Mods and Rockers fight it out, bank Holiday 1964
- There are many great British bank holiday traditions; determined but ultimately doomed DIY projects, staring from stationary car windows in lengthy traffic jams or simply avoiding the predictable rain. One tradition though which has largely been consigned to history is the invasion of south-coast seaside resorts by teenage youth cults; namely the Mods and Rockers.
The seaside battles between the sartorially elegant Mods and their leather-clad rivals the Rockers fuelled much sensationalist media coverage in 1964. As news of the fighting and arrests filtered out, these youngsters found themselves at theforefront of public outrage. In fact, the Easter weekend shenanigans were pretty much the first mass-media scare over a drug-taking, mindless, violent youth. Of course there have been quite a few scares since. Newspaper headlines from March 1964 screamed ‘Wild ones invade seaside’ and ’97 leather jacket arrests; youngsters beat-up seaside’ as fighting broke out in Clacton-on-Sea. The trouble caused enough outrage for Panorama to investigate the groups and work out whether this phenomenon would be become a regular feature of future bank holidays. The results were strikingly candid; providing a snapshot of working-class youth at the point where deference to the establishment was beginning to wane. The Mods preached a hedonistic take on life; enjoying drugs, music, clothes and violence to a lesser or greater degree and set a blueprint for many a youth tribe to follow. The Rockers seemed more about the bikes.
Perversely for a group with an anti-establishment reputation, the Rockers citied Mods lack of education and class as factors behind their behaviour. The reality though was that both groups were predominantly working-class. The battles may have ceased almost as quickly as they began; but they have become the stuff of legend, immortalised in the album, film and now stage play “Quadrophenia”. But as with any legend, it has tarnished a little over the years amid claims that many seaside punch-ups were actually faked for the press. This tradition carried on through peaks and troughs, right up until the early 80’s when cheap Spanish holidays, took British youth abroad
Both groups still thrive today albeit in smaller, underground circles. The great Skinhead Reunion in Brighton or the resurrection of the Rockers haunt the Ace cafe in north London, or the continued vogue for modish Fred Perry clothing and their mainstream influence is still evident today, although the violence is consigned to the past.