Being the third oldest Shelby, John frequently attends any Shelby family meetings that take place in the Shelby Home. From these meetings it is evident that John both does not trust and dislikes coppers, and isn’t afraid to hurt them to make them leave the Peaky Blinders alone.
John idolises the Peaky Blinders moniker; the whole image and what they stand for. While Thomas is cut-throat, John is more the heart of the family. He’s not quite got it in him, not for want of trying.
Series 1 Edit
John is 24 years of age at the start of the first series. He is young and pretty and immaculately groomed, first seen at the blackboard of the betting shop with a ledger in his hand. He aids Thomas and the Peaky Blinders in fixing the race of the horse Monaghan Boy.
At one point, John is walking down the alley of Slum Street and gets interrupted by Polly Shelby, who points a Webley revolver at John’s head, informing him that his younger brother Finn was playing with it that very afternoon. John promises her that he will no longer leave guns lying around for his younger brother to find.
After Arthur Shelby Jr. gets interrogated and beaten up by Inspector Campbell, John along with the rest of his siblings help clean Arthur up.
John is present at Thomas’s first meeting with Billy Kimber at The Garrison Pub, and though he initially resists to work with the insulting man, he obeys his older brother Thomas’s wishes and keeps this opinion to himself.
Along with the Peaky Blinders, John stops the Lee family at the Cheltenham races and helps return to Billy Kimber his stolen money.
In Episode 1.4, John calls a family meeting. He informs them that he is going to marry the prostitute Lizzie Stark so that she can help him with his kids, who have become exceedingly difficult to take care of. The plan fails when Thomas later informs him that he offered Lizzie money to service him and that she said yes. John decides not to go see Lizzie as he had planned.The next day, Thomas reveals to John that he will be getting married to a Lee family member to settle the dispute between the Shelbys and the Lees. At first he is furious, but John agrees and marries Esme Lee, and they have a wedding with fireworks and dancing. Ada Shelby’s water breaks soon after the ceremony, and she gives birth to her son, and John’s nephew, Karl.
When John’s father, Arthur Shelby Sr. shows up to their family home, John is simply uninterested, unlike his brother Arthur who had missed the man greatly.
Two years later (1922) Edit
John is now 26 years of age, and his relationship with Esme is doing well. At a Shelby family meeting, John expresses his dislike of Thomas’s plan for an southward expansion of the Shelby business to London, stating that he doesn’t want to change things as their business is already successful, and that expanding the business is a dangerous idea. Thomas offers him a chance to leave his title and the business before the expansion, but John decides to stay.
John heads with his brothers and his cousin Michael Gray to the Doncaster Bloodstock to buy a 1,000 guinea horse. He also heads with Arthur and Thomas to London once again to tear up Sabini’s club.
In an effort to get his brother Arthur out of prison, John obeys Thomas’s orders and blows up the residence of Field Marshal Henry Russell, (also so that Thomas does not have to go to the man’s house in order to assassinate him.)
He heads to the Epsom Derby along with the Peaky Blinders gang. There, John helps ruin Sabini’s plans by confiscating his men’s takings and destroy his licences at gunpoint.
Series 3 Edit
Two years later (1924) Edit
John is now 28 years of age.
John marries Esme in order to keep the Lee Family and the Shelby's from being enemies. At the end of the second series John sees Esme flirting with Johnny Dogs and is clearly irritated by it. In Season 3 John promises to buy Esme a house with lots of land so they can camp out when she feels cooped up. John defends her when Tommy acuses her of betraying him after his son is kidnapped.
John's first wife Martha died of an unknown cause, and left him with four children to raise alone, until he marries Esme in the first series.
John's children Edit
It has been mentioned multiple times that John has four children but they were never seen onscreen in the first series. In Episode 1.4, John informs his family of how difficult they have become to manage for him as a single father. In Episode 1.6, one of the kids yells up to him saying "Katie has wet the bed" indicating he has at least one daughter. In the second series it's mentioned in the episode about the expansion in the family meeting that Esme has a baby herself, and in the third series Esme it once again pregnant. totalling John's children to 6.
Arthur is John's oldest brother and the one he is closest to out of the four. Arthur and John not only grew up together but also served in the same army regiment. They are the closest to one another since they both lean on one another when the partake in illegitimate business. Throughout the series they are constantly together, there is hardly a seen where they are not together.
Both of them often share their burdens of killing enemies together. For example when Tommy asked them to kill Changretta and his wife, they were hesitant since his wife used to teach them in primary school. Although the pair often do things together, they have very different views. When John says he will cut one of the Italian's a smile, Arthur says he should apologise but Tommy says he should actually kill him to send a message to Sabini, which John does. John is however less violent than Arthur, who has killed more people in the show, and John seems to have more of a conscious than Arthur as Lizzie Stark says she doesn't see what she see's in Tommy's eyes in his.
John informs Polly that when he was Michael’s age, he’d killed 100 men and seen 1,000 die. Hinting that she is not doing a good job as a parent, he tells her to let Michael come to the Doncaster Bloodstock horse auction with him and Arthur and Thomas. Polly does as John suggested.
Upon meeting his cousin for the first time, John tells Michael, “I used to put you in a shoebox and kick you down Watery Lane.” John treats him similarly to how he treats his younger brother Finn—he is protective of him and keeps an eye on him as per Thomas’s orders.
John also begins to resent Michael taking a more crucial role in the company when he becomes financial advisor and Tommy is seen to be telling Michael more than he tells John. John gets particularly annoyed at this when he speaks to Michael before him, getting very angered "you saw Michael before us!" Tommy doesn't understand John's anger stating that legitimate business is the priority, prompting the response from John of "Since when!". John does not like Tommy treating him like a 'toy soldier' and puts part of the blame for this onto Michael.
Despite Lizzie being a previous partner of John’s, he still keeps a good friendship with her. When he finds her rattled and distraught at the Epsom Derby, John speaks with her, and Lizzie tells him that he should quit being a Peaky Blinder because he is too honorable a man for it (unlike his brother Thomas).
"Anyway, we're Peaky Blinders. We're not scared of coppers. If they come for us, we'll cut them a smile each." — John to the Shelby Family
“John I don’t see the same thing in your eyes that I see in Tommy’s. You should get out.”—Lizzie Stark to John