MODS V ROCKERS
Very few events in British history have had an impact on the culture like the battles between the Mods and the Rockers nearly 50 years ago. The traditions continue today. At heart, even now, everyone is still a Mod or a Rocker.
Who are they?
The mods and the rockers were two youth subcultures which became popular in the early 1960s. They were very different in style and appearance.
Where did they come from?
Britain in the early 1960s was full of young people. Many parents of had children at about the time of the war. These became know as the ‘Baby Boomers’. When the children became adults it coincided with the birth of new musical genres like rock’n’roll, black American styles and pop music.
The young people differed from their parents. Before the late 1950s children dressed like their parents and their grandparents. Suddenly now, with the post-war economic boom, kids had money in their pockets to spend on fashion, records and motorcycles.
What’s the difference between a mod and a rocker?
Mods were very stylish and spent a lot of money on very smart, tailor-made suits and Italian shoes. They looked smarter than their parents. They also loved to wear pork pie hats and American military coats called ‘parkas’. Their favourite form of transport were Italian scooters like Vespas and Lambrettas. The mods usually customized their scooters by putting extra mirrors, lights and accessories.
Rockers were basically a variation of American rock’n’roll bikers. They dressed like Marlon Brando in the film ‘The Wild One’. They loved black leather jackets, greased hair and motorcycle boots. They looked like John Travolta in the film Grease.
The rockers too loved motorcycles but prefered high-power British bikes like Triumph Bonnevilles or BSAs. These were also customized with lots of chrome and racing accessories. These bikes are still popular today. They are know as café racers because the rockers would typically meet in roadside cafes or restaurants. Often they would have illegal races from on café to the next.
It become traditional for young people to travel to the beach on the public holidays or long weekends like Easter Monday. Many times mods and rockers travelled to the beach in gangs and spent the weekends in nightclubs. Obviously, they had different clubs, pubs and cafes which catered for the different groups.
Rockers prefered rockabilly and rock’n’roll music. The mods tastes were very different. They prefered black American music, like Northern Soul, Tamla Motown and American dance music.
The famous battles in 1964.
Mods and rockers were rival gangs mainly because they were told by the press they were. A few street fights and bad behaviour soon became front-page news in the papers. Fighting, vandalism and bad behaviour got quite serious in Brighton, Hastings and other seaside towns in 1964. But not that serious. A few old people had their afternoon snooze on the beach interrupted by fights between mods and rockers. There were also broken windows and vandalism to some local businesses.
Choreographed establishment violence and ‘moral panic’.
But by the summer of 1964 mod and rocker stories were selling millions of newspapers which dedicated page after page to stories to the fights between the rival ‘hooligans’ and ‘yobs’. There was a ‘moral panic’ among parents, who used the stories to show how bad the youth of the day was. This was, of course, complete hypocrisy as the parent’s generation who had destroyed millions of lives and property on a scale never seen during World War Two just 20 years before. This didn’t stop them. All across Britain, Daily Mail and Daily Express readers were comparing young people to rats and vermin and muttering phrases like, ‘Bloody kids of today. It’s a disgrace…’
At this point the media and ‘moral majority’ called for stronger policing. The government took the opportunity to turn the events into electoral campaigning and organized military planes to carry extra police to the seaside towns. Police chiefs had never been so happy. Now they could get more money from their friends in government. ‘Increase police numbers and salaries now!’ they demanded. Now they had their own war. This time against their own children.
The next time there was a public holiday, mods and rockers found themselves outnumbered by reporters, photographers, cameramen and police forces hoping for incidents. Beach towns were on full alert. But most mods and rockers were just going to the beach to have fun with their friends.
Years later, many journalists confessed to having fabricated interviews, many photographers confessed to having ‘staged’ or ‘choreographed’ scenes of violence and many mods and rockers said they had been paid to cause trouble.
Most mods and rockers were just fun-loving music and fashion fans who liked to drink and dance. And sometimes got a bit out-of-control. There were no more ‘bad eggs’ than there are at any other large-scale event such as a football match. When the media stopped inventing stories for the newspapers, mods and rockers went back to being friends. Many, of course, were in the same families, jobs or schools. The meetings continue today and there are many concerts, gatherings and events where mods and rockers meet and have fun… in peace together.
Check out our latest video as ZakWashington goes down to Brighton Beach looking for action...
More about mods and rockers tomorrow in the blog. Check out chapter four of ZakWashington's Guide to England (on this page) for more about Mods and Rockers.