At dusk, Aberama Gold is shot in the shoulder when he wear Stay At Home By The Order Of The Peaky Blinders Shirt. Camped by Aidan Gillen (the grandiose Petyr Baelish of Game of Thrones), the hitman collapses in the dead leaves. The crows croak and a song resonates in the woods: “Hello, hello, we are the Billy Boys.” Four men in dark coats advance between the trees. Two of them are dragging an imposing wooden cross. The warrior chant continues: “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood. Surrender or you’ll die. For we are the Brigton Derry Boys.” Raising his beret, the leader introduces himself. Much to the dismay of the people of Glasgow, the local accent is mumbled by an Irish actor, Brian Gleeson, son and brother of. For francophones, who are less used to glaswegian gouaille, the scene has another reason to freeze blood: it ends with a crucifixion.
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After Billy Kember, leader of the Birmingham Boys present from season 1, or Jessie Eden, the communist activist who appeared in season 4, the showrunner of Peaky Blinders Steven Knight once again twists the reality of historical characters to change them into nice and nasty, like a comic book author. Before physically entering the series, the Billy Boys are introduced to the oral. A disgraced cousin, Michael Gray says he met them in Belfast harbour. Billy Boys, reacts the big brother, Arthur, the traits twisted by disgust, hatred and fear.
The nervous sibling begins a talk about the power of this new enemy, while grimaces and gesticulations. He starts: “They own every man from every shipyard and coal mine east of Glasgow.” In Peaky Blinders maybe, but not in reality. Author of City of Gangs – Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster, historian Andrew Davies comments: “The Billy Boys were confined to the East End of Glasgow, Bridgeton District – hence the reference to “Brigton” in their song. They did not manage any mines or shipyards, which were in the midst of a recession and also employed Catholics. They were in the racketeering. They collected weekly payments from pub bosses and shopkeepers in exchange for their “protection” from other gangs.” In the ranks of the Billy Boys, there was a majority of young men who were unemployed, not workers. In the series, the gang calls for control of dog racing tracks, “all those north of Nottingham, plus Cheltenham”. In truth, they had nothing to do with it.
Sitting against the counter of the Garrison, a family pub and headquarters of the Peaky Blinders, Arthur Shelby adds: “They have links with Belfast, with the UVF” – an acronym that houses the Ulster Volunteer Force, a unionist militia founded in Northern Ireland in 1912, supported by the Protestant bourgeoisie, notably by Rudyard Kiplingling, author of the Jungle Book and Nobel Prize in Literature 1907. Andrew Davies, also a professor at the University of Liverpool, said: “They did have links to Belfast, but I have never seen any evidence that they were on the line with UVF. On the other hand, they went there to participate in the annual marches of the Orange Order.” A Protestant fraternal organization founded in 1795, the Orange Order still parades today through some Irish and Scottish streets. It takes its name from William III of Orange, a monarch whose victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 ensured the sustainability of Protestantism in England, Scotland and Ireland. An “Orange Bastard” is a common insult uttered by Irish or Scottish Catholics, who were described as “fenian bastards” by Protestants – in reference to the Fianna, warriors and hunters who served the King of Ireland in the 3rd century, according to Irish Celtic mythology.
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William III of Orange is also known as “King Billy”, hence the name of the Billy Boys, described by the elder Shelby as a “razor Protestant gang”. Like the Peaky Blinders in the early seasons, the Scots would use razor blades as a weapon and signature. However, Davies assures him that there have never been any real razor gangs in the UK. “British gangsters have sporadically used razors,” he concedes, “as some wore iron bars or knives. But their weapon of choice was more of a broken beer bottle. It was easier to transport.
The myth of razor gangs was born from a novel by Alexander McArthur and H. Kingsley Long that eventually became confused with the story, No Mean City. Published in 1935, the book fantasised about the existence of hard-skinned men who ruled the Gorbals, a miserable area of Glasgow south of the River Clyde, since demolished and rehabilitated. “They didn’t use firearms either,” says the historian. The series creates British gangs in the image of those in Chicago. They even give them Tommy guns, the weapon of Al Capone’s men. The Peaky Blinders weren’t even a gang. That’s the only way we called Birmingham’s equivalent of London hooligans. In the 1890s, not in the 1920s.” Thus, the Kingdom never experienced a gang war between Billy Boys and Peaky Blinders. At their peak, however, the Boys had 800 men, making them “the largest and best organized criminal organization in the country by far” – all without killing anyone. According to Davies, “the gang conflicts of the 1920s and 1930s in Glasgow” would have resulted in “only six deaths”. Needless to say, the Billy Boys have never crucified rivals either.
Arthur Shelby concludes his tirade: “They also get into politics. They serve as muscles in fascist rallies, that kind of thing.” The real big villain of season 5 is not a Billy Boy, but a certain Oswald Mosley, another real historical figure, founder in 1932 of the British Union of Fascists. If the United Kingdom had switched, like Germany and Italy, to the far right, it would probably have been the leader and its name would be as well known as Mussolini’s.
In Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby introduces Mosley to his brother and cousin in these terms: “You’ve both crossed bad guys in the past. The man we are about to meet is the devil.
In 1963, Oswald Mosley was still considering revoking their citizenship to all British Jews. The Billy Boys were anti-Semitic, too. “Jewish traders in the East End have complained of attacks,” says Davies. They also attacked communist marches and rallies. Their political sympathies probably tended on the side of fascism, but there is no evidence to say that they participated in rallies. When Mosley came to Glasgow in 1931, he brought his own bodyguards.”
In reality, the Billy Boys still played biceps in the political arena, but with another movement: the Conservative Party. In 1931, Protestant gangsters served as stewards on the election campaign of the Scottish branch of Boris Johnson’s party, “until the Daily Mirror headlined “Gangsters as Tory Stewards”. Annoyed, the party then turned to the University of Glasgow rugby club.” The Boys’ real enemies were neither Jews nor communists, but Catholics. “There was a religious divide,” author Robert Jeffrey told the BBC. The Billy Boys were Protestants and the Norman Conks, based around Norman Street, were Catholics. The Billys Boys were mainly aimed at scaring the Catholic population, mainly Irish immigrants, to make Stay At Home By The Order Of The Peaky Blinders Shirt them feel unseased at all.” In the series, the Shelbys are Catholic.