Peaky Blinders has had the biggest impact on male grooming than any other TV drama this century – but for Birmingham star Harry Kirton that meant giving up on the dream of being a teenager with long hair.
Now that the sixth and final series of the gangster drama is in the can, Harry’s cutting loose and going for what a canalside-crimper might call the ‘opposite locks’ in memory of the former nightclub next to Gas Street Basin.
And so while the nation’s army of macho males remains obsessed with fades, shades and blades, Harry’s now heading in a new direction – in the post Peaky Blinders world he’s going for growth with the kind of long and surprisingly soft-edged curly look that many a woman wanted hair-straighteners inventing for.
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Lapping up the ability to choose where he goes next and how he should look at the age of 23, intrepid Harry rekindled memories of his Weoley Castle roots by enjoying an inner-city photoshoot with BirminghamLive on the day of the world premiere of the final series held at Cineworld Broad Street on Thursday, February 24, 2022.
Harry had joined a half-mile queue across Digbeth when the first stage auditions for the second series opened in Birmingham in January, 2014.
Landing the second series role of Finn Shelby at the age of 15 has given Harry a massive leg up the acting ladder and the premiere was a chance to say goodbye to the rest of the cast pending any of them returning for a future Peaky film and / or spin-offs.
“I did not know quite what I’d got myself into, really,” says Harry about his early days on set playing the only Shelby brother not to have fought in the First World War like Arthur, Thomas and John.
“There was an appreciation, but a naivety at first, and then I grew to understand what it was.
“Now it’s been half my life in many ways. I’m sad to see it leave, but at the same time I think good things have to be captured when they are good and not let them run away.”
Watched by his model girlfriend – and fellow cat-lover – Apple, we took Harry for a walk on the wild side down by the canals, through narrow, brick-walled passageways, up to the St Thomas’ Peace Garden on Bath Row and back to the Mailbox where a picture of his younger, short hair self is framed like a work of art in the BBC’s Peaky Blinders window display.
So come along with us on this journey to learn more about Harry, his hair, his unofficial job as a dialect coach and how he sees his journey thus far from Bournville School and the Birmingham Ormiston Academy which helped to pave his way towards acting with stars of the caliber of Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Paul Anderson and the late Helen McCrory ….
The sixth and final series of Peaky Blinders begins at 9pm on BBC1 on Sunday, February 24, 2022.
Locks flowing in the wind alongside the locks of Birmingham’s canal network, Harry says: “It’s kind of strange to be back in Birmingham having left – I live in a quiet part of west London now.”
Looking at the new buildings off Bridge Street rising next to the old ones off Gas Street, Harry says: “I like to come back though to see some real, cool s ***.”
Talking about his new, longer hairstyle after years of having to keep it short, Harry adds: “I’ve been waiting since I was 15 to grow my hair. I’ve always wanted my hair long and I’ve got my curls and stuff.
“I’ve lived the rough hair style for more than long enough now.”
Pointing to his chest, he adds: “I’m going to see if I can get some more roles with my hair down to here to see how I can play with it and see how I can re-establish this silhouette that has been very much Peakyfied. This is how I like to have it, it’s my preference and it’s as long as I’ve ever had it. “
Has the change of hair been good for going incognito?
“I do use the excuse of wearing a (Covid) mask for the double whammy of the hair and the mask,” says Harry, who has an older sister.
“I just used to have the fades, but the curls instantly reshape my face, so I think as well not being at the forefront of the Peaky family people did not quite have their eye out for me.
“But those who know, really catch me out when they watch my Instagram, they knew my silhouette!
“I’ve changed it again and maybe it will continue to change so I can stay a bit more elusive for a while.”
Harry and the Brummie accent
In real life, Harry is softly spoken with a naturally engaging lilt to his voice.
His dad is an engineer and his mum works in a school office, parents who could never have guessed what would lie in store when he was born in July, 1998.
Two months earlier in May that year, the world’s G8 leaders including Russian President Boris Yeltsin, US President Bill Clinton and Tony Blair visited the Peace Gardens on Bath Row where we are now standing.
On the very day when, almost a quarter of a century later, Russia’s Vladimir Putin had authorized the invasion of Ukraine, Harry takes a great interest in the history of the still-towering remainder of St Thomas’s church. Bombed during the Second World War, he recognizes its vast columns from bus journeys into town during his younger days.
As the member of the Peaky cast who is actually from Birmingham, he feels the architecture is part of his birth right and wishes there were many more buildings like it across the city.
On the subject of authenticity, did he find himself offering lessons to his co-stars – especially as so much of the filming has taken place in the north west making it harder for a cast from different parts of the country to nail the Brummie accent?
“Having moved out of Birmingham even my parents catch me out with the accent – it’s not on purpose,” he laughs. “When I’m filming, it does come a lot thicker.
“Even Helen, bless her, she always used to come up to me and ask. It was just research – she’s very thorough, was very thorough. Paul Anderson never would and, respectfully, his accent suffered a little bit. Cillian had it down but there were a few times when I just let them know! ”
What’s it like to get your own hair back in the style that you want, not your character?
“I’ve been waiting since I was 15 to grow my hair. I’ve always wanted my hair long and I’ve got my curls and stuff,” says Harry.
“I’ve lived the rough hairstyle for more than long enough now.
“I’m going to see if I can get some more roles with my hair down to here to see how I can play with it and see how I can re-establish this silhouette that has been very much Peakyfied. This is how I like to have it, it’s my preference. ”
Harry admits it’s pretty cool ‘to be able to have been able to call himself a Shelby for most of his life since he became a teenager.
“If Finn was here he would probably be a bit fed up with it now, it’s similar to having a £ -sign on his head, but it was cool once I learned ‘the honor’, shall we say.
“It would have been interesting to see how it would have been to have been in one of the other gangs but I would not trade my place.”
What has Harry learned about Finn during the years he has been growing up with him?
“I think he’s honest, he’s gentle and courageous in many ways, I think he was literally growing up at those stages of growth, he had a lot of misguidance and a lot of high-risk environments which can do a lot to someone’s brain.
“I’ve never fought in a war, he did not fight in a war. I’m not a violent person by any means, but I can get stuck in when needs be so I sympathize as to why he feels maybe physically he needs to get stuck in.
“Finn has now got to the point where he’s a lifesaver. The desire to live up to a Shelby name and standard of bravado shall we say – maybe he realized that’s now how it’s all about.
“The sympathy for him is that at least he’s honest. Steven has written him, I’m acting him. Finn’s a gentle soul.
“He’s definitely still got the venom in the water, the venom in the blood, but he is still a bit of a lunatic.”
Learning on the job
Because Harry was barely in his mid-teens when he joined Peaky, his teachers have been stars of the quality of Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Paul Anderson and the late Helen McCrory. What did he learn from them?
“I think you can just learn by watching, there are not many direct lessons that have been taught to me and immense wisdom and knowledge being bestowed down to me.
“When you play with the caliber of people that they are, I’ve just picked up a lot of things.
“I’ve just picked up a lot of things about how to act on set, the pace at which they work, the style and the differences between Paul and Cillian, Helen and even Tom.
“The various guests playing the enemies of the Peaky Blinders … I did not get to go out with them as much, but the journey I’ve gone on and how I’ve grown, how my character has grown, how all the other characters have grown, the stories we’ve gone down, the different sort of environments we find ourselves in, it’s taught me a lot as an actor and as a person.
“Whether they knew it or not, a thank you is due to my co-stars.”
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