Birmingham doffs cap to Peaky Blinders for transforming its image | Peaky Blinders

When asked to sum up his experience of Peaky Blinders in one word at the premiere of the final season of the hit BBC drama, its creator, Steven Knight, simply said: “Birmingham”.

Hundreds of fans dressed in baker boy hats and 1920s clothes descended on Birmingham’s city centre on Thursday night to catch a glimpse of the stars of a show that has transformed the city’s image over its six-season run, the last of which starts on Sunday.

Peaky Blinders-themed events, tours and street art have popped up all over Birmingham, attracting tourists from across the world. A record 131 million people visited the West Midlands in 2018, which the West Midlands Growth Company has partly attributed to the “Peaky effect”.

The official merchandise for the Commonwealth Games, to be held in Birmingham this summer, even features the Peaky Blinders cap.

“The show has sent a message that art, creativity and writing is the catalyst that changes things and it’s got to be taken seriously,” said Knight. “At government level, they have not understood that what we’re really good at is this, and we should invest in it more.”

The series, which follows the infamous Shelby crime gang, has also helped establish the city as a centre 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 himself is building a film and TV studio in the city, down the road from where the first recorded attack by the real “Peaky Blinders” took place – he hopes to start shooting a Peaky Blinders film there within 18 months.

The creator of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight, embraces Natasha O’Keeffe at the premiere for the sixth and final series of Peaky Blinders at Cineworld, in Birmingham.
The creator of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight, embraces Natasha O’Keeffe at the premiere for the sixth and final series of Peaky Blinders at Cineworld, in Birmingham. Photograph: Jacob King/PA

“I don’t like to say we put Birmingham on the map. We had the Industrial Revolution, the Lunar Men, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, some incredible people who invented some amazing things,” said Birmingham-born Knight.

“But I think in terms of the media, we haven’t banged the drum enough and we haven’t shouted enough about ourselves, because Birmingham people are quite embarrassed about doing that. But we don’t have to be embarrassed.”

The Birmingham writer Benjamin Zephaniah, who stars in the show, said it had helped boost the city’s image by “bringing a sense of style, to the world”. “I mean, I’ve seen Japanese Peaky Blinders, dressed in the full costume. We’ve done that,” he said.

Martin Green, the chief creative officer of the 2022 Commonwealth Games and previously head of ceremonies at the London 2012 Olympics, said there was “absolutely a direct line from the show to the cultural elevation of Birmingham in the UK and around the world”.

He suggested the show would feature in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, while Knight is working on a new contemporary dance inspired by Peaky Blinders that will form part of the cultural programme running alongside the event.

“Successful global pieces of entertainment, they do 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 calling card,” he said.

“Birmingham is just about to go through its Manchester/Liverpool/Glasgow moment. It has waited patiently for its turn, and you can absolutely trace the line from those big global entertainment successes in terms of how a city changes culturally and in its confidence.

“This place is young and diverse and creative and ready to go so I think there’s this mystic mixture of ingredients that make a city just go, right, for the next few years, we are the centre of the universe.”

As Knight looked out across the legions of Brummies crowded around the red carpet, he reflected on what he hopes the show’s ultimate legacy would be: “I hope it means that people telling working-class stories will have the confidence to believe that the story from their back yard is international.”

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