The Peaky Blinders and Their Illegal Bookmaker

Peaky Blinders is a hit TV show that took the world by storm. The incredibly well-written plots, award-winning acting and unforgettable performance by Cillian Murphy are just a few of the reasons that the TV show is so well-loved.

The creator of the show based everything around the real exploits of the Peaky Blinders gang. From their illegal gambling operations with their own illegal bookmaker, who operated similarly to a casino dealer, all the way down to the attire.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the bookmakers that funded many of their escapades, as well as their real-life counterparts and their activities.


Britain after World War 1

The exploits of the Peaky Blinders came to prominence after the Great War. With the War in France won, Britain as a country still had to recover – especially the city of Birmingham, which is where both the TV show is set and where the real-life Peaky Blinders were based.

Whilst the real-life gang started a bit before the Great War, the TV show starts just as Birmingham is recovering from having 150,000 of its men taken in the war. The area was rife for gangs, with these gangs wielding weapons in a bid for survival – money was incredibly tight, food was rare and space was pretty much non-existent.


The Peaky Blinders

In Birmingham at this time, there were plenty of gangs around, but one of the most notorious was the Peaky Blinders. There were mass brawls over turf – many of these small wars were depicted during the TV show. One of the main ways gangs made money was through illegal bets made on the local races and stealing from the officially licensed bookmakers.

One way the Peaky Blinders differentiated themselves from other gangs was by the fact they were always extremely well dressed. This was seen almost as a gang uniform, and the gang sported their titular ‘peaky blinders’ – flat caps with razor blades sewn into the peaks of them, which they would swing at any unfortunate opponent’s eyes to blind them.

The city of Birmingham had an industrial boom after the war, which helped ease some of the tension between the gangs as it allowed more space between them. This one area is where the TV show goes a different route to real life, as the violence simmered down and the Peaky Blinders gang sort of faded out.


The Illegal Bookmakers

One facet of the show which remains loyal to the true gang is the rise of illegal bookmakers and the methods the gang used to make their money. Britain introduced a Gambling Act in 1845, which meant punters could only gamble at official race tracks in England. This meant that these racecourses pretty much had a monopoly on gambling, letting them set their own odds and many punters hoping for better odds.

Many gangs saw the sheer amount of money that was poured into the bookmakers and decided they wanted a piece of the pie. This saw them starting their own illegal bookmakers and eventually forcing their way into the gambling niche by hook or by crook – with these gangs taking over race track betting.

The Peaky Blinders had their own operation which netted them a small fortune, but with other gangs holding other racetracks, it was only a matter of time before these gangs came to blows to try and control more territory for their illegal gambling operations. This started to result in punters getting robbed, violent acts against enemy bookmakers and numerous street fights to assert authority over the jurisdiction of a gambling operation.

In the TV show, we see our antihero Thomas Shelby face off against the biggest illegal bookmaker in the midlands – Billy Kimber – mainly over control of gambling territory. In real life, the real Billy Kimber was actually the leader of the Birmingham Boys gang and is the inspiration for the character of Thomas Shelby in the show. It’s things like this where you can see how real life has influenced various aspects of the TV show quite heavily.

To wrap up, the first 2 seasons of the Peaky Blinders TV show are inspired by real-life events of the gang and people of the time period, but it does use a little ‘poetic licensing’ to spice things up a bit. Further down the line during the series, the TV series goes more off track, seeing the gang facing off against the Irish, Russians and even the gangland haven of New York – When in reality the gang simply faded out of existence, along with their illegal gambling activities.