As the Peaky Blinders start to evolve from a mass gang movement interested in territory and fighting into the first organised crime gangs in Britain, we follow the career of petty thief Billy Kimber. With his Birmingham gang, Billy rises to dominate the illegal money-spinning rackets around horse racing at the start of the 20th century.
World War I disrupts his quest to build an empire, but after the war Kimber moves south to take over the rackets in the lucrative southern English racecourses. This brings him into conflict with powerful London gangs, including Jewish bookmakers like Alfie Solomon and Edward Emanuel, who seek help from the notorious Sabini Gang of Clerkenwell’s Little Italy. It leads to the racecourse wars of 1921, with hundreds of gangsters fighting pitched battles for control of Britain’s racecourses.
The boom in horse racing and its associated off- and on-course betting is fertile ground for gangsters who want to both control the trade and carve up the rich pickings from protection and extortion on Britain’s racecourses.
The Birmingham gang are ultimately outmanoeuvred by Emanuel when he uses the Jockey club to help legitimise the London gang’s activity, forcing Kimber and his Birmingham to move back to the Midlands and the north of England.
As the focus of gang activity shifts away from the races to Soho and clubland, we explore the influence of US gang culture. Most of the main players become semi-legitimate – Billy dies as a respectable bookmaker and a rich man. Later, more familiar gangsters like the Krays acknowledge their debt to the likes of the Sabinis.