The real Peaky Blinders: the Birmingham gangs behind the hit BBC drama

Find out about the true-life events and people who inspired the hit BBC Two series.

Gang violence in the slums of early 20th century Birmingham may not have 'hit' written all over it - but Peaky Blinders has proved hugely popular with BBC Two viewers, who are counting down the days to series four of the programme.

So what exactly is the truth behind the fictional Shelby family and their associates?

[Read more: Peaky Blinders series 4 - when is it on and who's in it?]

Industrial Birmingham was troubled by gang violence towards the end of the 1800s, with one of the most notorious gangs being the Sloggers, led by John Adrian.

Their weapon of choice was a heavy buckled belt, to beat victims into submission before robbing them, but it was not long before the Peaky Blinders emerged as serious rivals for top dog status.

Their name is reputed to have come from their own trademark weapon - a razor blade stitched into the peak of a flat cap, used to headbutt and maim - but Professor Carl Chinn, who has written extensively on the history of Birmingham, says this is unlikely.

Razor blades were a new product and would have been beyond the reach of most people, and trying to headbutt wearing a soft hat would be ineffective.

A 'Peaky' was a popular name for a fashionable piece of headgear, however, and the gang are reputed to have taken pride in their appearance. 

[Read more: Why Cillian Murphy isn't a fan of the Peaky Blinders haircut]

They wore hats at an angle, silk scarves, cravats, bell-bottom trousers, jackets with brass buttons down the front and steel-capped boots. 

Their girlfriends were also known to dress distinctively, with fringed haircuts, silk neck scarves and pearls their preferred accessories.

Photographs and court records of the actual inspiration for the fictional gangs exist, and for all their fearsome reputations, the gang members are baby-faced and their individual criminal records are largely for petty offences.  

As a gang, they were involved in illegal betting, black market dealings and extortion schemes.

[Read more: Meeting the Peaky Blinders on location - in Manchester?]

As Birmingham began to grow and families moved out of the city centre, the terroritorial rivalry between the gangs became less significant and their influence waned.

During his research, Professor Chinn found that as they grew up, many gang members and their families became embarrassed about what had happened and did not talk about it.

But Steven Knight turned the stories about real-life characters he had heard from his parents into the hit series, saying he wanted it to be the world as seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old, with everything bigger and more intimidating.

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