One of my favourite things to come across when I’m researching is a snapshot from history that I’m completely unfamiliar with. A forgotten story to re-discover, another clue to the bigger picture or just a bizarre anecdote from the past; these are my little treasures hiding under rocks. And today, I found these baffling and beautiful photographs of what I can only describe as a battle of the beach chairs…
It takes a quick reverse image search on Google to find the context and story of the scene. We’re on Brighton Beach, England in the summer of 1964 and it’s bank holiday weekend. Two conflicting youth subcultures, Mods and Rockers have descended upon the seaside resort with their mopeds and motorbikes for some ocean air but it’s only a matter of time before the simmering rivalry between the two groups turns into an all out war.
It allegedly all kicked off when a Mod threw a pebble at the group of rockers gathered on the beach and within seconds, an uncontrollable brawl had erupted. Gangs of mods and rockers began openly fighting, using deck chairs as weapons, as iconically captured in these photographs.
It has to be said however, that there’s something a little more comforting about gang warfare which involves stripy deck chairs rather than 9mm automatic weapons. Is it not?!
The fighting lasted two days, moving along the coast to Hastings and back; earning it the “Second Battle of Hastings” tag. In the end, the police had to charge on to the beach and make hundreds of arrests. The bank holiday had begun with tourists and families flocking to the coast but ended with them ‘fleeing for their lives’ as Mods and Rockers turned the beach into a battlefield.
So what was so different about these two youth subcultures that they had to battle it out with beach chairs and frankly ruin everyone’s bank holiday weekend?
Well first, you had the Rockers, who were Elvis-loving leather-clad bikers. Usually older than Mods, in their 20s and 30s, their subculture had been around longer, rooted in 1950s Teddy Boy culture.
But then came the Mods, who despite being previously outnumbered by the rockers, by 1964, had far outnumbered the rival subculture. They wore designers suits, rode Vespa and Lambretta scooters and listened to the music of soul and jazz musicians. The older and tougher rockers looked down on the younger mods, comparing their scooters to a girls’ hairdryers and mocked their fancy clean cut style.
So perhaps what it all really boiled down to was a bit of schoolboy bullying and a case of the kids who were being picked on, finally fighting back with safety in numbers. Undoubtedly among the 3,000 youths that showed up that bank holiday weekend, on the part of certain people, there was a genuine animosity that resulted in three stabbings and consequently, complete media hysteria.
Newspapers the confrontation as being of “disastrous proportions”, and labelled mods and rockers as “internal enemies” in the UK who would “bring about disintegration of a nation’s character” and “surge and flame like a forest fire”.
It’s alleged that the media used faked interviews with supposed rockers such called “Mick the Wild One”, to get mileage from incidents that were unrelated to mod-rocker violence. When they ran out of real brawls to report, newspapers would publish deceptive headlines with”violence” in the title, even if the article reported that there was no violence at all. The media also regularly pointed to these two youth cultures on the topics of teen pregnancy and drugs.
So, which one are you?! Take the quiz…
For more modtastic adventures, check out this 1979 film written by The Who‘s Pete Townshend:
It’s available on iTunes here.