Restless, ‘Rich’ and Bored, British Youth Reflects a Widespread Problem
THE ‘MODS’ vs THE ‘ROCKERS’
Thrice this year, at holiday time, segments of Britain’s youth have exploded into senseless, savage rioting, and details of Britain’s police – ready to wield their rarely used truncheons and equipped with fast cars – await with understandable concern the coming of the Bank Holiday of August 3.
Comprising the mobs were « Mods » like the lads shown at the left, who fancy themselves modern, and «Rockers » like the youths below and at right, who derive their name from their taste for Rock’n’Roll rhythms.
Rival groups, they scorn each other’s modes and manners but both hold a tremendous, virtually irresistible attraction for Britain’s adolescents and represent a widespread phenomenon : they have counterparts among France’s Blousons Noirs, Sweden’s Raggare, Russia’s Stilyagi and America’s street gangs.
« It’s a key decision in the life of every British teen-ager who has reached the maturity of 14 or 15 years » cables Life correspondent Tim Green from London, « to choose the side he will join ».
Will he become a Rocker, clad in a black leather jacket garnished with shining studs, blue denims and heavy boots, doing ‘the ton’ (a speed of 100 miles per hour) on his motorcycle along Britain’s inadequate roads ? Or will he become a Mod – a dandy in pastel suits, shirts with tab collars and fancy cuff links, and a dashing boater on his head as he putt-putts on his scooter ? He can of course opt to be a ‘Mid’ but a ‘Mid’ these days is definitely out.
« Whichever side they choose or stumble into – and most elect to be Mods – Mods and Rockers have two things in common. First, British teen-agers have far more ready cash to spend than did those of any preceding generation. In the few glorious years between starting work and getting married, they can just give ‘Mum’ a few shillings every week and the rest of their wages is theirs to spend on high living. Many teen-agers, with overtime, can earn up to the equivalent of $ 60 a week, and the combined spending power of the nation’s teen-agers is $ 2,500 million a year. They have for the first time enough cash to buy themselves scooters, motor bikes or even second-hand cars, and this makes them the most mobile teen-age generation that Britain has ever known.
If the word goes out that there will be fun or a punchup at Clacton, Brighton or Margate, Mods and Rockers can be there in droves within hours.
« The second point Mods and Rockers have in common is a sense of frustration and boredom. For both, the fun is the actual journey – zooming along the roads, swerving in and out of traffic. At both ends of the journey, they are bored. The most commonly hear phrase among the two groups is «’What else is there to do ?’
« Lacking anything constructive to occupy their minds, they stand or wander endlessly around the cafés of their home towns or the beaches of seaside resorts. Though they do not set out deliberately to fight each other, inactivity and boredom often lead to the taunting of one side by the other, and quickly to battles which become riots. » (The taunts often include references to homosexuality, but actual homosexuality is apparently rare among both groups, and « birds » - i.e., girls – are more or less popular.)
« Of the two groups, » Green continues, « the Rocker is definitely the conservative. His clothes are unchanged from year to year, he is still twisting, and he still likes ‘Rock’n’Roll’. He strongly defends his black leather uniform with the question ‘How do you ride a motorbike in Mods’ clothes ?’ and the explanation ‘You can’t change a plug and get all greasy in a lightweight suit. This gear is washable and you can wear it year in and year out.’ His bike is his first love. ‘I’ve had a bike since I was 16,’ says John Clarke, 20. ‘I saved up for it at school. I wouldn’t give it up for a car. If you have a car you just sit there in a traffic jam. But on a bike there is a sense of pleasure and a sense of speed all the time. You can have more fun on a bike, swerving in and out.’
« ‘There’s more skill to riding a bike,’ says Charlie Williams. ‘You can just sit in a car and steer, but on a bike you’ve got to concentrate all the time.’ »Man in mirror. Bob Yeats, 19, tries on new outfit in a Stephens shop. He paid $ 13.50 for boots alone.
Artist. A Mod who is a commercial artist, Roger Earl,18, earns $ 25 aweek, spends much of it in Carnaby Street shops that sell apparel which helps wearer « stand out in a crowd ».
Apprentice. In from Peterborough to update wardrobe in Carnaby Street, Dave Richens, 17, is engineering apprentice who earns $ 15 a week. He wears pointed boots with heels 2 ½ inches high.
Electrician. Colin Bond, 18, spends $ 9 of $ 20 weekly earnings on clothing. Mods explain, « You’ll meet a mod who will say ‘I haven’t a penny to my name’ – but he is very smartly dressed . »
Auto Worker. David Payne, 20, earns $
Electrician. Rocker Charlie Williams, 23, is from
Racer. Peter « Spud » Hucklesby, 17, has taken part twice in annual Dragon Rally in
Fitter’s Mate. Ray Southgate, 19, hails from
« Ask almost any Mod why he is a Mod, » Green reports, « and he says ‘Oh, I’m not a Mod, I’m an individualist.’ » But while the Rocker could not care less about fashion, the Mod works hard at conformity to the latest styles in his own and his scooter’s adornment.
« Mod fashions change every four days, » Mod Magazine declares, and the chief beneficiaries of Mod dedication are the owners of shops in
Shoppers. Mods consider a Carnaby Street purchase. Some travel hundreds of miles on Saturdays to buy the newest in Mod garb, and many spend as $ 30 a week to be in style.
Seller. Shop manager Pat Simm,22, runs down Carnaby Street with striped Madras jackets, the rage of the moment. Salesmen dress like Mods so that "they are on the same wave length" as patrons.
Garb to dance in. Bound for dance, Barry Hall, 17, Ken Todd, 18 and Brian Hemmings, 17 (all with face powder), show off their new suits. They spend $ 15 a week on garb like that.