Meet the real Peaky Blinders! Mega fans of BBC show dress up in their best Shelby-inspired looks and get together to re-enact the gangster hit (and they’re in the West Midlands, of course!)
- 1920s TV show Peaky Blinders has inspired a legion of hardcore fans
- Journalist Jill Foster donned her best 20s’ outfit and went to a reenactment
- She met up with enthusiasts of the show in a bar in Dudley, in the West Midlands
- The series finale, which marks the show’s end, airs on Sunday at 9pm on BBC1
My hair is sharply coiffed, my lipstick the deepest red and my frock firmly fringed. The women around me – in a bar that’s all polished wood, tiled floors and art deco stained glass – look equally fabulous, while the men are clad in three-piece tweed suits, with a distinctive short shaved hair-do and baker boy caps.
And could that really be a tin razor, glinting from the brim of their hat, I see?
I clutch my fur stole to me and in walks a man with the brooding melancholy and cruel good looks of a gangster – who looks remarkably like actor Cillian Murphy.
Rest assured, despite appearances, I haven’t travelled back in time to 1920s Birmingham. Nor am I on the set of the BBC’s hit drama Peaky Blinders, which stars Murphy as gang leader Thomas Shelby, the much-anticipated final series of which is currently on our screens.
Rather, I’m in a bar in Dudley, West Midlands, with a band of Peaky Blinders superfans, so obsessed with the show that they stage pitch-perfect re-enactments of the programme, gun battles and all, enthralling fellow devotees and often raising money for charity.
Journalist Jill Foster donned her best 20s outfit, including furs and a period frock, to experience Peaky Blinders, re-enactment style
Peaky Blinders enthusiasts (L-R) Derek Brennan, Phil Homer Arthur Gormley, and Jason Osborne get into the roaring 20s spirit
The show, which has been a major hit, is currently airing its sixth and final series, and will draw to a close this weekend
Called the West Midlands Peaky Blinders, extraordinarily, they have over 200 real-life members whose gimlet attention to historical detail has earned them praise from the show’s cast and crew. By purchasing vintage clothing and even making their very own 1920s garb, they study the show for hours to make sure their look would fool Thomas Shelby himself.
Little wonder, then, that they have thousands of online followers, and wall-to-wall bookings for their appearances now the final season of the show is nearing its dramatic conclusion.
Millions of fans have followed the gripping exploits of Tommy Shelby, making Peaky Blinders the world’s most popular Netflix show.
Sadly, the one character missing from this year’s line-up is the formidable Polly Gray, played by actress Helen McCrory who died at the age of 52 in April 2021 after a secret battle with cancer. However, creator Stephen Knight has promised that this season is ‘the best yet’.
Certainly fans are eagerly awaiting this Sunday’s finale.
The West Midlands Peaky Blinders (L-R) Julie Kimber, Sara Ratcliffe, Jill Foster, Shirley Kelly, Emma Ward, Derek Brennan, Phil Homer Arthur Gormley, and Jason Osborne gather for a re-enactment
Jason Osbourne not only dresses like Peaky Blinders’ actor Cillian Murphy in the show, he also bears a striking resemblance to the thespian
Megafans of the show Seeyam Brijmohun (pictured, left) and Craig (pictured, right), don their finest period garb
Sara Ratcliffe (pictured) is just one of the 200-strong members of the West Midlands Peaky Blinders
Charles Gormley (pictured, left) and John James (pictured, right) enjoy dressing in clothing similar to that of characters from the highly-acclaimed show
‘I reckon Tommy will be tying up all his loose ends and it’s going to end in fireworks,’ says Derek Brennan, 63, the founder of West Midlands Peaky Blinders.
‘And the show’s popularity means our group keeps getting bigger. We receive messages from people all over the world, from Spain to India, asking us how to set up their own Peaky Blinder group and I’ve helped loads of people do just that.’
Arriving at The Office Bar and Restaurant in Castle Hill, Dudley to meet the group, with my hair curled into ringlets and dressed from top to toe in period finery, I feel like I fit right in. The famous tin razors that I see glinting from their caps may be blunted for safety but even the children and teenagers look the part, some with flat caps and waistcoats.
In the car park outside, a smart black Bentley bears the private number plate P3KY B. It belongs to The Officer’s owner, businessman Tony McKeon – a self-confessed Peaky Blinders fanatic – who recently spent more than £250,000 refurbishing his bar to look like a set from the gangland drama.
It’s just one of several venues around the UK that the group regularly attend. They don’t charge for their appearances, seeing them as purely for the fun and love of the show.
That said, recently they held a Christmas event for over 250 people, raising over £1,000 for the Balls To Cancer charity, and are planning more charity events this year.
While the first series aired back in 2013, Derek, who works for Mettis Aerospace, only set up the group four years ago after a chance comment from a stranger.
Emma Ward (pictured) dons a floral satin coat with fur trim over a maxidress in rich purple, emulating the epoch of Peaky Blinders
Robert Swale (pictured, left) and Phil Homer (pictured, right) pose in their 1920s Peaky Blinders’ style outfits
A family affair: Phil and Julie Kimber both enjoy the highly-acclaimed drama – and have taken their appreciation to the next level, by becoming re-enactors of the show
‘I’ve always dressed like this and even aged 15, my favourite outfit was a three-piece pinstripe suit and a fedora hat that cost £58 – a lot of money in those days,’ he says. ‘I would save up to have suits made-to measure because I loved the feel and look of them.
‘Now my wardrobe is full. I’ve spent hundreds of pounds and got at least 20 overcoats, 30 suits, loads of shirts. I had to give some away recently because although I live in a four-bedroom house, I was running out of space.
‘But it was only when I was out one night and someone shouted: ‘Oh look, it’s a Peaky Blinder!’ that I found out about the show. I went home to watch it and loved it. I searched for a local fan group on Facebook and asked if they wanted to meet up for a pub crawl.
‘There was only a handful of us all dressing up at the beginning but, slowly, as more people have got to know about us, it has grown and grown.’
Landlords and bar owners are huge fans, as Derek and his group help attract customers, an increasingly vital role in the current climate for a beleaguered hospitality industry.
Three years ago, he also met his partner Shirley Kelly, 55, a retail worker, through the group.
‘I was out with a friend for a drink one day when Derek’s Peaky group walked in and I thought they looked amazing,’ she says.
‘The men look so smart and women look wonderful. I’ve always liked to dress up and I had a few flapper dresses and faux furs. I got chatting to Derek, we hit it off and have been together ever since.
‘I’ve made some wonderful friendships. Throughout the lockdowns we’ve been like one big family, supporting each other and keeping spirits up.
‘When we couldn’t meet in person, we’d meet up online and have quizzes and singalongs all in costume. It’s really helped people through a lonely and difficult time.’
Teen fan: At just 14-years-old, Julie Homer is one of the younger members of the West Midlands Peaky Blinders
According to the group, they are often asked for selfies when they are out in their full outfits, with people wanting to take a snap with them (pictured L-R: Tony McKeon and Julie Kimber)
Some members of the group say they have become collectors of period-appropriate clothing, picking up bargains on secondhand selling sites (pictured, Jenna Ryder)
Superfan Matthew Bussey shows off Peaky Blinders attitude as well as style, posing for a snap in his suit, overcoat, and cap
There are several Peaky groups around the country but this one is particularly popular with fans because they have some spookily similar lookalikes to the stars of the show, including one member who is the double of Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons (played by actor Tom Hardy), a virtual twin of Arthur Shelby (played by actor Paul Anderson) – and, yes, as I previously mentioned, even a Thomas Shelby lookalike, Jason Osbourne, who is sharply dressed in a dark blue three-piece suit and flat cap when I meet him.
‘It was a few years ago that one of my friends at work said: ‘Do you watch Peaky Blinders? Because you look just like the guy in it’ and so I watched it and had to admit that I could see a similarity,’ says Jason, a retail worker who, at 49, is four years Murphy’s senior but could easily pass for his older brother.
‘Other people mentioned it so my niece sent my picture off to Derek’s group and he asked me to come along. I’ve been involved ever since. I’ve always loved the clothes of that era anyway so getting to wear the fashions has been a lot of fun.
‘We regularly go to the Black Country Museum where the series films many scenes and it’s crazy because I feel like a celebrity. Everyone wants to have their picture taken with the Peaky Blinders. We rehearse the famous Peaky Blinders walk and poses too to make sure it’s as accurate as possible.
‘We’ve met Stephen Knight, the creator of the show, and even he was taken back by how much attention we’d paid to detail.’
Finery: Peaky Blinders fan Sharon (pictured) is a member of the group, alongside her husband Craig
The group takes its re-enactments so seriously, that it even has people dressed up as 1920s policemen, to break up any ‘fights’ between members (pictured L-R: Derek Brennan and Scott Nunn)
Emma Ward, 48, one of the group’s administrators, has a family connection to the programme: ‘My mum’s partner used to run The Garrison – the pub in Birmingham where the Peaky Blinders go. When I heard about their gatherings, I said to a friend: ‘Come on, let’s get dressed up and go along.’ There’s something about the 1920s look that makes you hold yourself differently, more upright, more confidently. We went along and felt so at home straight away.
‘Now I help organise trips and booking coaches or hotels for whenever we have an event. I absolutely love it and we’re like one big happy family. I can’t wait for the next series. Of course, Cillian Murphy is very easy to watch, but it’s a sexy show all round.’
Sara Ratcliffe, 35, an early years practitioner, says it’s the dressing up that attracted her to the group.
‘I reckon I’ve got about 50 outfits with wigs and jewellery now,’ she says. ‘I’ve had to buy an ottoman storage bed because my wardrobe was bursting at the seams. I am always on the lookout for new items. Some of the men have spent hundreds of pounds on suits but you don’t have to spend a fortune. You can pick up pieces from eBay, Amazon or vintage stores.’
Enthusiast Shirley Kelly (pictured) steps out in a carefully-curated outfit, donning a brown overcoat on top of her blue flapper-style dress
Despite the show coming to an end, the group say they will continue to run for as long as people are interested (pictured, programme fan Jason Osbourne)
The group is about more than the show, say members. It is also about people getting together, making new friends and having fun (pictured: Andy Smart)
Now the group has branched out into re-enactment, with some members studying scenes for hours on end to get the lines and the fight scenes spot on. The mastermind of the re-enactments is Phil Homer, a 55-year-old gas compliance engineer who attends the group with his stepson Ted, 15, and son Dillon, 12, also fans of the show.
‘We’re all insured so that we can run the fights properly and we spend a lot of time on each one,’ he says. ‘The last fight scene we did took three months to rehearse properly. One of the group has a 3D printer so we’ve printed off plastic Mark 1 Weberley pistols and painted them black to look authentic. Obviously, we have to be careful that no one gets hurt and choreograph each fight like a dance.
‘We’ve even got a couple of members with police officer uniforms from the era so when the fights start, they can come and ‘arrest’ us. The crowds love it.’
One of the saddest days for the group was when Helen McCrory died last year. Another Phil, Phil Kimber, met her at a season premiere of the show and has fond memories.
‘She was full of life and really stood out from the rest of the cast because she looked to be having such a good time,’ he says. ‘Whether or not she knew she was on borrowed time then who knows? But it was tragic to hear she’d passed away.’
Phil Homer agrees. ‘We were as shocked as anyone and decided to pay tribute to her by walking through Birmingham with buckets and asking people to donate to charity,’ he says.
‘People wanted their pictures taken with us and even the Dean of Birmingham turned up and said a few words about Helen. At one point a lady came up to us and complimented our outfits, saying they looked really authentic. It turned out that she was one of the producers of the show who had come to Birmingham that day. It all became very emotional.’
While this series is the last, the group say they will continue to run for as long as people are interested.
‘It’s not just about the show, it’s about people getting together, making new friends and having fun,’ says Derek. ‘We’ll keep doing that as long as people want – by the order of the Peaky Blinders.’
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