Charles “Darby” Sabini was an Italian-English gangster and mob boss. In recent years, he has been brought to public attention by his portrayal in the popular TV series ‘Peaky Blinders’ which portrays the British underworld during the Interwar Years.
Raised in an Anglo-Italian family from Little Italy in Clerkenwell, London, he was the illegitimate child of an Italian immigrant and English-born Eliza Handley. He attended an industrial school and had a fairly basic education. His criminal career mainly involved racecourse protection rackets, which was a particularly lucrative source of income for many of the gangsters of the early 20th and late 19th centuries. While this formed the bulk of his gang’s activity, they were also involved in a range of criminal activities such as racketeering and theft, and they ran several legitimate nightclub businesses. Sabini’s gang ran into conflict with several competing gangs, such as Billy Kimber’s Birmingham Boys, but managed to emerge victorious or mostly unscathed, with the example provided having numerous members arrested following a street fight. He was said by many to be the “Gentleman of the Mob” and was noted for his particularly courteous behaviour towards women and children. However, this is not to say that he wasn’t feared by his enemies, and “business partners” such as policemen and bookies alike.
His reign came to an abrupt end when, in 1940, he was arrested for his ethnic connections to Italy which was now a wartime opponent of Britain, having allied itself with the Nazi-led Axis. However, he had no connections to his italian family and lacked any ability to speak the Italian language, so the circumstances of his arrest were questionable and more than likely motivated by his well-documented criminal history. Regardless, being incarcerated on the Isle of Man lost him his position in the criminal underworld, and to make matters worse his only son was killed during the war while he was imprisoned. Once released, he settled into a job as a small-time bookie, and lived a still relatively wealthy existence for the remainder of his life.