When asked to sum up his experience with Peaky Blinders in one word during the final season premiere of the hit BBC drama, the creator, Steven Knight, simply said, “Birmingham”.
Hundreds of fans, dressed in baker’s hats and 1920s clothing, flocked to Birmingham city center on Thursday evening to catch a glimpse of the stars of a show that changed the city’s image over its six-season run, which the last Sunday begins.
Peaky Blinders themed events, tours and street art have sprung up all over Birmingham, attracting tourists from all over the world. A record 131 million people visited the West Midlands in 2018, which the West Midlands Growth Company has attributed in part to the “peak effect”.
The official merchandise for the Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Birmingham this summer, even features the Peaky Blinders cap.
“The show has sent a message that art, creativity and writing are the catalysts that change things and that it should be taken seriously,” Knight said. “At the government level, they haven’t understood that we’re really good at this, and that we need to invest more in it.”
The series, which follows the notorious Shelby crime gang, has also helped the city become a hub for creativity, TV and film production. A number of major Hollywood productions, including Mission: Impossible 7 and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, have filmed in the region in recent years.
Knight is building a film and TV studio of his own in the city, down the road from where the first recorded attack by the real-life “Peaky Blinders” took place – he hopes to start shooting a Peaky Blinders movie there within 18 months.
“I don’t like to say we put Birmingham on the map. We had the Industrial Revolution, the Lunar Men, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, incredible people who invented amazing things,” said the Birmingham-born Knight.
“But I think in terms of the media we haven’t beaten the drum enough and we haven’t shouted enough about ourselves because the people in Birmingham are quite ashamed of that. But we should not be ashamed.”
Birmingham writer Benjamin Zephaniah, who stars in the show, said it boosted the city’s image by “bringing a sense of style into the world”. “I mean, I’ve seen Japanese Peaky Blinders dressed in the full costume. We did that,” he said.
Martin Green, the chief creative officer of the 2022 Commonwealth Games and previously head of ceremonies at the 2012 London Olympics, said there was “definitely a direct line from the show to the cultural heights of Birmingham in the UK and the rest of the world”.
He suggested the show would perform during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, while Knight is working on a new contemporary dance inspired by Peaky Blinders that will be part of the cultural program running alongside the event.
“Successful global pieces of entertainment, they give a place confidence. People can go around the world and say ‘Hey, I’m from Birmingham’ and people will say Peaky Blinders. It’s a business card,” he said.
“Birmingham is about to go through his Manchester/Liverpool/Glasgow moment. It has patiently waited its turn, and you can definitely trace the line of those great global entertainment successes in terms of how a city is changing culturally and in its confidence.
“This place is young and diverse and creative and ready to go, so I think there’s a mystical mix of ingredients that just make a city go, okay, for the next few years we’ll be the center of the universe.”
As Knight looked out over the legions of Brummies that lined the red carpet, he reflected on what he hopes the show’s ultimate legacy would be: “I hope it means people telling working-class stories will have the confidence to to believe the story of their backyard is international.”