Peaky Blinders: Billy Grade, the IRA, and Tommy & Michael’s War

We finally know who Billy Grade phoned in the season 5 finale, but how will it affect the showdown between Tommy and Michael?

Peaky Blinders Emmett Scanlan Billy Grade season 5
Photo: BBC

Warning: contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders season six episode five ‘The Road to Hell’

The Garrison Tavern really needs to vet its staff more closely. Back in season one, it hired a barmaid who turned out to be working undercover as a spy for Churchill and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Her name was Grace, and her threat was neutralised when she fell in love with the owner Tommy Shelby and became his wife.

The Garrison’s next spy wasn’t neutralised with a wedding, but with a gunshot to the head. That was barman Mickey Gibbs, executed by Tommy in the season five finale after Gibbs was discovered to have been taking bribes from enemies of the Peaky Blinders to inform on their plans. Gibbs was responsible for alerting mercenary Paddy Rose to the presence of Colonel Ben Younger in Small Heath, which resulted in the car bomb that killed Younger – a British army intelligence agent and the father of Ada’s second child.

Younger was killed because he was receiving kompromat gathered by Tommy Shelby about Oswald Mosley – an act that was proving unpopular with various parties including Special Branch and season three baddies Section D. When Laura McKee crowed to Tommy in ‘Black Day’ that the IRA were the ones who’d thwarted Tommy’s plan to have Mosley assassinated at the Bingley Hall rally, she told him, “We need to keep Mr Mosley alive. That’s all you need to know.” Did that mean the IRA were also behind the car bomb that protected Mosley?

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Car bomber Paddy Rose’s previous affiliation with the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force would make him an unlikely candidate for working with UVF enemies the IRA, but it’s not impossible. If the IRA were willing to “restructure” the Shelby organisation to protect Mosley’s future in British and Irish politics, it follows that they may have also been the ones who killed Younger.

‘I hear you’re the informant inside the Shelby organisation’

If Mickey Gibbs was selling Peaky Blinders secrets to the IRA, then after his murder, they would have needed a new inside man. Enter, another former Garrison worker: Irish pub singer-turned-bookmaker Billy Grade. Played by Emmett Scanlan, Grade’s connections in the world of professional football (from which he retired to due a leg injury that Arthur deliberately hurts in season six, episode five) made him a target of the Peaky Blinders. Arthur coerced a reluctant Grade into working with Finn to bribe football referees and goalkeepers so that the gang could fix match bets.

In the penultimate season six episode ‘The Road to Hell’, Jack Nelson identifies Grade as the Peaky Blinders informant and violently forces him to agree to provide information that will lead to the murder of Arthur Shelby. Whistling what sounds very much like rebel song ‘The Black Velvet Band’ – a tune about betrayal we’ve heard twice before on the show – Nelson attacks Grade and secures his agreement to spy on the Shelby family. Tommy was the one who introduced Nelson to Laura McKee, an Irish fascist who’s been working with the Boston kingpin and the Mosleys in their plan to “change the world”. At this point in the series, it seems most likely it was McKee who supplied Nelson with Billy Grade’s name.

All of which means that we know who Billy Grade phoned in the season five finale after Finn let slip that the gang was planning “to shoot a fascist tonight”: Laura/the IRA. That makes Grade indirectly responsible for the failure of Tommy’s plan to kill Mosley, and for the three murders committed that night by the IRA, those of Barney Thompson, Aberama Gold and most importantly, Polly Gray.

There will be a war in this family and one of you will die

Season six has been haunted by Polly’s prediction that if Michael tried to take on Tommy, it would result in a war in which one of them would die. That war has been a long time in the making.

As a reminder, the cousins’ feud started back in season four, after Michael failed to warn Tommy of the ambush Luca Changretta had planned for him. Michael wrongly believed that Polly was working with Luca against Tommy, and given the choice between his cousin and his mother, he chose his mother. Tommy sent him to America as punishment and hasn’t trusted him since.

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Michael resented his exile, and in 1929 disobeyed Tommy’s orders to sell Shelby Company stock ahead of the Wall Street crash, which lost them a fortune. Michael returned to Birmingham the black sheep, and according to the IRA’s Laura McKee (though Michael denied it) was plotting to overthrow Tommy with a Protestant gang when his ship from Boston docked in Belfast. Tommy (rightly) suspected Michael of being a traitor through season five, and in the finale, Michael and Gina made a formal proposal to take over the company. Tommy burnt the proposal, so Michael and Gina decided to go to war.

A Poison Tree

After Polly was murdered by the IRA, Michael was incensed that instead of avenging her, Tommy went into business with them. He swore revenge for his mother’s murder on the man he held responsible – Tommy, who later assured him that vengeance for Polly was planned, but would take time.

If it’s revenge for Polly’s death that Michael wants, he’s looking in the wrong direction. Gina’s uncle Jack Nelson is in league with Polly’s murderers. Both Irish-Catholics who share fascist allegiances, Nelson and Laura McKee are currently engaged in an opium deal brokered through Tommy. If Michael is working for Jack Nelson, then he’s also working for the people who killed his mother. (Who are also in league with Oswald Mosley, the man who’s sleeping with Michael’s wife.) At the end of season six’s penultimate episode, Michael swore that he would kill Tommy Shelby, but when it comes down to the wire, where will his loyalty end up? With Nelson or with Tommy?

Peaky Blinders season six concludes with a feature-length episode starting on Sunday the 3rd of April at 9pm on BBC One.