Peaky Blinders myth exposed: How gang’s famous nickname had ‘nothing to do with crime’

‘Peaky Blinders’ has become a popular TV hit since it first aired on the BBC in 2013. The dark drama, based on real-life stories, follows the Shelby family’s rise through the criminal underworld. Creator Stephen Knight’s fictionalised series takes viewers through their journey from backstreet bookies to the upper echelons, where they have influence on the UK Government. Despite the show’s success on BBC, and later Netflix, the true accounts behind the dramatisation are far more chilling. A number of myths have circulated about the real-life gangs who operated on the Birmingham backstreets “plaguing the poor”, “showcasing their fighting prowess” and viciously hurting anyone in their way. Historian Carl Chinn revealed one common misconception – the origin of the gang’s name, which he claims had nothing to do with any crime or nefarious act committed by the criminals.

The TV adaptation of ‘Peaky Blinders’ popularized the theory that the gang got their name from the flat caps they would wear that had a razorblade sewn into it. 

It became a common belief that ‘peaky’ referred to the jutted-out rim of their hat and that ‘blinder’ alluded to the loss of eyesight after being slashed with the weaponised accessory.

Professor Carl Chinn exposed those beliefs as “highly unlike” and false for a number of reasons, during an interview with 

He claimed that the gangsters would never have been able to afford razor blades, because they were a “luxury item” upon their release in the 1890s.

His research revealed that this shaving aid would have been “far too expensive” for the working class Peaky Blinders gangs.

The historian believed the use of razor-lined hats, as shown in the TV adaptation, would have been a romanticised concoction based on literature rather than reality.

He added that to strike with a razor-lined cap would have been extremely difficult due it being harder to hit someone in a specific direction – let alone with enough force to seriously maim.

Professor Chinn, who published ‘Peaky Blinders: The Real Story of Birmingham’s Most Notorious Gangs‘ last year, claimed the real gangs used more ‘practical’ weapons.  

He told “The main objective of these gangs was to show-off their fighting prowess and they didn’t fight fair.

“They fought using boots, belts wrapped around their wrists to slash with buckle, knives, brickends, cobblestones, anything they could find.”

Despite ‘Peaky Blinders’ being widely accepted as the name of the famous Birmingham gang, Professor Chinn stated that was not true either.

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He explained that only one man, named Henry Lightfoot, was ever branded a ‘Peaky Blinder’ – a term similar to ‘hooligan’ today, rather than referring to an actual group.

There was no single Peaky Blinders gang, but those thought of under that name would have been “small time thugs” and “petty criminals”.  

The name was first published in the Birmingham Daily Post in 1895 – where an attack was blamed on “Small Heath Peaky Blinders”.

Professor Chinn also explained that it’s likely that the gangs’ fashion sense of the time likely led to their now-notorious nickname.

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He claimed their choice of clothing would identify someone as a troublemaker.

The historian said: “They wore bell-bottom trousers tight to the knee with wide collarless shirts and a long hankie knotted at the front.

“They wore billy-cock hats not flat caps with closely-cropped hair that was quiffed to one side, known as a ‘peak’.

“That was the fashion and they liked to show it off by having it cover one of their eyes – hence the term ‘Peaky Blinder.’”

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