer through a tap over the years so maybe there was once a Black Swan, maybe there wasn’t. But there is a White Swan that remains in nearby Deritend, and maybe that inspired the writer Steven Knight.  It does look like a very atmospheric place doesn’t it?

The White Swan on Bradford Street. Photo from beerintheevening.com

The White Swan on Bradford Street. Photo from beerintheevening.com

4)      Where is the art gallery?

It is not the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery I’m afraid (if you get the opportunity though, do go, because it is great). The exterior shots are Leeds Town Hall. The pink hall full of sculptures where C.I. Campbell and Grace exchange information is Newby Hall and Gardens in Ripon, Yorkshire.

5)      Where were the street scenes filmed?

According to Creative England, these were filmed in Liverpool, specifically Powis Street in Toxteth, which was transformed into the Small Heath neighbourhood, Little Italy and Watery Lane. Liverpool’s Stanley Dock doubled as Birmingham’s Garrison Lane. BBC location scouts allegedly found that not enough of pre-war Brum had survived intact to serve as viable filming locations – which I disagree with. I think they wanted the locations to be closer to the Beeb at Salford, and that with a US target audience, viewers wouldn’t notice it wasn’t the real Birmingham on film. There is a heck of a lot of pre-war Brum left, go explore. Might have to have a separate rant about this one.

Powis Street on a normal day: Powis Street is one of the Welsh Streets in Toxteth. The area is undergoing regeneration.

Powis Street on a normal day: Powis Street is one of the Welsh Streets in Toxteth. The area is undergoing regeneration.

But with some period styling and a little CGI it is transformed into 1919 Small Heath

But with some period styling and a little CGI it is transformed into 1919 Small Heath. Image: http://www.rushes.co.uk

6)      Which train station is used?

These scenes are filmed at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, which runs through the Yorkshire countryside and is used in many period shoots, most famously the 1970 version of The Railway Children.

7)      Where did the gypsies live?

Gypsies living on Black Patch. Photo: Wiki Commons

Gypsies living on Black Patch. Photo: Wiki Commons

Hmmmm, the Lees were not real. But there were undoubtedly real gypsy settlements during the time of the Peaky Blinders (which was from the 1880s onwards). Most notably, the park area known as the Black Patch in Smethwick was a gypsy camp ground until the Birmingham Corporation Parks Commission imposed a peaceful eviction on the land in 1909. Until a few years before, Esau Smith was acknowledged as the gypsy king of Black Patch, having a verbal agreement to squatters’ rights for the travellers there. Upon his death in 1901, his wife Henty became the queen. She allegedly put a curse on anyone who tried to build on the area and this curse inspired folk singer Bryn Phillips to write ‘The Ballad of Black Patch’. The squatters’ rights ended with Henty’s death in 1907 and the ritual burning of her caravan.

8)      What language do the Lee family speak?

I’m fairly sure it’s Romani. Although the Lee family are depicted with various accents (mostly Irish), they are also using Romany caravans. Irish travellers typically speak in a dialect called Shelta, which is classed as a Creole and also known as the Cant, Tinker’s Cant, Bog Latin, the Ould Thing and Gammon. But listening to the conversations in PB, words such as ‘familia’ can be isolated which appear in the Romany dialect but not in Shelta.

One day son, none of this will be yours: a toss-up precedes an inevitable fight/deal/marriage.

One day son, none of this will be yours: a toss-up precedes an inevitable fight/deal/marriage.

9)      Is Tommy Shelby a gypsy?

He doesn’t live a travelling lifestyle, but his mother came from gypsy stock, probably part of the Lee family.

10)   Why are the accents so weird?

This one has caused a lot of annoyance to Brummies and other viewers alike. Many point the finger at the producers who are aiming at the US market and don’t think viewers over the pond will be able to understand the regional dialects or accents. To be fair, I heard that subtitles were used in some US broadcasts of Downton Abbey (but don’t quote me on that) and that Laura Linney was drafted in to explain basic concepts of the British master-servant dynamic before each episode.

The most alarming accent change is that of Billy Kimber, a gangster Birmingham born and bred who has been transformed into a Cockney wide boy for some reason. If it was necessary to have an East End gangster character, wouldn’t it have been simpler to name-check a gambler from the period?

However, according to Helen McCrory (who plays Aunt Polly – Queen of Darkness): “Our accents are 20s Birmingham, you see, and I’d just like to say that now. If anyone’s listening to my accent and thinking it’s a crap Birmingham accent, it’s not, it’s spot on. And I challenge any octogenarian Brummie to contradict me in that.” (Birmingham Mail).

She also told the Daily Mail: ‘I sat and watched endless clips of Ozzy Osbourne. My character’s obviously Ozzy in a skirt.’

Aunt Polly will deck you if you mention her accent.

Aunt Polly will deck you if you mention her accent.

I don’t think Helen’s accent is that bad, although it does seem to lapse into a Scouse ‘O’ vowel, but consistently so maybe that’s part of the historical accent change, who knows. Cillian Murphy (whose Brummie accent is undoubtedly more Scouse) is said to have spent time in Birmingham’s pubs listening to the local accent. I think it’s a little strange that most of this series was filmed in Liverpool and that some of the accents have a Scouse lilt to them…However Paul Anderson (who plays Arthur) and Alfie Evans-Meese (who plays little Finn) have got the accent spot-on in my opinion. Maybe we just need more Brum-based film and TV to make people acquainted with the authentic accent.

I think that covers the main stuff, if there is anything else you want to know, I’m happy to do a spot of research. I can definitely write more on this topic. What do you think of Peaky Blinders so far? Good? Bad? Ugly? Let us know…

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36 responses »

  1. Rant away about those filming locations. I already did on my own blog. 😉

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  2. Grace is Aunt Pol’s daughter.

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  3. “However, according to Helen McCrory (who plays Aunt Polly – Queen of Darkness): “Our accents are 20s Birmingham, you see, and I’d just like to say that now. If anyone’s listening to my accent and thinking it’s a crap Birmingham accent, it’s not, it’s spot on. And I challenge any octogenarian Brummie to contradict me in that.” (Birmingham Mail).”

    Well my mum’s 90 and has lived in Brum all of her life. She’d know far better about the Brummie accent than a non Brummie actress who gets her idea of the Brummie accent from an equally ignorant vocal coach. My dear old mum’s accent is pure Brummie and sounds nothing like the mangled mess coming out of Helen McCrory’s mouth.

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  4. Dave Richardson

    Not sure if there was a Black Swan pub in Sparkbrook but there was The Black Horse on the corner of Stratford Road and Kyotts Lake Road – My Route community heritage project has been researching the area.
    http://myroute.org.uk

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  5. Series 2 is rubbish like.

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  6. I’m picky about languages and dialects as portrayed in movies. I’d like to know if it would have been possible for any of the Travelers in Birmingham to be have known any Roma/Romany? Or, were the writers indifferent to the distinctions of language and ethnicity between the Tranelers and the Gypsies the rest of Europe and beyond? After hearing the Spanish that was spoken by some principal characters in Breaking Bad, I know that some powerful people in the industry have no ear.

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    • As a language buff I had to question it too. Granted being a Canadian I don’t have too good an ear for English dialects but I was much surprised to find my detections of Scousisms vindicated by Brits. A shame as one of my attractions to the show was as a way to immerse myself in the Brummie dialect. As for the Romany language, it seems like they are going for the authentic one used by Roma tribes from the Balkans, which in itself is quite curious as the Lees and everyone else don’t look remotely Balkan Gypsy racially and should otherwise assumed to be Romanichals. That is, “indigenous” English Roma who would have been so assimilated to the locals that they are almost physically indistinguishable from the Gadgies and their language has been reduced to a word-horde utilised as a cant used to disguise their conversation. That final point being said if they were using “posh & posh” as they Romanichals call it you wouldn’t expect to be able to pick up words like “ally” and “familia” in their dialogue since such obvious English cognates completely defeat the purpose of the language to be unintelligible to non-Gypsies.

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      • The language the gypsies are speaking in the series is actually Romanian (with a very thick English accent, but it’s cool, it’s a tough one). The gypsies have their own language, which is of Indian origin. However, it is possible for the Lee family to have originated from Romania and moved to Britain in those times, since the gypsies had been released from slavery in 1863 there. However, between themselves, they would have spoken Gypsy (Romales if you want) more likely than Romanian.

      • It’s in no way shape or form any variation of Romanez (or “Romani” as the academic community call it), nor is it Romany (Romanichal), except for the word diddicoi (diddikai). Points for using a well known Romanichal family (the Lees) but then disappointed that they abandoned authenticity for convenience.

    • They are speaking bad Romanian in the scenes. After being confused myself on the language, as a Romanian speaker, so I played a scene of the show to a native speaker who said – yep, mangled Romanian. So producers, really? You all are claiming this to be Romany? I know Romani, but not the Romanichal dialect.

      Shame on the producers, esp. as there are local people from the Romanichal community who could have stepped in as consultants.

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    • Even if the travelers in Birmingham could have known Romany, in the first season they were speaking Romanian (well, Cillian Murphy was, but so bad as if he has got it from Google translate and didn`t bother to listen to the pronunciation), which is a different language whatsoever. In the last season there were few instances that they were speaking something foreign but it wasn`t what they spoke before.

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  7. Actually the Romany language spoken in this tv series is not at all Romany. In fact, it is a very broken Romanian spoken in a very bad and ill-pronounced accent. It is really disappointing to see such a good tv show making such a gross mistake. Romanian is one of the 5 Latin or so-called Romance languages spoken in the world and it sounds like a cross between Portuguese and Italian. Romanian is the result of the language spoken by the original Valahs that were colonized by the Romans (today’s Italians), so the language is virtually a mix it old Latin and old Valahian.

    The Romany languages are languages spoken by the Gipsy populations that were scattered around Europe. They have several dialects that are the result of their original language and words borrowed from the country they settled. So, while there is about a 1 mil population of Gipsies in Romania, there are large populations of Gipsies in France,Turkey, Polan, Check republic etc However, most Gipsies remain unasimillated and tend to keep to their own communities. Also, they tend to be feared by Romanians as 70% of them are involved in petty crimes and homicides. They even attack police.

    So… it is appalling to see a TV show like this equating the Romanian language to the Romany language. The directors and producers are major ignorants which is expected to see in Hollywood movies but… there was still hope for the British ones as they are supposed to have better grasp of thie history and geography….

    If I were a Romanian ( ewere I lived for 14 years by the way, speak the language and know and local culture), I would punch someone who would cal me a Gipsy or tell me that I speak the Gipsy language in their bloody face .., then in the balls ….because it surely is not a compliment and I would never want to be associated with the Gispy people who were and remain to be outcasts in most of Europe, unless they make the effort to integrate in the country they live in.
    So get your shit together people before anyone sues you for being ignorant arses!

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  8. That is not Romany (or Rromani), that is Romanian (season 1, ep. 4) and Cillian nails it. Romani is closer to Hindi so it sounds strange to Romanians despite some borrowed words.
    Basically, Birmingham boy comes from middle class Romanian family (judging by the language).

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  9. Jacqueline Wells

    These facts are a slightly inaccurate. The Lee family infact did exist then and now. My father is a full blooded English Gypsy.

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  10. Is Sam Neill’s accent horrendous/ridiculous sounding? I’m a North American, and it sounds awful to me.

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  11. Pingback: Secondary research – Peaky Blinders | nathan's media

  12. How is Polly Gypsy? She says her maiden name was Shelby so that makes her a relative on father Arthur Shelby’s side, doesn’t it?

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  13. Paul, I am not sure that the gypsies are actually Romanians… there are many romanians in birmingham, but they are not gypsies

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  14. Interesting comment about the Royal engineers sewing in razorblades during ww2. Tommy is involved in mining and counter mining suggests that he is also a member of the corps of the Royal Engineers. Best corps in the army I may add 🙂

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  15. Love love love these series absolutely amazing 🙂 can’t wait for more

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  16. Hello cousins. I see it’s been a while since any postings. I’m from the other side of the pond and just re-watched the series, and am looking forward to Season 3.

    First off, I would like to tip my hat to the creators of Peaky Blinders. I’d say it’s up there with Breaking Bad, Sherlock, and Game of Thrones in terms of quality..

    Second – in reference to a previous comment – I appreciate the accents being “tamped down”. It would probably be no hardship for you folks, but for this American I’ll tell you it’s hard sometimes to understand the dialogue as it is. If the accents were allowed to be more true, we Yanks would probably lose interest in the series because we’d get tired of understanding. I wonder if there’s a flip side for what you see from our side.

    Here’s to a great Season 3, which I understand is going to be very enjoyable!.

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    • ” I wonder if there’s a flip side for what you see from our side.”

      Eh…certainly not. American accents are very, very easy to understand, and, more and more, American accents have become so generic which is very sad to see happen. Speaking as an Irishman from Dublin who lived in many states in the U.S for several years. On the other hand, I often had a nightmarish time trying to explain(translate) the most basic of words/sentences to native Yanks. 🙂

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  17. My great great grandparents were the smiths form the black patch. One if their sons, Tommy, was my great grandfather and lived in warley, near West Bromwich.

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  18. The ‘Romani’ are English gypsies who first came to England, from Europe, during the 16th century, possibly earlier. They had originally migrated to Europe from India
    Irish Travellers are not ‘Romani. They are Irish by ethnicity and although they share an itinerant lifestyle, they are not related to the (English) Romani/ (European) Rom.

    The series is confusing and the research could have been better. They are confusing Irish Travellers with English Romani and also the language spoken in the first PB series was not Romani but some kind of Romanian/Eastern European hybrid. Another confusing mistake by the PB makers.

    The gypsies in Birmingham, Warks and Staffs were English Romany, not Irish Travellers. As shown in the Tracey Emin episode of WDYTYA for example.

    The PB makers have not done their homework on this and I suspect they are also trying to appeal to the USA market by bringing in an ‘Irish’ narrative and ignoring the very English nature of the real ‘Romany’ people . Bit of a let down really

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  19. The Lees are not speaking “Romani”, Romanez, nor the English Romany language, not even a little bit. The only Romany word is diddicoi (diddikai). Familia is not a Roma word either. Also, the Lees are very much real and still prevalent today in England and America. And there is never a king of the gypsies, despite the romanticism of the notion. That title is more for use with the non-gypsy population to create an illusion of control. There’s no real authority behind it, nobody is out collecting taxes or anything.

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  20. the lee family are not irish they are English gypseys

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  21. The exterior of the art gallery where Grace meets Inspector Campbell is not Leeds Town Hall but Liverpool St George’s Hall

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  22. Im surprised the guy that plays Arthur isnt a brummie .Best performance in a great show in my opinion .Although a pedant could have a good old time

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  23. A huge mistake was made with the language and they must be ashamed for this big error. To confused the gypsies language with the Romanian language is like i can’t make a difference between English and Hindi language. In the movie they speak Romanian language instead of Romani language and it’s a huge difference , they should read some history. Romania is a latin country, Gypsies came from India. The director of this movie is an idiot!

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  24. My wife and I, who are both originally from England but now live in Australia, are presently enjoying the Peaky Blinders series on Foxtel.

    One thing that annoys me somewhat, and Google directed me to your page when I sought an explanation, is that the spelling in the subtitles is overwhelmingly American. It doesn’t seem right for a British show. However, your explanation that it targets an American audience goes some way to explaining that. I don’t see why they can’t just read British spelling for once though; they force their spelling on the rest of the world enough.

    One exception to this though is that they use the British spelling of “mum”. So far (we are midway through the second series) I have seen one occurrence of the more American “mom” which, in itself, points to an inconsistency.

    Elsewhere though, throughout the series, they have been using American spellings, such as “license” (as a noun) and “travelers”. It is so annoying and defeats all the fine work that the actors have put into their accents.

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  25. This is one of the best shows on the BBC. Cant wait until the Autumn for the next series. Also looking forwarding to going on this location tour. https://britmovietours.com/bookings/peaky-blinders-tour-of-filming-locations/

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  26. What happen 2 Alfred white. Billy Hill.

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  27. This is by far the best series I have ever watched. (Canada)

    Reply

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