Watford Skinheads 1960’s
Watford skinheads - with added socks appeal
Philip Ellisdon has sent in this picture of the Watford and Harrow skinheads on holiday at Butlins, Clacton, in 1968.
He said: “There were 20 of us – ten from Watford, ten from Harrow and Wealdstone. I am the one on the floor in the centre, third from the left with the striped shirt on.
“I had just won a reggae dance competition sponsored by Trojan Records, the big reggae record company at the time.
“The local guys are there, red are Watford, yellow are Harrow and Wealdstone. Next to me was Steve Hickman, behind with the white braces is Keith Munday and to his right is guy called John Warby who was a last minute replacement.
“In the front are Nicky and Charlie, and with the jacket and white socks is John Galley or Layo as he was called then. He was from Ruislip, but a friend I met at Butlins two years earlier. The rest of the boys were not in the photo – they were all at the bar.
“In the early days, all skinheads wore white socks. One day I went to the Co-op at Gade House with two friends, Barry Preston and his girlfriend at the time, Linda Howarth, to buy a new pair of white socks and they had sold out.
“I bought red socks, just to be different on the dance floor, then a few of my mates also bought the red socks and that was our Watford identity, not always welcome in some places like Wembley or Golders Green, as they knew where we came from and we were not always welcome.
“The prize at Butlins was a lifetime membership to the Trojan Record Club, a big gold medallion, a certificate and an invitation to dance in the next round at a club in London – but I never went.
“I used to dance in many clubs around our area and got to know loads of people from all over the place. Sometime we were welcome, sometime you could be classed as being ‘too flash’ and someone would take exception and start trouble. Time for us to leave.
“We use to dance in clubs in Hemel, Harrow, Greenford, Kingsbury, Ealing, Slough, Windsor, Wembley, Golders Green, Tottenham, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden and, of course, our own stamping ground, the Watford Top Rank, as it was in those days.
“The Top Rank was a safe haven for us, we could wear our red socks, be as ‘flash’ as we liked and dance all night with very little trouble. I had many regular girl dance partners who were great friends. I even met and married one, my wife Lori, and we can still mix it at a 60s/70s disco.
“In the skinhead days, you would never go out with a hair out of place. Tonic suits, Ben Sherman shirts ironed, Levi turn ups measured and pressed, Florshiem Imperial shoes shining, Doc Martin boots polished – everything immaculate, everything ready for The Top Rank. For us, this was the centre of our the universe in those days, a place where all the factions of Watford council estates congregated and because they either went to school, played football or supported Watford FC together, mostly they became friends and were Watford Boys as one.
“People used to travel from all the aforementioned places to spend a Saturday night “up the Top Rank”. It was amazing, how we all became friends, and my wife and I are still friends with many of the people we first met there.
“Many of the ‘faces’ from those days are still around the Watford area. A few are members at my golf club, West Herts. They have not changed, still smart, still looking like a ‘face’.
“The ‘ace face’ at the time was a guy called Roy Rumble. He was the best dancer around by a mile. People use to stop and watch him dance long before John Travolta could even walk.
“He was an inspiration to all those people who wanted to dance, me included, and for such a small guy, he could also look after himself if anyone started on him for being ‘too flash’.
“The Top Rank was open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights. They even opened a club on a Sunday night in later years after the skinhead era.
“The good days were gone and 70s music and clubs diversified into the suedehead and glam rock eras, so we all grew our hair down to our shoulders and moved on, an era gone, but certainly not forgotten.
“The music still lives and the memories flood back.”
Watford and Harrow skinheads, Philip Ellisdon has been in touch with more information about the skinhead and mod scene in Watford during the 1960s, and how it started.
“Butlins was like Spain is now. It was fun and affordable. Too many stories to be told now, but a great era, lots of style and lots of fun.
“Notice the small turn ups on the Sta-Press trousers, another skinhead fashion if you could not afford Levis, but the obligatory braces and haircut – which was expensive till a mate of my Dad started to shave it for me.
“In this picture it’s grown a bit and the skinhead haircut did not compliment my forehead, as in the song Dr Jimmy from Quadrophenia: “You have to move with the fashion or be outcast”.
“Great film, the Who are my favourite group, great words from Townshend and an understanding of a generation that I think most can relate to, no matter what era they grew up in. All the generations have had the same growing pains.
“Many of the groups, The Who, Small Faces and the like, played there. I watched them through the windows with my mates, standing on beer crates as we were either too young or too skint to get in.
“There has never been a lot written about the skinhead days, only bad stuff, but it was a brilliant era, we had the Motown on one side and the reggae on the other. We liked both. The dancing was varied and everyone danced as you did not need to be a gymnast to dance in them days.
“We had the skinheads, hippies and rockers, all three factions and Watford had a place for them all – the Top Rank for the skinheads, Kingham Hall for the rockers and the Watford Tech for the hippies.
“We use to race around Watford on Vespas and Lambrettas. I was born and lived in Waterman Close, as were my friends. There was 12 of us all around the same age, born in or around Waterman’s, all living within a few yards of each other. Keith and I were next door neighbours and we had council garages at the bottom of our gardens where we kept our scooters and where all the others in the Close with a scooter would hang out.
“Watford had some infamous characters during the skinhead era. The first skinhead I knew in Watford was a guy called Gary Armstrong, who unfortunately is no longer with us.
“We were up the Top Rank one Thursday night when someone came in and said that Gary was down the Red Lion (now the Toby Carvery, where they use to have a disco sometimes) with a load of skinheads.
“We had no idea what a skinhead was, so we jumped on scooters and went to see what it was all about. When we got there, Gary, a style guru and a mod, (a Small Faces lookalike with glasses) was now a shaved head skinhead. Unbelievable.
“We were all basically young mods, seeing Gary and these guys from London’s East End, with all these smart clothes and shaved heads, some in Levi’s, Doc Martins, Ben Sherman shirts and Harrington jackets, some in tonic suits, Fred Perry’s and Florsheim shoes with white socks.
“These guys were so cool, we spent all night talking to them about the clothes, quickly realising that to become a skinhead was not cheap. Most of the gear was from the USA and no way we could afford it, but a shaved head we could.
“The next day, being Friday, pay day, Steve Hickman and I went to the A1 barbers in Carey Place, recommended by Gary, for a No1 haircut. The place was packed, but five minutes later, we were in the chair and in the blink of an eye, we were skinheads.
“My Mum went mad, my Dad thought the short, back and sides was a bit extreme and I got a lot of stick back at work, where I was a trainee panel beater.
“Within a week, Watford Top Rank was full of skinheads and pretty soon, during the late 60s, the Watford Top Rank became a infamous venue, with people coming from all over the place to spend a Saturday night ‘Up the Top Rank’.
“There were many “faces” during that time. Some became known for their style, others for their ability to take care of themselves, should the need arise of course, which, on a Saturday night, it did.
“There was always a chance of some “aggro” taking place, especially when gangs from outside Watford chose to visit and try and claim territory within ‘the Rank’.
“Roy Rumble danced and people watched. Outsiders would usually make some comments and it would all kick off, but as with generations before and since, this ended in trouble and being a skinhead meant you had to stand your ground.
“Watford Peace Memorial Hospital, as it was then, always had a busy Saturday night, especially being so close by. Many of the nurses who lived in also frequented the Rank, so sometime you got the personal service and an escort to the hospital.
“But in those days, there were very few knives, hardly any killings and in many cases, friendships were born out of the ‘aggro’ and I can speak from experience there.
“Getting blood down your white Fred Perry and your Tonic mohair suit was not part of the evening’s plans. You don’t look so cool with a nose bleed. It’s the guy who gave it to you who is the hero.
“Hope this gives you a brief insight to an untold era in Watford.”
Patsi Whelan-Archer, formally from Whitwell Road, in Garston, read Mr Ellisdon’s letter about Roy Rumble last week and has sent in some more information.
The 61-year-old, now living in Sutton Coldfield, said: “I remember him very well. As your article said, he was an amazing dancer.
“I used to go to the ‘Rank’ on Thursday and Saturday nights and Roy was always first up on the floor and always last off.
“We all loved him and looked up to him because he really had an amazing presence; he was his own man.
“I remember him stepping forward to help me when a lad was trying to force me to dance with him when I’d said ‘no’.
“Roy decked him and there was no more problems, even the bouncers respected him as they, and everyone, knew he was a trouble stopper, not a trouble starter.
“All Roy wanted was to dance and for everyone to be happy around him. I will never forget Roy Rumble – a lovely, lovely man.
“I now live in the Midlands and when I read your article it brought all the wonderful memories of the 60s flooding back. Does anyone remember ‘The Trade’?
“I saw the Who and many, many amazing bands there, and was asked out by Rod the Mod aka Rod Stewart, but thought he was a bighead and refused! Oh well, no regrets eh?
“Thanks for the memories.”