LONDON — When Roy Short, John Brophy and Ryan Hyland dress up as Peaky Blinders, they do it properly.
With flat caps, three-piece suits, overcoats and pocket watches, the three recreate not only the vintage style, but also the swagger of the Shelbys, the central crime family in the historical drama ‘Peaky Blinders’.
When the show’s second season aired here on the BBC in 2014, “we got it, and we just loved it,” said Short, 54. He recalled thinking “what an absolutely amazing, fantastic look. Nobody looks like this.”
Wearing the sassy attire of the early 20th century characters was initially something the friends did on a night out, but soon, Short and Brophy said, the photos they posted on social media started to gain attention. organizers invite them to their “Peaky”-themed events.
The Birmingham Peaky Blinders, as the trio call themselves, are not the only group of their kind. Across Britain, fans of the show meet, organize weddings and sometimes stage reenactments, all dressed up as characters based on real-life gang members who apparently got their name from the razor blades they would sew into their caps. “We’re like one big family,” Short said.
Despite the resident characters who have been criticized in the past for their violent version of masculinity, the Birmingham Peaky Blinders say that bloodshed is an aspect of the show that they are not recreating. “There has never been the slightest bit of trouble. Nothing,” Brophy said. “It’s all been respect, shaking hands and acting like gentlemen, acting like ladies.”
In the more than eight years since “Peaky Blinders” first premiered on the BBC, it has become a show beloved by British critics and watched by audiences in the millions worldwide. But it’s also become a cultural phenomenon, with a fan base dedicated to bringing elements of the show’s fictional world to life.
Now the show is coming to an end. The sixth and final season will air weekly on the BBC in the UK (Netflix release date in the US has yet to be announced). Over the seasons, the show has charted the rise and fall of the Peaky Blinders’ leader, Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), and his family in the interwar period. The show is highly stylized, with occasional slow motion, and anachronistically set to a soundtrack of modern music, including Nick Cave, Arctic Monkeys, and Black Sabbath.
In Britain, “Peaky Blinders” inspires a fervor usually reserved for science fiction and fantasy vehicles. “The way the fans have embraced it is almost immersive,” said Caryn Mandabach, an executive producer, in a video interview, adding that people like the “Harry Potter” franchise and Disney movies have equally passionate fans.
While the show’s popularity over the years can be followed by the continued popularity of the characters’ signature undercut hairstyle and increased sales of flat caps, the creators have also had intent to build a brand. Official “Peaky” products range from the expected (a soundtrack) to the interesting (a virtual reality game and immersive theater show) and the unexpected (a cookbook).
There are several reasons for this strong – and lasting – response.
In front of Julie Kershawwho gives tours of the show’s filming locations in Liverpool, England, its appeal is in telling the story of “the common working man and woman,” she said, adding that “it gives the kind of working class Birmingham, and at expansion all over Britain, their own mythology’, similar to the cultural significance of cowboys in the United States.
Tommy Bulfin, a drama commissioner for the BBC and an executive producer on the show, believes portraying family ties is also important. “Peaky Blinders” puts “family drama at the highest possible stakes, akin to gangster culture,” he said, adding that the “interpersonal relationships” between family members make the show recognizable to viewers.
For some female fans, the portrayal of women on the show is something to be commended. The show recently lost its matriarch, Polly Gray, played by Helen McCrory, who passed away last year. “A lot of the female characters are very strong women, and you don’t see that in a lot of shows,” said Jade Salt, 24, a Shropshire fan. who manages a popular fan account† “In this series they don’t let the men push them and they just keep going.”
Another group for whom the show has been resonating are the Brummies, the nickname given to residents of Birmingham. The city has historically been the butt of many national jokes, with its accent voted both the least attractive and the least reliable in polls.
“I think it made Birmingham culturally cool in the UK when it probably wouldn’t have been massive before,” said Laurence Mozafari, the editor-in-chief of Digital Spy, a television and film website, and the former host of a BBC podcast about the show. “But it also went global and then it was like, ‘There’s this great place, Birmingham.'”
The show has boosted tourism in the area and encouraged a burgeoning television and film industry, with films such as Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” being partially shot in Birmingham and the show’s creator Steven Knight operating a million dollar plant in the region.
There’s a sense of local pride in the show, something the Birmingham Peaky Blinders feel. “It’s set in Birmingham – it’s Small Heath and Bordesley Green and Digbeth, all those areas. Those are our areas, where we live, work and drink,” Short said. “We liked that they portrayed these Brummie accents.”
With such resonance among fans, there are mixed feelings about the show’s ending. But will “Peaky Blinders” really end with its final episode?
Mandabach saw season 6 not as an end, but as an opportunity. A movie is in the works and potential spin-off shows have been teased. Later this year, a riveting production, “Peaky Blinders: The Rise,” will arrive in London and a dance show, “Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby,” will run in Birmingham, with a national tour planned for 2023.
As for the fans, the Birmingham Peaky Blinders said they would continue their work, and Kershaw said she would continue to do her tours as long as there is demand.
“The series is over, but the next one isn’t,” said Brophy of the Birmingham Peaky Blinders. “People will still go out, and they will still continue to do it.”