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Forty years ago pictures of Mods and Rockers shocked
polite society. But were they staged by the press?
It all kicked off between the mods and the rockers
this weekend in 1964. But appearances can be
deceptive. Robin Stummer reports
04 April 2004

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

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

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

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

'A Living Memory', a documentary about the mod and
rocker years, is broadcast tomorrow on Radio 4 at 11am

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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