Mods and Rockers Brighton 1964

The trouble caused by mods and rockers in May 1964

 

 

Bank holidays in Brighton tended to be busy, jolly affairs in which thousands of Londoners flocked to the sea and sunshine.

All that changed in 1964 during the Whitsun bank holiday when more than a thousand mods and rockers fought pitched battles with each other on the prom and pavements.

There was more trouble in 1965 during both the Easter and August bank holidays, only this time they were met by a force of 100 policemen chosen for their barn door proportions.

Deckchairs were a favourite weapon and if they were not being used for striking enemies, they were destroyed in fires on the beach.

Photo:Mods pictured in May 1964 throwing deckchairs from the roof terrace of Brighton Aquarium on to Madeira Drive below

Mods pictured in May 1964 throwing deckchairs from the roof terrace of Brighton Aquarium on to Madeira Drive below

There were 75 arrests and the courts were kept busy for weeks afterwards in dealing with all the cases. Images of the fights went all round the world.

In a new book on the shady side of Brighton, David Boyne says, “As shocking as the violence for many of the older generation was the discovery that many of those involved were taking drugs, particularly amphetamines.”

The Brighton Council of Churches found that more than half the mods and almost half the rockers were taking blues, a form of speed.

There was more trouble in 1965 during both the Easter and August bank holidays, only this time they were met by a force of 100 policemen chosen for their barn door proportions.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Adam Trimingham looks at the trouble caused by mods and rockers in May 1964' page

Boyne says all kinds of ideas were offered to solve the problem, including bringing back conscription, hard labour and even reviving the stocks.

Sentences handed out by Brighton magistrates were generally tough. One of them, Hebert Cushnie, referred to the youths as “sawdust Caesars”. He was widely quoted but few were sure what he meant.

But after that there was comparative peace on bank holidays until the late 1970s when the Brighton-based film Quadrophenia and the start of the punk fashion led to a mod revival.

This time the enemy was skinheads rather than rockers and confrontations Police worked out a simple but effective way of stopping youths from kicking each other. They made youths take out their bootlaces.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Adam Trimingham looks at the trouble caused by mods and rockers in May 1964' page

Mary Whitehouse, the doughty defender of old- fashioned morals, blamed the violence by young people on copying what they saw on TV.

Less predictably, support for mods and rockers came from the National Federation of Hairdressers as both sides paid much attention to style.

Forty years ago pictures of Mods and Rockers shocked polite society. But were they staged by the press?

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Forty years ago pictures of Mods and Rockers shocked polite society. But were they staged by the press?' page

It all kicked off between the mods and the rockers this weekend in 1964. But appearances can be deceptive

Robin Stummer reports

They came, they saw, they beat each other senseless on the shingle. Or did they? Forty years ago this Easter weekend, mods took on rockers for the first time, fuelling Britain's first mass-media scare over dissolute, drug-taking, mindlessly violent youth.

They came, they saw, they beat each other senseless on the shingle. Or did they? Forty years ago this Easter weekend, mods took on rockers for the first time, fuelling Britain's first mass-media scare over dissolute, drug-taking, mindlessly violent youth.

Starting with a spot of bother at Clacton, Essex, over the Easter weekend of 1964, the tabloid press feasted for months on the gory new phenomenon breaking out at sleepy seaside towns across the South-east.

Beside gleefully horrified headlines - "Riot police fly to seaside" - were photographs of pale youths in Italian fashions fighting pale youths in engine-oil-caked leathers beside penny arcades at Margate, Brighton, Bournemouth, Clacton, Southend and Hastings.

But now mod experts and some of the old rockers and mods themselves are admitting that many of the candid newspaper shots of seaside gang fighting in 1964 - so shocking at the time, and now considered classic images of Sixties Britain - were staged.

Further, with the tales of drug-fuelled derring-do and flying deckchairs now the stuff of pop-culture legend, a new, far less violent picture is emerging of what actually happened. It's a world far removed from Quadrophenia, the cult 1979 film based on The Who's mod-nostalgia album.

"There are famous photographs taken in Brighton where the photographer paid the lads a few shillings," says David Cooke, a Brighton-based mod ephemera dealer and an authority on the history and lore of the mod world. "Quite a few people know that photographs were set up in Brighton."

Finding that gangs were engaged not in open warfare but aimless wandering, some photographers and reporters paid youths to stage mock fights and chases.

"At Margate some photographs were definitely staged," recalls Howard Baker, in 1964 a purist mod and now a writer whose novel Sawdust Caesar is set against mid-1960s mod culture. "Reporters and photographers were paying off a lot of kids. You'd get a fiver or a tenner. We'd get pissed on it."

"The media made it sound much worse than it really was," says rocker Phil Bradley, a veteran of dozens of seaside "visits" in the Sixties and a repentant mod-baiter. Bradley became a rocker at 14 when he bought his first motorbike, and spent most of his teens trading insults with the scootering mods. But bloodshed? "There wasn't as much fighting as what has been made out," he says. "The press hyped it right up. There were only isolated incidents. There weren't riots like in that film Quadrophenia. The odd deckchair came flying through the air, but there weren't weapons like you see nowadays.

"And we certainly didn't go chasing after old people, even us rockers. If we saw an old lady going across the road having trouble, we'd walk across with her."

Tabloid headlines about the drug menace facing Britain's youth, which for a few months in mid-1964 alternated with seaside warfare headlines, pointed to another glaring falsehood. "There was an idea that amphetamines, which were the mod pill of choice at the time, caused us all to be terribly aggressive, but that wasn't the case," says Alfredo Marcantonio, 40 years ago a devoted mod and now a leading figure in British advertising. "Most of the time you danced your socks off in clubs, but afterwards you were so worn out you wouldn't want to fight anyone."

No, says Howard Baker, there was real fighting as well as fake fighting. "The Brighton photographs weren't staged. I was there. The violence was nasty, but there weren't guns."

Mods were not averse to fighting other mods, rather than rockers. "It wasn't really mods versus rockers, as the press put it, anyway," says David Cooke. "Mods were fighting each other. The north London mods hated south London mods. South London mods hated north London mods, and east London mods hated everybody, and everybody hated them."

"You could almost tell which part of London a mod was from by which colour suit he had," recalls Mr Marcantonio. One of many early mods who went into advertising and the media, he remembers spats, but maintains pitched battles did not happen. "The streets were not strewn with broken deckchairs," he says. "The police herded you up and you ended up walking around Brighton in the great phalanxes of people looking a bit pissed off.

"The seaside towns were the domain of the rocker, their patch," he explains. "Every rocker, you imagined, dreamt of working on the dodgems, with the sound of Del Shannon echoing past the helter-skelter. So a lot of us turning up on scooters, it was asking for trouble. But mods didn't ever get on their scooters and go down to the coast for a fight. Real mods were far too concerned about their clothing. I mean, we're talking about possibly losing buttons - you know, creasing or tearing clothing you'd saved for!"

But isolated outbreaks of violence did continue throughout the Sixties. "The Battle of Hastings, about 1965, was quite a big one," remembers Phil Bradley. "Some scooters and bikes went off the top of the cliff. Margate in 1964 was the worst - the cells filled up. There were only seven coppers in Margate at the time, and one Black Maria - but there were about 4,000 mods and 500 rockers!"

In the end, the mod movement mutated. "Everyone diverged," says Howard Baker. "Lots of mods became hippies or freaks and wandered off to India, like I did."

"I haven't the foggiest idea why there was any fighting with the mods," says Phil Bradley. "I really don't know."

The Independent

 


 
 
 
 

The early 1980s revival ebbed away and since then all resorts including Brighton have not suffered from large-scale fighting by violent gangs of youths.

It is almost half a century now since the first clashes and some of the combatants have become nostalgic about them.

Every September there is a huge convoy of men on motorbikes and scooters who ride down to Brighton for the day.

Now mostly pensioners, they reminisce about what they see as the good old days while often drinking nothing stronger than tea.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Adam Trimingham looks at the trouble caused by mods and rockers in May 1964' page

By Adam Trimingham

  • Bloody British History: Brighton by David J. Boyne (The History Press £9.99)
 
 
 
 
 

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