Peaky Blinders: Isaiah’s Role in Making Michael Gray a Gangster

Daryl McCormack’s Peaky Blinders character introduced Polly’s son Michael to the swagger and violence of life as a Peaky Boy.

Peaky Blinders season 6 Daryl McCormack as Isaiah
Photo: BBC

Warning: contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders season six episode three ‘Gold’.

In Peaky Blinders season six, Ada reluctantly steps into her brother Tommy’s shoes to run the company in his absence. She visits the Small Heath gambling den to issue orders to one of the gang’s soldiers. Go to Liverpool and deal with the union convener who’s organising the theft and sale of Peaky Blinders opium. Take Arthur with you, she says. When Ada’s questioned about the wisdom of sending junkie Arthur into a warehouse filled with opium, she says that it’s not Arthur going, it’s his reputation. “No-one would dare fuck with Arthur Shelby.” “But they would fuck with me?” asks the gang member. “Yes. He is Arthur Shelby. You’re Isaiah…who?”

Isaiah… Who?

He’s Isaiah Jesus, the son of Jamaican-born street preacher Jeremiah, who fought alongside Tommy, Arthur and John in France. After the war, Jeremiah (played by poet Benjamin Zephaniah and based on a real-life Birmingham character of the period known as ‘Jimmy Jesus’), became a pacifist and preached the word of God to the people of Small Heath, Birmingham.

Jeremiah rarely fights alongside Tommy and co., but he’s every bit a Peaky Blinder. He performed Tommy and Grace’s marriage ceremony, and was among the mourners at John and Polly’s gypsy funerals. In the season five finale family meeting where Michael and Gina attempted to stage their coup, Jeremiah and Isaiah were there with the rest of them. Isaiah was also present when Michael Gray got his first taste of the Peaky Blinder life back in season two.

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When Michael arrived at the Shelby Company Ltd, he was fresh from his wholesome upbringing on a Kentish farm, and focused entirely on making the business legitimate. A trainee accountant, Michael was diligent and serious, and had yet to experience the Peaky Blinder lifestyle. Enter, Isaiah.

We’re Peaky Boys

In season two, episode four, Michael and Isaiah are working on the company accounts when Isaiah (played at that point by Jordan Bolger, who was forced to leave the show after season four due to scheduling issues with other acting commitments) suggests they go for a drink. It’s payday and Isaiah wants to go to The Marquis of Lorne, where the secretaries from the BSA factory drink. “They won’t serve a black man without a Shelby by his side,” he explains.

At The Marquis, Michael orders a pint but Isaiah overrules him saying “Fuck that, we’re Peaky boys. Two whiskies.” When non-smoker Michael visibly flinches at smoking a cigarette, Isaiah tells him “You get used to it, then you can’t stop.” Instantly, there’s trouble. A racist drinker named Paddy starts to harass Isaiah and tells him “I don’t drink with blacks.” The barman – knowing exactly who Michael and Isaiah are – tries to calm it down, but Paddy won’t stop. Isaiah tells him to leave it because his dad the preacher “has connections”. Michael suggests they go to drink at the Garrison, but Isaiah refuses to leave and stands his ground. Paddy and calls Isaiah offensive racist names until Isaiah punches him. A fight breaks out, in which Michael proves surprisingly handy, until the racist is beating him and the barman intervenes. “Paddy, the white kid’s a Peaky Blinder, he’s Polly Shelby’s son, he’s Polly Shelby’s son, are you fucking suicidal?”

The Good Name of the Company

The words “Polly Shelby” and “Peaky Blinder” stop Paddy in his tracks. He apologises and leaves, while Michael and Isaiah finish their drinks, buzzing from the fight. Later, when they go to the Garrison and boast about winning the scrap, Arthur and John ask which pub, and get up to leave. Michael’s baffled and asks Isaiah where they’re going. “The Marquis of Lorne,” he says, with a much better grip on how all this works than Michael. “Shame, it was a nice pub.”    

In the next scene, we see Paddy dragged into the Marquis, his face sliced, and Arthur and John pouring petrol over him and the pub. John lights a match, and the whole place goes up in flames. “You didn’t have to do that for me,” says Michael, to which Arthur replies. “We didn’t do it for you, Michael, we did it for the good name of the company.”

In one evening, Michael Gray has learned the power of being Polly Shelby’s son, drunk whisky, smoked cigarettes, experienced the adrenaline of violence, and realised the importance of maintaining a fearsome reputation, standing your ground and showing no mercy. In short, he’s gone from apple-cheeked farm boy to Peaky Blinder, and Isaiah was among those who taught him.

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Isaiah and Ada?

Now that we’ve re-met Isaiah (played in seasons five and six by Daryl McCormack) as a central part of the gang, will the character continue to play a visible role? He was there when Tommy met Lorna McKee of the IRA in episode two, and he was Arthur’s lieutenant on the Hayden Stagg mission. Could a reunion with former teenage pal Michael Gray even be on the cards? Or might romance be in Isaiah’s future? His chemistry with Ada was palpable in their ‘Gold‘ scene, though considering the fates of her previous men Colonel Younger and Freddie Thorne, perhaps he should keep his distance.

Peaky Blinders season six continues on Sunday the 20th of March at 9pm on BBC One.