60s Mods and Rockers

BSA motorcyle

The Mods' attention to detail and obsession with style was the complete opposite to their arch rivals the Rockers' love of motor cycles and leather jackets. The regional nature of fashion meant that the two tribes existed at the same time. The Mods mainly frequented central London or the centres of other large cities. The Rockers, whose roots were in the Teddy Boy gangs, occupied other towns or the outer ring road of London.

Rockers had an almost romantic liking for early Rock music. They wore black jeans and leather jackets, in the manner of Marlon Brando in 'The Wild One' (1953). They used grease on their hair, which was an evolution of the Teddy Boy look of the 50s. The Rockers though, rejected the Teds' love of fashion and style. Teds, although violent, were also dandies. This element of the Ted style was taken up by the Mods rather than the Rockers.

Rockers' favourite bikes were Triumph 500s, BSA Gold Stars or Bonnevilles. The term Rocker may have come from biking rather than rock music; they rocked their machines. However, it is more likely to be a reference to Rock music. The press at the time often used the earlier term, ton-up-boys, to describe the Rockers. This was derived from doing over the ton or over 100mph.

Rockers ate greasy fry ups, washed down with steaming mugs of tea in transport cafés, such as the 'Ace Café on the North Circular and the Busy Bee on the Watford bypass. Cafés often had juke boxes which allowed the bikers to play Rock'n'Roll music, cementing the link between motorbikes and Rock'n'Roll.

The Busy Bee was used in the film Alfie starring Michael Caine. Alfie was working as a chauffer and stopped at the Busy Bee for a break. He picked up Annie (Jane Asher) at the Busy Bee. Regular customers had to use a marquee out the back, whilst the filming was taking place.

Whilst Mods were part of the 60s fashion revolution, Rockers were left out of it. Their liking for the purity of 50s style Rock music and a rebellious look from a decade ago meant they were outcasts.

Mods and Rockers did not get on. Rockers thought Mods were effeminate, stuck-up or snobbish. It was a common jibe that they "couldn't tell the birds from the blokes". Mods thought Rockers were old-fashioned, dirty, greasy and uncouth. However, there was not an all out war between the two tribes.

Mods and Rockers rarely met, except for Bank Holiday weekends in Margate, Brighton, Hastings and Southend from 1964 onwards. Their violent clashes were constantly and sensationally reported in newspapers such as the Daily Mail.

The first such incident was at Clacton on the Easter Bank Holiday in 1964. It was reputedly one of the worst Easter Bank Holidays on record: cold and wet. The Easter Sunday was the coldest for 80 years. Groups of youths arrived at Clacton for the Bank Holiday break. They were bored and frustrated and rumours were circulating that a local café was refusing to serve them. Violence broke out between different groups, which was reported sensationally in the national press.

  • 'Day of Terror by Scooter Groups' (Daily Telegraph)
  • 'Youngsters Beat Up Town - 97 Leather Jacket Arrests' (Daily Express)
  • 'Wild Ones Invade Seaside - 97 Arrests' (Daily Mirror)

The scale of the disturbance and the violence was exaggerated. However, from now on the 'Mods and Rockers' phenomenon was born. The question in the press and for local magistrates was, 'which town would be next?'

In 1964 Mods and Rockers clashed at Margate, Hastings, Bournemouth and Brighton at Whitsun and August Bank Holidays. Once again the actual events were grossly exaggerated in the media.

One incident that featured in the film, Quadrophenia, when a youth offered to pay a £75 fine by cheque suggested that the Mods and Rockers were affluent and were not concerned with fines. It was all bravado; the boy did not even have a bank account.

There were further clashes in 1965 and 1966, a year later it was all but over.

Mods and Rockers: reference and further reading

  • Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stanley Cohen, published 1973 (Paladin)
  • Up the Junction, Nell Dunn, 1963 (Pan Paperback)

Rockers on the web:

The Ace Café has its own web site see Ace Café History for more information.

See also 60s fashion.

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