I guess I should pause a moment before embarking in this landmark Chronicle 200, the latest in a series intended to celebrate my entry into my Tenth Decade of life. I should warn my readers that although they can take the number of my Chronicles seriously, the other number, Log 765 is just strictly something notional that I use to help me keep track of the saved Chronicles, a number that otherwise has no real meaning in itself.
I began this blog, as it is now called, in 1996, just as a place to sound off on, and from the first I determined I would never spend or make any money out of it. I have stuck at least to that determination --- not that anyone has ever offered me any sort of remuneration, and so, come to think of it, perhaps knowing how unlikely it is that any one would offer to put money into Boyce’sPaper, that is probably why I made such a noble declaration to myself about abstaining from monetary reward. Just another well-meant but basically ill-conceived attempt to give myself some airs and graces. A hypocrite to the manner born!
I have no idea how many pieces I have written since 1996. If one took a notional daily column as the maximum, I would have written more than 8,000, but I know that an average would probably be more likely to lie somewhere between two or three a week, because, after all, I have had longish periods when I have never written anything. But three a week, on average would have produced some 186 Chronicles, rather than 200, and I do have to admit my pace has been quicker since I invented the Chronicles as an excuse to keep me going.
Okay, enough of that.
Last night I had the ineffable pleasure of resuming my viewing of Peaky Blinders that inimitable British serial about underworld life in Birmingham: it began at the end of World War I, with a poor, sharper-than-a-needle-family which arose from the Romany culture, whose characteristics they continued to adhere to as they got into the struggle to take over management of all the small-time, gang-related crookery offered by the recently industrialized city of Birmingham, for many years a city that attracted to itself large numbers of drifting impoverished people who, once they had got a foothold in the city, were constantly on the lookout for avenues towards what might be loosely called self-improvement.
From the beginning it was a family affair, starting with the father, and then the sons, their spouses or girl friends, some of their aunts and uncles--- one in particular, Aunt Polly, who became the treasurer of he outfit --- in all, a tight-knit group of people on rhe make.
When Winston Churchill as Home Minister discovered that a consignment of arms intended for Libya had gone missing from Belfast, he sent over to Birmingham from Belfast a chief inspector of police, played by Sam Neill, to clean up the place. Thus, young Tommy Shelby, who had rapidly grown to leadership of the gang, was in the eye of the authorities at the highest level right from the beginning. Episode 1 ends on the day the gang was set to take over a rival gang’s betting pitches at the Worcester races. In other words, they were in a small way, but growing.
In the second series set in 1921 and 1922, we observe the gang expanding from its Birmingham home towards both the north and the south --- the series begins and ends at Epsom Downs on Derby Day. (I can add a little reminder here of the traditional nature of British life, because when I started my assignment as London correspondent of The Montreal Star in 1960, four decades later, thr first story I wrote was about Derby Day, still with its firm grip on the British upper class imagination. Nothing like kicking off a new job with a good cliché!).
In series three they are going international, largely at the instance of Aunt Polly, who hires a Russian painter to paint her. And series four, the last we have been allowed to see over here until this week, covers the period of the 1926 general .strike, and it ends with the unlikely elevation of Tommy to Parliament as a rabble-rousng Labour member. All I need say about series five, which I am almost halfway through watching, is that it begins on October 29, 1929, the day on which the stock market crashed in New York, and ends on December 7 1930, with a rally by the fascist leader Oswald Mosley, where Tommy makes clear he wants nothing to do with him. I can reveal, since it comes at the very beginning of this series, that the crash has wiped out the formal weallh accumulated over the years by the Peaky Blinders gang, leaving Tommy wondering why his younger brother did not follow his advice, given a few days before, to sell. Tommy’s revenge, as we have seen at pivotal moments during his career, is usually swift and brutal.
The series picks up one of the favourite themes of the whole tale, which is that many younger members are born into the clan, but not all take to it kindly to their method of doing business, and Tommy’s powers of persuasion are many, to enlist them as loyal, but usually inadequate members of the team. This is shown by the recalcitrant behaviour of Tommy’s youngest, who, when summoned to do what he is told, utters the devastating rejoinder, “You kill horses, and you kill people. They all say that at school.” He had got the information about the dead horse because Tommy had spoken about it in the Romany language which the kid had picked up enough of to enable him to put two and two together. In other words, a smart little kid, once Tommy can get him straightened out.
Well, good luck Peaky Blinders fans. It’s looking good after the first two of the six episodes in the new series.