Saturday 17 August 2019

Peaky Blinders creator tells of American inspiration for the series

Steven Knight said the global appeal of the show is ‘astonishing’ as it approaches its fifth season.

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight on his American inspiration for the series (Ian West/PA)
Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight on his American inspiration for the series (Ian West/PA)

By Lucy Mapstone, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor

The creator of Peaky Blinders has said he was inspired by how Americans turn their history into “something other than what it probably was” to make the series.

Steven Knight, whose Birmingham-based gangster drama set in the aftermath of the First World War has won legions of fans across the world, said he wanted to make a “heightened” version of what life was like in the poorer suburbs of the city at the time.

Knight told BBC Breakfast he was inspired by his own parents’ childhoods in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, where his mother was a bookies’ runner at the age of nine and his father’s uncles were illegal bookmakers.

(I wanted to do) what the Americans do with their history, which is they turn it into something other than what it probably was, like with the Chicago gangs, and do that without embarrassment Steven Knight

He said: “When they were kids everything was big and glamorous and fantastic, so they mythologised what was around them even though it was a desperately poor suburb of Birmingham.

“And when they told me, I mythologised it a second time, I sort of doubly mythologised it.

“What I wanted to do with the series was not ever take it away, to make it a heightened world, make it almost as if it’s being seen through the eyes of a child and really do, I think, what the Americans do with their history, which is they turn it into something other than what it probably was, like with the Chicago gangs, and do that without embarrassment.”

Knight said he is still shocked by the global success of the period drama, nearly five series in.

He said: “It’s astonishing. The effect it’s had around the world is what surprises me the most… the United States, South America, Russia, Turkey, all over the place there’s this community of interest where lots of people really love it and it’s fantastic.

“I don’t know the explanation for it, but maybe because it’s about family? I don’t know, but it’s so gratifying.”

Knight, who is launching a Peaky Blinders festival in Birmingham’s Digbeth area in September, said its wide reach inspired him to hold the event.

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Cillian Murphy stars as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders (Matt Squire/Caryn Mandabach Productions)

“A friend of mine was telling me they were in Panama, and the barman said the was saving up enough money to get to Birmingham because he wanted to see the streets.

“Because of this investment people have in the show, and for all these years they’ve been doing their own things – tattoos, graffiti and fan art, which I love – because of that we’ve decided to put on a festival in Digbeth in Birmingham, right next to Small Heath, it’s the area the Peaky Blinders used to drink.”

Knight has also said fans in the US often have to watch the show with the subtitles on due to the thick accents.

He told the Daily Mirror: “It’s tricky sometimes because the accents are difficult to get, but we are getting there now.

“It’s quite funny that in the United States quite a lot of people watch it with subtitles on.”

The Bafta-winning series stars the likes of Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Helen McCrory, Sam Neill and Paul Anderson.

It will soon return for its fifth series on BBC One after having jumped from BBC Two following a successful fourth series.

Peaky Blinders follows a much-feared gang led by the ruthless Thomas Shelby, played by Murphy.

The two-day Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival will include live music from the likes of Primal Scream and Anna Calvi, immersive theatre, food, drink, fashion shows and other experiences based on the programme.

PA Media

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