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Skinheads BBC, Don Letts

Skinheads. Don Letts documentary. BBC

When I first received an email from the BBC asking would I like to be involved in a documentary that BBC4 were putting together with Don Letts, my first thought was one of caution, I have done a few documentaries over the years, starting with George Marshall in 1994, Then Skinhead attitude of 2002. The first documentary I remember being made was the 40 minutes, focussing on the band Combat 84 and chubby Chris, which was a complete stitch up, and ruined the bands career, making them being excluded from the forthcoming Oi! Albums and finding their records banned.

The media will always have an agenda, usually one based on other media perceptions on Skinhead racialist politics. So I thought to myself, do I really want to go and tell this terminally boring story once again, but then I thought, well if I don’t, someone else will. Its been a curse for nearly 40 years, since the far right National Front in the UK actively set up a recruitment campaign, targeting disenfranchised white working class kids, provoking and promoting violence and faction. The Skinhead image perfect for the Sun Newspaper to run front page images of the modern devil in our midst. Like any young kid, wanting to be part of something, many jumped onto that image and the wheels have turned ever since, one feeding the other.


I decided to go meet up with Don and get his story, find out his motivation in his desire to make a documentary. Was it going to be the usual media left wing leaning clap trap. But very soon Don and I started having a laugh, we shared many life experiences and times. Although he is slightly older than me, we were both involved in riots in 1981, both loved punk rock. I had booked Don in 2007 to DJ our Xray Spex show at the Roundhouse, as he was the legendary Roxy club Dj and a friend of Poly Styrene.

Before we started talking Skinhead, Don produced some old tattered photos of himself in the late 60’s as a skinhead, stapress, loafers and button down shirt. Then told me his own story of growing up on a south London council estate, and the early pre punk skinhead days. And that his motivation was to put the record straight, and celebrate the strongest youth subculture to have ever been born in England. Its rich tapestry, that has weaved the threads of Skinhead from the mid 60’s to the mid 2010’s.

I agreed to take part, and roped my old mate from the Wycombe Skinheads, Barry ‘Bmore’ George along. I did put several names forward to the researchers, as people I told them held respect through action in the skinhead world. People like Gary Hodges, Milky, Roy Ellis. They told me they had been speaking to Roi Pearce and Suggs, so I thought it would be great to have some of these king pins of the scene involved, but sadly most people in our scene distrust the media more than rabid dogs, which after all these years, and stitch ups, is understandable. I even find it a struggle with some bands that are very happy to play large ‘Punk’ festivals to a skinhead audience, but don’t want to appear on a flyer for a ‘Skinhead Reunion’ So its a problem on all levels. Until everyone involved claims the Skinhead subculture, and puts their truth forward, the subculture will forever be that of the medias perception. As a kid of 13 I made a vow to become a skinhead, and through lifes journey, its a belief and core I have never felt any embarrassment over. Guilt through association.. well I know who I am, and who my skinhead friends are. So what the media and the middle class think of me, I wont be losing sleep over.

I found the documentary to be surprisingly good. It started with the roots of skinhead. The Reggae and Jamaican influences of its inception in the 60’s. The football hooligan gang fighting of the 70-80’s. The influence created by Joe Pearce and the Young national Fronts campaign. The musical icons like Jimmy Pursey. The 2tone explosion of 1979. Some old footage of Ian Stuart. Live interviews with Kevin Rowland and Pauline Black, to give quite a good balance, and explain the why’s and wherefores of the British Skinhead subculture.

Sure if I had been given the job of researcher and assistant director, I would have added more elements in. The music and what it meant to us, on a street level, the offshoots like the scooter and northern soul scene. Perhaps tried to get people involved in the far right skinhead scene to explain from their angle, why they felt the way they did, and how they feel its part of the skinhead culture they have lived. Don had voices of the far left, with Roddy Mareno. Might have even been nice to find a journalist that would admit to paying young kids for a seig heil for the newspapers.

But what the documentary really did for me, was to show I am not the only person with such a strong passion for our beloved Skinhead subculture. I saw many faces on the screen I consider friends, brothers and sisters. So many of them singing from the same hymn sheet. And that is, there is only one skinhead subculture and its called SKINHEAD

watch it here 

Symond Lawes.

23 Oct 2016

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