TV preview of Alison Rowat: The Real Peaky Blinders; The driver; Crufts 2022
STEVEN Knight heard the story from his father, who would have been eight at the time.
The boy was told to deliver a message to a local address. When he entered, he saw a group of immaculately dressed men, stacks of coins in front of them, drinking beer and whiskey from jam jars.
Whatever money they had to spare was clearly not about fancy glasses, it was about their clothes. Meet the Peaky Blinders, some of whom were the boy’s uncles.
Knight’s personal connection to the Sheldons, who became the fictional Shelbys, is part of a treasure trove of stories to be found in The Real Peaky Blinders (BBC2, Monday, 9 p.m.).
The two-part documentary traces the gang’s history from its beginnings in the Victorian slums of Birmingham.
An early stop is made at the West Midlands Police Museum to see its collection of early Peaky Blinders photos. Each face tells a story of poverty and violence.
The same goes for their “molls”, most of whom appeared before the judge for theft. The women too were dressed to perfection, with large hats, presumably to make them blend in when they went “shopping”.
Besides Knight and the Curator, the talking heads include various historians. Leading the pack is Professor Carl Chinn, himself a Brummie, whose enthusiasm and detailed knowledge drives the story forward.
Even the most ardent fans are likely to encounter a few surprises here, including the real story behind these caps.
We also see what the original Peaky Blinders haircut looked like. Turns out it’s even weirder than the one sported by Tommy, Arthur and the others.
Marin Alsop, the subject of The Conductor (Sky Arts, free, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.), also has a childhood story to tell. One that could hardly be more different from Knight Snr’s, but is just as revealing in its own way.
One of Alsop’s earliest memories was of being taken to a big concert hall in New York by her father.
Mom had made her wear a dress so she wasn’t in a very good mood, but that all changed when the conductor, a certain amount by the name of Leonard Bernstein, started explaining his role in the orchestra. Alsop told her father that this was the job she wanted to do when she grew up.
Had she known then how many mountains she would have to climb to become the first woman to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, and the first to conduct the Last Night of the Proms, even the indefatigable Alsop would have hesitated.
Conducting has proven to be one of the last bastions of white male entitlement. As one reviewer put it, a woman was more likely to lead a G7 country than a large symphony orchestra.
Alsop, a violinist and student at Juilliard from the age of seven, met rejection after rejection when she applied for internship positions.
Her response was to keep trying, and in the meantime she started her own orchestra with the backing of a financier whom she had played at the wedding.
Eventually, she went on hiatus, and national and international recognition followed.
She even got to study with Bernstein one day. They have become great friends. “My hero”, she calls him.
Clever, articulate, and with a sense of humor as dry as a Martini in Manhattan, Alsop is great company and a natural teacher to boot.
That said, even after two hours – too long, but we’re there – I’m still not sure I can tell you precisely what a conductor does. Maybe the mystery is part of the magic.
There’s a part of me that’s torn like an old slipper about recommending Crufts 2022 (Channel 4, Thursdays, 3 and 8 p.m.) as one of my picks of the week. With one paw, I’ll gladly watch dogs do anything, even if they’re just sleeping.
On the other hand, I can’t stand the faff of all this primping and smoothing. Let them roll in puddles as God intended.
But on the other paw (there are four, remember), I enjoy all that bouncy, shiny beauty as much as any dog lover.
The pandemic meant there was no show last year, so expect owners and dogs to be even more hyper and ready to compete in the 2022 contest.
Regardless of the waggling tail, the dogs will always be calm in relation to the presentation team led by Clare Balding. Horny strip? Just a little, but their enthusiasm is contagious.
For your couch snack of choice, I recommend Chic Chips for humans and Carrot Sticks with a side of water for dogs.
Remember: no matter which dog walks around with the trophy, we all know the best dog in the world is the one snoring next to you.