The Online Mod/ern/ist Archive

archive of original modernist recollections and information .
we are glad to hear from anyone with memories of the time, but we do not rewrite history .

4 Sep 2007

The Clacton Giggle

Where to go for a giggle? In the teen joints of Soho, the word went out: make it Clacton. Like a flock of noisy starlings, more than 1,000 youths buzzed into the dismal North Sea resort for Britain's four-day Easter holiday. The weather was foul—and so, Clactonians decided, were their visitors. Most of the invaders "slept rough" on the beach, warmed only by their "birds" (girl friends) and quantities of "purple hearts" (goofballs). Inevitably, the giggling had to stop, for Clacton's invaders belonged to London's two hostile teen cults: the "Mods" (for Moderns), foppishly dressed youths who drive souped-up, chrome-plated scooters; and the "Rockers," who wear black boots, black leather jackets, drive powerful motorcycles, and scorn the Mods as "queer." The rumble erupted on the second day.

Roving mobs of cold, bored teenagers swarmed over Clacton's pier, smashing windows, overturning cars, stealing liquor. Pistol in hand, one youth used a big storefront window for target practice. When a local type admonished the rioters, he was tossed over a 20-ft. bridge. Clacton police called for reinforcements from a neighboring town, fought pitched battles with the teenagers, many of whom were armed with ax handles and furniture legs. Finally the bobbies restored order: over 60 youths were arrested on charges ranging from burglary to assault.

Wild Ones. The Clacton riot climaxed a longtime rivalry between the sartorially splendid Mods and the hot-rodding Rockers. One British sociologist claims that their hostility is based on class. The Mods are artisans and office workers, he claims, and look down on the Rockers, who tend to be scruffy worker types. As a London Mod explains the feud, "The Rockers are just interested in their cycles. This isolates them. Mods are more aware, fast moving, hip. With us, it's like a club. If you wear the right clothes, you're accepted."

The Rockers have no desire to be accepted. At truck stops outside London, they sit by the hour rolling cigarettes and jabbering intently about motorcycles. Only when a covey of new cyclists roars into the parking lot do they look up to see "who's got a new bike." Though they all look like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, they worry about their reputation as troublemakers, claim gravely: "That film did us a lot of harm." The Rockers do not conceal their disdain for the Mods. "The money we spend tripping around and going places, they spend on clothes," sniffs one. For a Rocker, clothes are strictly functional. "People don't seem to realize that a leather jacket is the warmest thing to wear when riding."

A Mod, by contrast, would rather go naked than don a leather jacket. Mod styles tend toward pastels and velvet, collarless polo shirts with horizontal stripes, and ankle-high "plimsoles" (sneakers) with thick white rubber soles. Mod girls wear no jewelry and no makeup save brown eye shadow and false eyelashes. Hairdos are short; flat shoes are In. Skirts vary from ankle-length to midcalf.
The fashion Mecca for Mods is Soho's Carnaby Street, where a string of shops offers pink denim shirts, crimson leather vests and blazing red tartan pants for ultra-slicks. Most of the shops are owned by a young entrepreneur named John Stephen, who has wholeheartedly embraced Detroit's idea of planned obsolescence. Pants are pegged one month, bell-bottomed the next. "To the person who keeps up," says one of Stephen's clerks, "style can change every week. But some suits are in style for months."

Top Faces. London's top Mod hangout is an ill-lit, black-walled club called The Scene, which boasts 7,000 members; at least 600 can be found dancing there to phonograph music every night. Mods change dances even faster than they change trouser-widths. The "Shake" and the "Bird" are both passe, and only the Rockers would be caught doing the Twist. The current dance craze is some thing called the "Face Twist," which has a tricky hand and heel movement that resembles a cross between a hula dance and a High Noon gun draw. While the Mods are still loyal to the Beatles, they have resurrected Bill Haley, one of the originators of rock 'n' roll, as their idol. "The pop papers said that Bill Haley would never come back," says one Mod. "It just proves they were wrong."

Modland's heroes are called "faces."

Top faces right now are Patrick Kerr and Theresa Confrey, a young couple that demonstrates new dances on a popular TV record show, Ready, Steady, Go. When they got married last month, Patrick, ever aware of his sartorial responsibilities, wore a curly-brimmed grey bowler, velvet-collared thigh-length jacket and a grey velvet waistcoat. The bride wore a "skinny strapless evening gown." "We don't really like to fight," explained one Mod after the Clacton giggle. "Our clothes cost too much."

Source : Time US 10th April 1964

No comments: