Peaky Blinders: Decrypting TV Success with Kate Phillips and Jamie Glazebrook

By Paul Arrowsmith

For any writer looking to write a returning series, this video provides ample details of the process starting from Steven Knight’s initial pitch in a Southbank coffee shop. The producers were looking to hire a writer for a new project, so he pitched Peaky Blinders. Jamie was struck by both Steve’s passion for the project (it had been an idea he had had for many years) and the detail of the story and the interplay between the characters.   

Almost straightaway they received interest from the BBC, which Jamie said was unusual. From the get-go they wanted to produce a series that worked on numerous levels and appealed to a wide audience. Their intention was that it be much more than just a story of violence amongst gangsters in post WW1 Birmingham. 

 In particular they went to great lengths (or Steve did) to get the research right and make sure all the details were accurate. Another intention of the writer and producers was to create strong female roles. Not just one, but an ensemble of women whose lives were intertwined either personally or professionally with the main lead Tommy Shelby. 

 The intent was to create a lead character in Tommy Shelby who was complex and who although he did a lot of questionable actions, the motives for doing so where always seen to be acting in the interests of the Peaky Blinders and the Shelby family. 

From Kate Philips’s perspective, the female characters are all well rounded, so much so that at any given scene she knows what her own emotion should be, and also those of her emotions towards the other female characters. She said, roles with such depth are a delight to play. 

 Both Jamie & Katie said for them the ‘trick’ is for writers to write compelling characters, not just those whose professional or personal life we see but how they often cross over to create good drama. This is what writers should be aspiring towards. Jamie urged writers who want to write a returning series study Mad Men, House of Cards, and The Sopranos as good examples of deep and complex characters who are driven and won’t stop. 

 Jamie also emphasized that writers need to think like producers, in that they need to be aware of the market they are writing for. AND… they need to be good at taking notes. Notes are given for a reason. Now it may be that the note is a bad note and the problem is Y rather than X but good writers respond to notes well. 

Chris asked Kate, as an actor what is it like to read one of Steve’s scripts? Her reply was to say that she likes to feel cool, clever and given dialogue that she can get stuck into. She feels one of the strengths of PB is that it is not only Tommy who has good lines. All the ensemble cast are given good lines, such is the quality of the writing. 

Chris also asked the question of Jamie, how do writers get their work to be read by him? Being represented does help as it gives a veneer of professionalism that this is a writer whose work is regarded as being of a sufficiently high standard to be represented. Jamie did say he has worked with two writers in the past who were not represented at first but were soon given representation shortly upon working with him. He went on to say that as a producer he is always looking for the next new writer who has something to say, whose works stands out. It’s a great feeling when you read a script and you don’t want it to stop when the writing demands your attention.