Real “sharp peaks”
The crime drama produced by Bibisi and Netflix focuses mainly on the Shelby family, a gang of criminals infiltrating the upper classes in English Birmingham of the 1920s. However, the real Sharp Peaks scoured Birmingham in a completely different time period.
In the series, Killian Murphy plays the role of Thomas Shelby, a war hero who uses his rogue status and intelligence to take serious steps to seize power in Birmingham and beyond. Like the fictional crime boss Michael Corleone from The Godfather, Tommy has style and prudence, and is ready to kill enemies for reasons of revenge or strength. This character is tormented by obsessive memories of the First World War and the death of his wife Grace (Annabelle Wallis). Tommy is the face of Sharp Peaks, embodying the style and basic philosophical principles of this gang. However, the vulnerability and paranoia of this character move the narrative of the series, and give the rest of the gang members much more depth and experience than the real criminals had.
But at one time, Sharp Peaks really fell into the forefront of Birmingham newspapers and were famous for their unique approach. Knight said in an interview that he created the series on the basis of his father’s stories about men who “dressed impeccably, wore caps, and in their trousers they had pistols.” We tell the real story of Sharp Visors, from which the series was made.
Who were the bandits from the Sharp Peaks?
In Birmingham of the 1890s, a special subculture arose as a result of economic decline. Overseas in New York, various groups of disadvantaged people began to turn to organized crime. The same thing happened in the hometown of the Peaks. Here, the criminals were mainly young people who earned money by gambling and robbery. They constantly resorted to violence in order to secure a certain amount of power and strength. The true story of the Sharp Peaks originates in the 1870s. According to historian Barbara Weinberger, the gang arose for the first time because anti-Irish sentiments in society “provided young city residents with the opportunity to throw out disappointment and frustration, thus establishing themselves in gang warfare.” By the 1890s, this subculture began to be associated with a certain style: felt bowler hats, with pointed fields and pulled over the forehead. Apparently, some residents were blinded by the charisma of criminals, while others claimed that members of the gang were poorly seen due to the fact that their eyes were most often covered with headgear.
Since the Sharp Visors were known as working gentlemen from the lower classes, their particular style was contrary to the clothes they were supposed to wear, at least in theory. In addition, the sharp peaks consisted of various gangs and certainly were not one criminal family. Criminals such as Thomas Gilbert worked with a particular team, and thanks to them, the name “Sharp Visors” became more visible in the culture of Birmingham. They were a family only by friendship – they were not tied up by blood ties or a common code, like the “omerta” of the Italian-American mafia.
Over time, according to Birmingham industrialist Arthur Mattison, the so-called Sharp Peaks began to call themselves “hard workers,” the result of an “environment of poverty, squalor, and slum.” At the beginning of the 20th century, a gang of young people adhered to the same style and way of life, but mainly out of necessity, and not as part of a grand scheme of seizing power in Birmingham. The sharp peaks slowly fell apart due to sports, movies and other activities that young people were involved in. In short, for many of them, life has become easier, and they did not need to resort to low-grade atrocities in order to make ends meet. Sharp visors grew and disappeared. And it is precisely in this time period that the action of the television series Sharp Visors begins.
What events and characters were real?
The Shelby family of The Sharp Peaks is not based on real historical figures, but the world in which its members live reflects the real Birmingham society of the 1920s. For example, the movie star Charlie Chaplin (pictured above) appears in the second season of the series, and this is the case, since he really was a native of Birmingham, brought up in a family of gypsies. In fact, Chaplin knew very well that the Sharp peaks reached their peak several decades earlier. But the appearance of Chaplin in the series serves as a kind of glamorous turn, as it allows the Shelby family to extend its influence to Hollywood itself.
Tommy Shelby in the television series is confronted by real historical figures. Billy Kimber, the head of the Birmingham boys, was a real gangster, as was Charles “Darby” Sabini, a Londoner criminal who controlled racket races in southern England. Kimber and Sabini really competed with each other, and they both constantly appear in the “sharp peaks.”