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Mods Vs Rockers - teen independence or teen revolution?

In the USA teenage culture was reflected in popular culture, novels and films like Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and rock & roll by Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock (1954). But the American term Youth Culture was not used in Britain until 1959. Teddy Boys were already appearing on the British social landscape in their drainpipe trousers, long coats and Brylcreem. Despite being dandies, many Teds were seen as tough because of tearing up cinema seats with knives and beating up West Indians in music halls. Many believed that a community was slowly evolving within a society and that it posed a threat to main­stream values. A generation gap had opened up, dominated by rebellion.

The Youth Culture idea suggested that teens aged from 14 were being socialised into a special set of values, attitudes and behaviour patterns, different from adult society. This new phenomenon might have been the result of rising living standards in the 1950s. Or because teens, preparing for independence, were struggling to free themselves by firm parental controls. And if the new youth culture came mostly from working class backgrounds, we can assume that this was another sign of struggling to free themselves from the respect­able middle class.

A new commercial industry revolving around clothes, music and milk bars emerged to meet the demands and aspirations of young people. And an issue that influenced British males (but not yet Aust­ralians) was compulsory National Service for every 17-21 year old. National Service didn’t end for Brits until 1963.

Beatles, 1963
well dressed Mods?

By the 1960s working-class lads were changing. The Mods with their handmade Italian suits and green par­kas took R & B and soul to their purple hearts and sped to night clubs on Lambrettas or Vespa scooters. In contrast, Rockers clad in heavy leather and chains had chunky motor bikes and were host­ile to the more effete Mods. Street battles took place on the rainy re­sort streets and triggered national popular press hysteria. Widely photographed and publicised then, these crises entered pop folklore and still remembered by older citizens today, including me.

The battle began during a cold Easter weekend in late March 1964. c1,000 or so young Londoners moved towards Clacton, a resort on England’s eastern coast. Bored with the bad weather and limited fac­ilities, lads divided into their own groups: there was stone-throwing and the aggressive appearance of teenage groups, unrestrain­ed by police.

On Easter Monday, the newspapers yelled “Wild Ones Invade Seaside - 97 Arrests”. Cit­ing fighting, drinking, roaring, rampaging lads on scooters and motorcycles, The Daily Mirror was referencing the infamous 1953 Mar­lon Brando film, The Wild One. By the mid-1960s this American film was still banned in Britain as it was likely to incite juvenile delinquency. [The ban was not lifted until 1968]. 

Mods and Rockers ride into a resort town

Mods and Rockers fight on the beach

Britain were going mad with Mods Vs Rockers riots in 1964. After the excited newspaper reports from Easter, holiday resorts grimly prepared for holiday weekends. The next incident also split on tribal lines: smart, scooter-riding contemporary Mods Vs leather-jacketed, scruffy Rockers. And although they had long hair, the Roc­kers were seen as throwbacks to Marlon Brando and 1950s Teddy Boys.

On the Whitsun weekend mid May 1964, newspapers in two resorts pre-published bold headlines like “Battle of Britain” and there were predict­ions of nat­ional collap­se. Editorials refer­red to the youths as vermin, a vic­ious exercise in degener­at­ion wreaking un­told havoc on Britain.

I want to ask if there were thousands of youth involved in the Brighton conflicts, why were only 76 were arr­est­ed. And consider the clashes bet­ween Mods and Rockers continued in Margate Kent where the fights were referred to as Gang Warfare. Why were even fewer youth in­vol­ved in Mar­gate and even fewer arr­ested? While def­in­itely disagree­able for the locals, these were not teen revolutions.

The relationship between the teenagers and the press was examined in Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett's book Generation X (1965) to capitalise on the chaos influencing contemp­or­ary youth. This valuable book counterbalanced the press and gave the teens space to speak freely. A new generat­ion was claiming its space and its time. The early Baby-Boomers (born 1946-50) were more confident, better educated and more restless than slightly older Teddy Boys. They were a separate youth world that took its cues from beat music, films and fashions.

Aus­t­ralians and New Zealanders will remember our bodgies and widgies of the late 1950s and early 1960s! And even in early 1960s, before I was old enough to drive, I well remember how anxious my middle class parents were.

What about The Beatles? If they were anything, they were Teddy Boys, albeit scrubbed up and well dressed. The usual answer was that their clothes and hair were like rockers in the early years and from 1963 on, The Beatles dressed more like mods. It didn’t matter. The battles soon faded as other styles came into youth culture prominence. 


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