Contrary to popular belief, the Peaky Blinders were not just one gang – it was a collective term for the numerous groups of criminals across Birmingham. Historian Professor Carl Chinn revealed to Express.co.uk, that the name was a term used in the same way that ‘hooligan’ denotes young criminals today. While the fictionalised accounts of the Peaky Blinders have become widely popular with viewers, the true stories behind them are far from endearing or honourable. As the sixth season of the show looks likely to be released towards the end of the year, Professor Chinn reveals that reality.
Far from the glamorous Peaky Blinders dramatisation written by Steven Knight, for the BBC and Netflix, the actual men behind the gangs were “not big time criminals” but actually “petty criminals”.
While lead character Thomas Shelby, portrayed by Cillian Murphy, was not a real person – the stories behind the TV drama may bear some truth.
Mr Knight allegedly adapted the family’s name for the show, according to an interview with the Royal Television Society in 2019.
He based the tales upon real life accounts from his family members – including his uncles who were both ‘Peaky Blinders’ and his mother who worked for the gang as a bookies runner.
Despite the supposed beliefs about the notorious gangs, history tells a different story, with Professor Carl Chinn claiming that only one man was ever dubbed a ‘Peaky Blinder’.
Professor Chinn published his findings in the 2019 book ‘Peaky Blinders: The Real Story of Birmingham’s Most Notorious Gangs’.
He revealed that the first and last man called a ‘Peaky Blinder’ was actually part of a criminal group called the ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ gang.
The historian told Express.co.uk: “Henry Lightfoot, like so many, had a very tough upbringing.
“He was a petty criminal, occasionally done for stealing scrubbing brushes, racing pigeons and football.”
But in 1885, the small-time thug solidified his name in the history books with a vicious attack.
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Professor Chinn added: “Henry Lightfoot was not a big gangster or violent man until 1885 when he attacked people in a pub and tried to knife a policeman.
“He was later sent down for manual labour and labelled a ‘Peaky Blinder of the worst kind.’”
After his punishment, Mr Lightfoot would go on to enlist in the military during World War 1 – but his anger would get the better of him yet again.
Professor Chinn added: “He was thrown out of the army after attacking someone but rejoined as a volunteer until he was wounded at the Battle of the Somme.”
Despite Mr Lightfoot’s vicious ways, there was a turning point for the man once branded a ‘Peaky Blinder’.
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Professor Chinn revealed the redemption of Mr Lightfoot, who he believes never got in trouble with the law again.
He continued: “There’s no indication that he returned to criminality.
“A few years ago, his descendants told me Henry Lightfoot had come back ‘a changed man’ after the war, as most did.”
Professor Chinn claims this was a familiar story of the men returning from the battlefield – many of whom left their old lives of crime behind them.
He added: “Some came back changed men, others were killed and a few of the worst ‘Peaky Blinders’ were in jail during World War 1 for manslaughter and other crimes.”
Despite this a few of these men continued in the reign of terror.
Some of whom joined a “very loose group of thugs” to continue their bloody ways until several years before World War 2 when the gangs dissolved for a number of intriguing reasons.
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