Get set for peak Peaky Blinders as the return of the cult gangster drama heralds a global expansion, from a dapper clothing range backed by David Beckham to books, video games and its own two-day festival.
The eagerly awaited fifth series of the Birmingham-set show returns on Sunday, making its debut on BBC1, the nation’s most-watched channel – a testament to its elevation to crown jewel status alongside the corporation’s biggest returning dramas such as Line of Duty.
The exploits of the Shelby family – under their leader, Tommy, played by Cillian Murphy – have proven to be a global hit, with a Netflix deal making the show available in more than 180 countries.
“It began with an incredible response in the UK and now all over the world,” says Steven Knight, the Birmingham-born creator and writer of Peaky Blinders. “I talked to someone recently who had been in Panama City and a barman told him he was saving enough money to come to Birmingham to see the streets where Peaky Blinders happened. I’ve had A-list celebrities and rock stars get in touch to say how much they love it.”
In fact, it was a knock on the door by one celebrity fan, David Beckham, that resulted in a partnership for an official range of Peaky Blinders-inspired clothing. The line is from Kent & Curwen, the fashion label co-owned by Beckham, and will debut in its chain of more than 160 stores globally from October as well as being made available online.
“David is a big fan, so is his son, and they approached us and said they wanted to do a Peaky Blinders capsule range,” Knight says.
He says that despite the growing popularity of the show historically, there had not been a focus on fostering the development of the brand beyond TV. “By the end of series four it became very obvious around the world there was a thing happening,” he says. “That is when we started looking at a full range of products.”
The first official online store opened in June, offering “fan-based apparel” such as T-shirts and hoodies; in October, Superdrug will unveil a men’s grooming range and there will be an international launch of a Peaky Blinders book; and by Christmas there could even by a Peaky fragrance to go with the official 2020 calendar. Next year, virtual reality and console games will be launched, where players can “be a Peaky Blinder”, and talks about a smartphone version are in the works.
The move to top billing on primetime BBC1 will give Peaky Blinders an extra boost among UK audiences of at least 50% beyond its old home on BBC2, providing the perfect marketing springboard to fuel the ambitious commercial expansion of the brand.
A near-two-year wait for a new series has served to raise the excitement level among fans. In July, more than 76,000 people applied for tickets to the first exclusive screening of the season five premiere held in Birmingham town hall.
Knight is using his hometown to launch the first official Peaky Blinders festival next month, with two days of music, fashion, street food – and even a “bespoke ballet Rambert performance” – in the Digbeth and Small Heath areas of Birmingham, where the original gang were based.
While it is full steam ahead on the commercialisation front, there is a certain irony that the makers of a TV show about a gangster family seeking to outwit rivals have found themselves exploited by those looking to tap into the Peaky Blinders effect.
Less than two months after the first series debuted on BBC2, a Leamington Spa-based company called Chaos Brothers filed to officially trademark “Peaky Blinders” for use selling the peak caps made famous by the show. It sells them through a Peaky Blinders-trademarked website.
In early 2014, during the run-up to series two, Sadler’s Ales, based in Stourbridge, launched a Peaky Blinder beer citing the show as inspiration. It uses images of the original gang and has since expanded to gin, whisky and rum and a “fan pack” offering a flat cap and razor pin. In 2017 the company registered “Peaky Blinder” as its official trademark in the beer and spirits category.
“[The TV show makers] couldn’t release a Peaky Blinder gin as that would encroach on our intellectual property,” says Chris Dew, the marketing manager at Sadler’s Brewery. “Initially, we were celebrated by the show; there were shots of the cast drinking the beer. But as time has gone on and the show has got bigger we have disassociated from each other to stay in our lanes.”
Ironically, early last year when the show’s makers made an attempt to trademark the Peaky Blinders name in 10 categories of products, it was opposed by Chaos Brothers and Halewood International, which owns Sadler’s Brewery and also Windsor Castle Brewery, which has a “Peaky” beer. The issue remains mired at the European International Property Office.
“Our trademark system is what is known as a first-to-file system,” says Iain Connor, a lawyer with Pinsent Masons. “If you get there first you have the rights. It seems obvious to register a trademark [beyond TV] but you don’t know if you have a hit show on your hands; everyone misses the boat as it is often last on the list.”
Jane Smith, the group director of licensing and gaming at Endemol Shine, which handles the Peaky Blinders business, says that because the show is based on a true story it cannot nail down all the rights.
“We work very hard on registering trademarks and in terms of infringements we are very active,” she says. “We know there were people ahead of us. We have had conversations about how to resolve issues and coexist. Never do they touch the TV series, that is our red line.”
Earlier this year, a Manchester bar called Peaky Blinders was warned that it was infringing the show’s copyright. A manager at the bar said it took down images from the show it had on the walls. However, a Google search still retains an image of the bar as it was – complete with a floor-to-ceiling image of Cillian Murphy’s character smoking a cigarette.
With Peaky Blinders fever continuing to mount, where does Knight think he can take his creation next; the big screen perhaps?
“I think everybody would be in,” Knight says. “I think wait until we have done seven series, then I think it would be very tempting to put it on the big screen. A one-off event that happens to the Shelby family that we make into a feature.”