She continued to work as an organizer. As Steven points out, “Her greatest achievement was virtually founding mass trades unionism for women by leading all those women into the union and out on strike in 1931. It is doubtful that the TV programme will cover this, or her even more extraordinary achievement in bringing 45,000 Birmingham council tenants out on rent strike in 1939 – and winning.”
Jessie Eden McCullouch in History
Graham Stevenson is a historian who has specialized in the union movement, and
his website provides, probably, the best overview of her life. (It’s worth noting that Stevenson stopped watching Peaky Blinders because the historical inaccuracies were too much for him. He also vented to about his frustrations with Series 4.) Express
I’m less troubled by minor inaccuracies —
Peaky Blinders is a work of fiction, after all — but there are some significant problems worth addressing. Here are some of the relevant facts of her life.
She was born Jessie Shrimpton — Eden was her name after marrying Albert Eden in 1923. They also adopted a child, Douglas. But the marriage was unhappy.
Eden worked at a motor parts company filling shock absorbers. She was a shop steward for the Transport and General Workers Union. According to Stevenson, “Jessie wasn’t a mass leader in 1926, merely a shop steward of a small group of unionised women, hugely out-numbered by 10,000 non-unionised women at the Lucas factory. She was never a professional paid official.” So while she was active in the union, at the time of the General Strike, she was not a leader.
Eden was a successful organizer in the 1930s and 1940s. Stevenson writes: “Jessie would, in due course, become, during the 1930s and 1940s, a mass leader of women workers, a Moscow Metro builder, a tenants’ leader and a pretty sucessful Communist election candidate.” Morevoer, her career as an oganizer , Stevenson says, changed lives: “In January 1931, Jessie went down in history by leading ten thousand women out on a week’s strike, an extraordinary thing to do in those times. It eventually led to a mass movement towards unionisation amongst women and young workers in the newer light industries of the English Midlands, which lay the basis for mass trade union membership in major plants over the next four decades and the strong industrial roots that the Communist Party once had in the region.”
By 1937, she was in a relationship with Walter Baxter McCulloch, her life partner and fellow activist. They married in 1948. For the rest of their lives, they were politically active. In 1969, they led a march against the Vietnam War. She died in 1986 at the age of 84.
From The Guardian
Steven Knight’s Jessie Eden
I understand a writer’s need to embellish on the historical record though it’s expected that authors will, generally, adhere to facts. Knight made clear that he was working from limited resources in researching Jessie Eden — that “flash in the corner of his eye” — and her historical record is sparse. But Knight does seem to at least grasp the essence of the woman she was: “[S]he did extraordinary things.”
Unfortunately, those “extraordinary things” get lost in the character he has created.
At the time Knight’s Jessie met Tommy, she would have been both a single parent and a woman working in a factory. She would not yet have become a leader, and she would have had no real power. That’s lost in Knight’s story. For him, Jessie is a single girl, burdened only by her love lost to the War and her responsiblity to the revolution. So Jessie Eden’s actual biography, which shows a compelling woman struggling to improve her life, is jettisoned to create a scene in which she and Tommy compare their damaged hearts — and she introduces Gretta DiRossi (WHO DIED OF CONSUMPTION!). Plus, Knight can skip to Jessie’s married name. (“Shrimpton” just isn’t the same.)
Because Knight’s Jessie Eden is placed in a position of power, she’s in a better position to take on Tommy Shelby, but her life as a single parent and her growth as an organizer are lost.
That said, what Knight has done to Jessie Eden is much more egregious than mangling her biography. He has taken a woman, one who changed the lives of workers throughout Birmingham and provided a model for women, and reduced her to Tommy Shelby’s latest fling. Steven Knight’s Jessie Eden may be able to control workers through blowing a whistle, but she can’t defeat the sexual prowess of Tommy Shelby. Indeed, “The Company” ends with her complete humiliation. But, hey, we know what a man Tommy Shelby is. Jessie Eden is collatoral damage.
Here’s the deal: If you’re going to use a woman who did “extraordinary things,” then let her do them. In the end, that can’t happen in the Birmingham of
Peaky Blinders. No one can be smarter or tougher or sexier than Tommy Shelby — even though he would be a much more interesting character if he were truly challenged. Instead, we’re back to that “impossible masculinity,” and nothing tops that — not even a woman who changed history.
Instead, she’s just housed in the stable of “
Steven Knight’s Strong Female Characters (Who Aren’t Really Strong Female Characters).” Knight himself says she’s more than “a flash of colour” in a “history [that] concentrates on the memoirs of some politician or other.” But it turns out that Knight’s can’t see past his own “politican or other,” Tommy Shelby, OBE.
That’s too bad. Jessie Eden deserves her own story.
(Author note: I’m not an expert on British labour history, so if I’ve made mistakes, please point them out.)
Publication Date: 28 December 2017