I have been watching some episodes of the British TV series Peaky Blinders. It is set just after WWI in Birmingham, and the main characters are criminals (of the namesake gang and others).

My ESL doesn't allow me to understand how much of the difference among how they speak and present-day Standard British English is due to local variation (out of London), how much to temporal variation (almost one century ago) and how much to sociolinguistic variation (the character not being too educated).

If someone were to address a modern average British speaker (say, from London), speaking exactly like those characters (take Thomas Shelby, the character played by Cillian Murphy, if the differences among the characters matter), what could the modern average speaker guess about him? Where would they place this Shelby-sounding person? Would the latter mostly sound from out of town, or also old-fashioned? Or even stranger?

For a concrete example, in this sample you can hear Thomas Shelby addressing his men. I notice that some vowels and diphthongs are different from standard English (for instance /pʊb/ rather than /pʌb/, I'd say), and the general prosody of the sentence as well, but I cannot pin it down precisely, nor say how it “sounds like” globally.

  • 3
    All three of your possibilites are certainly relevant. How much of each applies in the series is really just down to the whim of the scriptwriters.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 15:43
  • 1
    Being a native English speaker doesn't help me in this case either as I'm not from the UK nor are we taught about language in a historical context. As @Chenmunka said, the choices are going to be driven by the scriptwriters and may or may not be historically accurate anyway.
    – Hanna
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 16:53
  • I have tried to make the question clearer and a bit narrower, but I'd be glad for suggestion in how to improve it.
    – DaG
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 17:14
  • @Chenmunka: Of course the scriptwriters chose how the characters speak, but my question, as a non native English speaker, is about the final result, about how odd, or old-fashioned, or low-life, or something else it sounds to a native British speaker.
    – DaG
    Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 17:17
  • 1
    @DaG — It might be helpful if you quoted a piece of dialogue that you think sounds regional/working class/old-fashioned, so that people who don't watch the show have some examples to go by. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 20:18

2 Answers 2


I'm an Australian EFL speaker who enjoys many British TV shows, but I haven't watched "Peaky Blinders".

My impression, from the sample linked, is primarily of being from the north of the UK, and many of the sounds and phrases seem like almost Irish-English (but not quite).

Birmingham itself is not as far north as the speech sounds to me, and modern Birmingham speech has a different... rhythm, for want of a better word, to my ears.

If I heard the speech without reference to the city, i would have assumed relatively modern far north of England characters, not educated in 'posh' schools, but not ignorant either - the speech itself is quite eloquent.

  • 1
    The Irish-English might be due to the fact the Cillian Murphy the lead actor is Irish himself. His true accent may be mixing with the one he is attempting.
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:14
  • Correction: the series isn't based in the North of the UK, but in the North of England. Massive difference geo-graphically.
    – MikeB
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 17:42
  • 1
    @Mike Brockington - the series is set in Birmingham, which is in the (West) Midlands of England; although the city is north of London, it is definitely not in the "North of England". Commented Apr 30, 2019 at 19:30

The family is part Rom, part Irish, brought up in the West Midlands, and having spent time (at least for the two oldest brothers) in the British Army so their language patterns are going to be mixed. They also have connections with the US, so they speak a lot of slang which may not have been 'authentically' British for the period. We do tend to forget that people were more 'cosmopolitan' than we appreciate today.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .