Main Characters In Peaky Blinders That Didn't Exist In Real Life

One of Netflix's most popular series in recent years is "Peaky Blinders." This British period drama centers around the Shelby crime family and their rise to power. The series is set in Birmingham, England, shortly after the end of World War I. According to Rotten Tomatoes, returning war veterans, new revolutionaries, and organized criminal gangs were all fighting for their piece of the pie in an economically unstable nation. The series follows these different groups through their various exploits as they navigate political differences, poverty, and financial stress, as well as their own personal relationship challenges.

We are introduced to characters like Tommy Shelby, his wife Grace Shelby, and Tommy Shelby's aunt Elizabeth "Polly" Gray, who are all important to the family "enterprise." We also meet the likes of Chief Inspector Campbell, and even Winston Churchill, who are figures attempting to bring down the Shelby gang and others. There is also a plethora of other characters who portray everyone from rising political figures to opposing gang members and love interests. As this is a historically themed show, you might be wondering if any of these characters actually existed at some point. The answer may surprise you.

Thomas Shelby — head of the Peaky Blinders

Let's start with whether the Peaky Blinders were an actual gang running amok in Birmingham. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the answer is yes. They were a real street gang that operated in the city for about two decades beginning in 1890. While the real Peaky Blinders had a few things in common with the characters of the TV show, one character who is purely fictional is the show's leading man, Thomas "Tommy" Shelby.

Tommy Shelby (portrayed by Cillian Murphy) is a veteran of the Great War. He is battling symptoms of PTSD when he returns home and becomes the head of the Peaky Blinders gang. He and his family get involved with illegal activities like gun running and horse racing, which brings conflict and challenges from rival gangs. In the midst of all these criminal ventures, he meets Grace Burgess, and they do eventually marry and have a child together. Though an actual person known as Thomas Shelby did not run the Peaky Blinders, his character was possibly based on one of the real leaders of the gang, Thomas Gilbert, aka Kevin Mooney, according to Boss Hunting.

Grace Burgess Shelby — spy turned gangster's wife

Another character who did not exist is Thomas Shelby's first wife, Grace Burgess. In the television show, the couple meet while she is working as a barmaid at the Garrison Pub, which Shelby frequented. What he did not know when he met Burgess was that she was actually working undercover for the Birmingham Police. She was instructed to get close to Shelby and get information on his dealings, but the two ended up falling in love instead. Obviously, when he inevitably finds out about whom she works for, he is completely devastated, so Grace leaves for America.

One would likely assume that would be the end of their relationship, but two years later, Burgess returns to Birmingham and the couple rekindle their union. Only problem is, she is now married to someone else. She then falls pregnant as a result of their affair and gives birth to a baby boy that she named Charles. It's not until her husband dies that Grace Burgess then marries Thomas Shelby, and their family unit is finally complete. The joy was short-lived, as Grace would be accidentally shot by someone trying to kill her husband, resulting in her death. Honestly, we are all probably glad such a tragic ending didn't really happen in this case.

Polly Gray — family matriarch

The character of Elizabeth "Polly" Gray is the matriarch of the Shelby clan and the aunt of all the Shelby siblings. She is also the treasurer for the Peaky Blinders and even ran the gang when all of her nephews were at war. While historically Polly Gray does not exist, her role in the TV show was highly influential as she was pretty much the head of the family. Though Thomas Shelby takes control of the Peaky Blinders once he returns from the war front, his aunt is still his main confidant.

Polly Gray not only handled the finances for the gang's criminal activities but navigated all the emotional and personal family dynamics. For example, when her niece Ada is impregnated by Tommy Shelby's former friend, Gray is the one who attempts to make it possible for the couple to stay together. She also deals with the emotional baggage of her own children being taken from her during the years before she joined the family business and took care of her niece and nephews. Polly Gray is a strong female figure, but she is also a target due to her dealings with the gangs in Birmingham.

Arthur Shelby — troubled older brother

Arthur Shelby is also a purely fictional character in the Peaky Blinders series. He is actually the oldest of the Shelby family and also a member of the Peaky Blinders. However, he is not head of the gang as his brother Thomas holds that spot, though he does function as his second in command. In addition to his dealings with the Peaky Blinders, he is also deputy vice president of the Shelby Company Limited.

Despite the fact that he is not actually the head of the gang, the initial assumptions were that he was. That results in Arthur initially getting arrested and interrogated by Inspector Campbell about the missing weapons that he is searching for. His involvement with the gang does not help when it comes to an altercation between the Peaky Blinders and a rival gang, which results in Thomas Shelby getting shot. He also has an extremely complicated and abusive relationship with his son, which leads to further conflict and his continued downward spiral in the eyes of many.

Chief Inspector Campbell — the cop on their tail

One of the most influential characters in the first two seasons is Chief Inspector Campbell. He was a man hired at the behest of Winston Churchill to recover some stolen guns. While on his mission to find these missing weapons, he develops a slight obsession against the Shelbys and the Peaky Blinders. He has a reputation for being able to cut down on the crime and corruption in cities, which is why he was chosen to do the same in crime-ridden Birmingham.

Though he is a fictional character, one of the most interesting things about him is his relationship with Grace Shelby. Inspector Campbell worked with her father in Belfast and uses that connection to place Grace as a spy in the Garrison Pub, one of the gang's favorite hangouts. With his spy giving him inside information, he attempts to bring down Tommy Shelby and his crew, but as a result, ends up getting caught up in some precarious situations himself. His dealings with the Peaky Blinders eventually cost him his life.