If you slowed down the credits on Peaky Blinders – as I did regularly with a flush of self-indulgent pride – you could find my name, about three feet below Cillian Murphy.
It’s a risky business being a history adviser, especially for a piece of TV drama, and when the script finally hits the screen, it’s not easy to know whether to draw attention to the fact, or to go into hiding.
Whatever nit-picking I did (all those months ago) with the dialogue, the story-lines or the setting, it’s the director’s prerogative to swat those comments away or to take them on board. Overall, I think, the decisions were the right ones.
The contemporary sound-track pulled the series out of the usual costume drama, and the look of the thing was stunning. The accents, I know, wobbled. It was not surprising, I suppose, that a Liverpudlian lilt seeped into a street filmed in Toxteth.
To those who would like to pick holes with the way the gangs were depicted, let me say this. From the moment the writer – Steve Knight – put pen to paper, this was always meant to be a larger-than-life portrait of Birmingham between the wars.
If you recall the portrait of Lower East-Side Manhattan in Once upon a Time in America, or Hollywood’s version of Capone’s Chicago, then this was the effect they were looking for. Call it “Once upon a Time in Birmingham”.
I didn’t know this at the time I was wrestling with the script, but it was clear enough once Tommy – the Cillian Murphy character – rode into Chinatown on his white charger.
And if you’re still in doubt, take a look at a scene set in the Lickey Hills tea-room. I think it was my idea to move the scene from Cannon Hill Park, mainly because I was unsure whether the tea-room would have been open on a Sunday.
What the director did was to turn a modest little Victorian café into something more akin to the Palace of Versailles. It was the perfect place for the Tommy to talk terms with his enemy – the Chief Constable – but probably not what the average Brummie recalls from a day trip down the Bristol Road.
Small Heath and Rednal will never seem the same again.
* Dr Chris Upton has come out of hiding at Newman University Birmingham