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1964: Mod or Rocker - 'You had to be one or the other '

The Mods had designer suits, Italian scooters and The Who. Rockers had leathers, motorbikes and Elvis.

For a few years in the early 1960s, the two groups represented a sharp division in British youth culture.

Their rivalry often spilled over into violence, and the 1964 holiday weekend clashes in resort towns on the south coast terrorised local residents and outraged much of the nation.

But soon after the seaside riots of 1964, this volatile split in British teen life faded away.

Your stories

My mate and I were on this "infamous" holiday weekend. We rode to East Anglia on a motorcycle for the weekend which turned out to be thoroughly wet, cold and miserable.

On our way home to London, we stopped at a cafe for some warmth and a hot drink and found ourselves getting a lot of nasty stares from all and sundry.

An elderly couple abused us and we were wondering what the heck we'd done to annoy them.

It wasn't until we'd arrived home we found out that we had missed all the fun on the south coast - thank goodness.
Reg Birchmore, Australia

You had to be one or the other during the early Sixties, otherwise you got a hiding from both groups, but good days with the Orpington Wimpy Bar guys.

Would love my GS150 now. Well no, my mate Barry's GS160 mk2 or Keith's SS180 cruising into London, and various clubs.

Being fresh from Australia and my nickname, true blue, had its moments. Remember the Inferno, and the Twisted Wheel night clubs where you got high on the fumes in the clubs.

I could not afford all the mod gear on five pounds a week. Levis, a Fred Perry t-shirt, cherry red commando boots and braces with a number two hair cut were the norm for our group. Oh and a USA Parker with strips and a dead fluffy animal skin around my neck.

What a relief it was to get my first car and the music was mainly soul music. Happy days

Living in Ilford, Essex in the 60s was a great thing.

We had several dance halls/clubs which played the most fantastic music. We even had a great live scene.

I saw Otis Redding and the Stax tour, Small Face, The Who and many more.

The clothes shops were the best outside of London. Times have changed now but the memories linger on. Great times.
'Trueblue', Australia

Oh yes, there were still Mods in 1966 - I was one.

Not a Lambretta though, an NSU Prima D which I was thrilled to "mod". It had a 12v lighting system - so I had two 12v spot lights - one pointing slightly upwards which lit up the trees (both of them turned off with the main dip switch).

It had purpose made front and back racks (both made in metalcraft lessons at school) plus a purpose made rear back rest which beat anything supplied off the shelf.

I shot two hares, skinned them and cured the skins and covered some bent ply on one side with the skins and with purple satin on the inside. (Apologies to animal rights - I certainly would not shoot hares now).

Being a staunch supporter (controversially) of American policy in Vietnam at the time I also flew a Republic of South Vietnam flag on the back!

The scooter was turquoise and cream with white wall tyres and white seats. Trouble was, it was heavy and not as fast as my pals Lambrettas Li 150s and TV175s.

Really, really good days, though. I was 16 then, and loved to have a bird wearing a mini getting on the back! Oh for a time-machine to go back and recapture a few of those days!
John Hartwell, England

I was a Mod in the early Sixties in Brighton. The Who where the Mods' favourite group because they played at the Florida Rooms which was 200 yards from the Mods' main hangout, a coffee bar called the Zodiac.

This is where all the Mods met.

" I have still got a pair of shoes that cost me a week's wages and went out of fashion next day "

Colin, UK

Later we moved on to the Starlight Rooms - the music played then was The Stones, Kinks, Dave Clark Five, Manfred Mann, Tamla Motown.

Then came the drug music blue beat which was West Indian. By now Mods changed to a fashion called stylist because, as Mods, you could not wear any clothes if they were 10 minutes out of fashion. It got silly.

The main places for Mods were coffee bars with jukeboxes. My scooter was a Lambretta TV175.

There were upmarket coffee bars like the Scandinavia Bar and all-night places like The Automat at the Clock Tower, all-night coffee bar in Queen's Road and the Rockers' main cafe in Brighton was by the King and Queen pub, Marlborough Place.

Sometimes we would go there and kick their bikes over for a laugh.

Often Brighton Mods would have punch-ups with London Mods because they would come here and pinch our birds because their clothes were always ahead of ours, and to Modettes fashion was what it was all about. They would go with them.

I have still got a pair of shoes that cost me a week's wages and went out of fashion next day.
Colin, UK

Two of my friends and I went to Brighton for a Bank Holiday Mod get together.

After the trouble on previous Bank Holidays the police obviously thought it was a good idea to get us all in one place and keep us there, so once we had all got down onto to the beach there was no way to get back up.

The boys got bored after a while and started throwing girls into the sea and I was one of the girls they caught.

The next day when I got home my Mum obviously knew exactly where I had been despite the fact I had told her I was staying with a friend and I couldn't understand how she had worked it out.

When I went back to work the front page of either the Mail or the Mirror carried a full page picture of me, flying through the air, hair flying, suspenders on display for all the world to see!

The photo was taken from a news bulletin shown on the night I was away and my Mum and Dad had seen it.

Grounded. Big time.
Jennifer Lewis, UK

It was a tad difficult at the time if, as I did, one preferred a Lambretta and a sharp suit yet also liked to listen to Rock and Roll more than to The Who. Guaranteed to put one at the losing end of any fight, in any coffee bar, whenever one fed the jukebox! Happy Days.
Adam, England

At the time that these events took place, I was living in Lewes Sussex, just seven miles from Brighton. I well remember all of the problems that developed there between the Mods and Rockers.

I guess that I was a bit of a Mod myself at that time, but I did not own a Lambretta scooter, but an AJS 500 twin motorcycle, and did not belong to any gang or Mod group.

I have lived in the United States since 1973 and by strange coincidence was watching the Speed channel on TV last week. Lo and behold an English movie was played which was about those times in England.

It was called Quadraphenia and was the story of the Mods and Rockers and their little clashes in Brighton. It also told the story of a partly demented Mod yobbo, who eventually ends his pathetic life by stealing a Lambretta and taking a flying lesson off Beachy Head.

It really was a lousy movie, but it brought back many memories of those times for me. Hope that I didn't bore you all with my tale. Adios Pards.
John (Expat Man of Kent), USA.

" True Mods wouldn't have been caught dead listening to The Who "

Paul Smith, Hong Kong

I was too young to be either a Mod or a Rocker (although I became a "skinhead" which was the next big teenage rebellion). But one of my schoolmates at that time had a brother who was a real Mod!

We idolised him, not only because he was older than us, but because he wore really great clothes (Ben Sherman and Brutus button-down shirts, Levi sta-pressed or mohair trousers) and he had one of the best Lambrettas I've ever seen - a two-tone SX200!

We would use any excuse to go around to my schoolmate's house just so we could listen to his Mod brother's collection of wonderful music! He had arguably one of the best record collections for miles around.

But this is where I totally and categorically disagree with the myth that The Who were in any way involved or influential in the Mod culture. True Mods wouldn't have been caught dead listening to The Who - for them, it was a strict diet of Tamla Motown, Ska and Detroit Soul with a little bit of Latin (Cal Tjader, Ray Barretta, Mongo Santamaria etc) thrown in!
Paul Smith, Hong Kong

I was definitely a Rocker with my 500cc British twin, leather jacket, jeans, long leather boots, heavy gloves and crash helmet.

Though never involved in the mindless violence that erupted in the south, northern Rockers met regularly from Blackpool to Scarborough. Some aggravation was always expected from the police who viewed anyone in leather protective gear as a social delinquent to be moved on as fast as possible.

When not taking the girlfriend, my pillion was the son of the county chief constable and when that fact became widely known the aggravation stopped and we were grudgingly left alone for our all-night barbecues, sand racing and beer parties on the beaches. Alas, all good things had to come to an end for the realities of life - marriage and a mortgage.
Peter Country: Middlesbrough

One weekend my brother, who was only about 15, went down to Bognor Regis on the back of a motorbike. The boys he was with were leather-clad, as is the normal way to be dressed for riding a motorcycle.

They did not go to cause any trouble, but simply to enjoy the ride down to the coast as they had done many times before (my brother was not dressed in leathers by the way). They got off their bikes and sat on the beach.

Richard, my brother, wandered off to get an ice-cream and was set upon, not by a Mod or a Rocker, but by a group of well-dressed young men looking for trouble. He was hit with a hammer, one of many "weapons" they had in the back of their sports car. He was admitted to hospital and has never forgotten the incident.

It wasn't only the Mods and Rockers who caused the trouble but also well-dressed thugs looking for trouble. I also believe the media whipped up the story by making it a front page feature, causing a great deal of harm to many innocent young people.

The thugs got away with their violence because of who their parents were. Money can buy the best kind of lawyers, but my parents were unable to afford this kind of defence. They smirked as they walked free. But my brother still has the mental scars to this very day.
Gillian Williams, England

" I can remember my friends joyriding on a milk float in Margate and everyone got free milk "

David Denton, England

I was a mod. But I had friends that were from both sides. I wore the clothes and had the parker but my parents wouldn't allow me to have a scooter.

I can remember my friends joyriding on a milk float in Margate and everyone got free milk. Until the police arrived and gave us the ultimatum, "If the culprits don't come out of the cafe we will arrest all of you." And of course they had to give themselves up. A great laugh at the time.

I can remember going to dance halls like the Mecca in Basildon and the Palais at Ilford. There was always a fight either inside or out. The music playing as you entered always seemed to be Reach Out by the Four Tops.

Although a great fan of the Who I seem to remember Tamla Motown was the music of the Mods.

After a short while I joined the hippie scene and exchanged the parka for an ex-RAF great coat, college scarf, crushed velvet flairs, boots or trainers and of course the John Lennon glasses. I can remember the comments from my parents ringing in my ears, " You're not going out like that. What will people think?"

I used to answer with, "That's their problem." Parents of course didn't understand. I got involved in politics and sit-ins, but never drugs. A brilliant time to grow up.
David Denton, England

You are wrong to say that Rockers preferred Elvis. By then he was a sad, plump, shorthaired ex-US Marine. The real heroes were already dead. Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly.

We used to jive to real rocking music such as the Ventures. We moved on to the Beatles, whereas as I remember the Mods moved on to the Rolling Stones - but that's another story.

You are also wrong to say that the Mods became hippies. As far as I was concerned, the Mods became Skinheads. Those who turned to the Beatles then espoused meditation, yoga and flower-power - and then hippies.
Sheila, UK

" Any Mod coming to St Ives ran the risk of being beaten up and their scooter thrown into the River Ouse - happy days "

John Little, Spain

St Ives, Huntingdonshire, was a biker town - as was the whole surrounding area - especially into the fens, Chatteris, March etc. The nearest Mod town was Cambridge and any Mod coming to St Ives ran the risk of being beaten up and their scooter thrown into the River Ouse - happy days.
John Little, Spain

My mother was a Rocker all those years ago and went along once with a bunch of lads on their motorbikes as they were being auditioned for a film.

The film makers were taken with her so used her as a biker in one of their scenes in which a car was going along filming her riding her bike. She says the film was originally called Mods And Rockers but we've never been able to trace it.
Lorraine Humm, UK

The fights between Mods and Rockers went on for years. I owned a Lambretta in 1967-68 and was therefore clearly a Mod.

I was involved in two fights in Bournemouth in 1968, both were unprovoked attacks on my friends and me. I only escaped a real thrashing in one because one of the Rockers was also an apprentice at the same company as me.

On the other occasion I was chased round the Winter Gardens theatre and through the lower pleasure gardens in Bournemouth on my scooter by a bunch of Rockers on motor bikes and only escaped by using my "local knowledge" of footpaths and alleys. It was not at all unusual to find the scooter damaged after parking.
Phil Cox, UK

Manic times that ended really quick, the whole sound was Soul for us anyway. The Who were dressed up by their manager. The Small Faces were good and real Mods, but a bit late for the scene. I'd been into Soul and Blues since 1960, and had to import records through a catalogue I found.

There were not many rockers to be quite honest. But Mods' idealism got taken over by the troublemakers, and a lot of people didn't see them as real Mods either. You could see them a mile off - no dress sense at all and no idea what it was all about really.
Jerry, UK

As for the Rockers... Well they either became highly involved in Eastern Indian religion, being a hippie, a good citizen, or a punk.
Anne Taylor, Hampshire, United Kingdom

I was both a Rocker and a Mod, and was down Brighton during the running battles along the front and on the beaches.

I was 15 in 1965 so I was in that generation that was neither full-on Rocker nor fashionable Mod, the rivalry between the two on the streets late at night or at the weekends was constant.

Rockers loved their motorbikes, leather clad girls, rock 'n' roll music, and, despite their caveman antics, were traditionalists. I was a rocker for two years, hanging out with the local gang, couldn't afford the leather jacket so I wore a blazer, jeans, T-shirt, and desert boots to the clubhouse.

In spite of their image, Rockers were normally quiet, always on the lookout for cheap bike parts, and then used to mount up and go on a "burn up". Many were killed on "burn ups" or horribly injured in all the hell-bent need for speed and adrenaline. But that was their way.

I think there was a motorcycle show down in Brighton either 1965 or '66 when a friend and myself were jumped by a gang of Mods who chased us further along the front to Hove. They lost interest. We waited a couple of hours before going back for our motorbike and the trip home

A month or two later I dropped out of the Rockers as the Mods had the better looking girls. I brought my Ben Sherman shirt, Farrah hipsters, a pair of shoes, and smothered myself in Brut Perfume For MEN! Having had the hairdresser re-shape and degrease my hair, I was ready.

Yessir! Saturday night was dancing night!

Those were the great days of Tamla Motown, ska, and dances like the locomotion, funky chicken, and the wa-tu-say. What was on "Ready Steady Go!" that week was in a 1000 suburban disco's and club's the following night.

Like many others I spend some of the weekend wasted on amphetamines and booze

By 17 I had left the scene behind for good as I was becoming more politically active and socially aware; I moved on to other things.
Mike Snow, UK

I was definitely a mod - black corduroy suit, white shirt, narrow tie, parka and Lambretta!

I lived just north of Portsmouth, and was an avid member of various Free Radio organizations, supporting the Pirates of the 60's.

I didn't go to Brighton on the notorious weekend though. Although the Wimpy Bar, across from the alley where "Jimmy did it" in the movie, was a great hang out. But not that week!

Was I in a "gang" ? No - I just hung out with Mods who had scooters!
Reece Porter, USA

Mod was dead by '64. Margate was a bunch of johnny-come-latelys in cheap suits.

As for The Who being a 'mod' band... No self respecting mod would have given them the time of day; they were phoneys.

If you want to know who a real mod was - Marc Feld (nee Bolan), in '64 was already ahead of the game.

Mod derives from modernist, it's not a badge, a uniform, it's an ideal... I am 58 years old and I listen to The Streets and Dizzee Rascal, not that old retro fraud Weller. Up tha' mods!
Vincent, USA

Although the Who claim to represent "Mod music", in fact the real music of the Mods was Tamla Motown and the black US "soul" artists such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, etc
Richard Dellar, UK

I remember as a young lad working on the sea front at Hastings as a deck chair attendant during this time, and being told by the police to move on, as I looked like a Mod!

Imagine my surprise when Steve Marriot, prior to the "Small Faces" came to our house to go out with my sister. He was, together with the "Who", one of the first Mods in England.
Shaun Allen, Sweden

There is a lot of myth surrounding the legendary rivalry between mods and rockers - much of perpetuated by the tabloids of the day.

A couple of groups mock-charging along an esplanade, with only the occasional physical injury was, and still is, far less dangerous than any hooliganism you see today.

I recall walking along a riverbank one day and coming across a huge muddy puddle. I couldn't escape because the river was on one side and a high hedge on the other.

Two rockers were on the other side of the puddle and when one of them started wading through the mud towards me, I inevitably throught he was going to beat me up.

Instead, he simply lifted me up and carried me across the mud so I wouldn't get my smart "mod" clothes dirty.

Another myth regards the music. REAL mods weren't into the Who - who looked like mods but played beat music. No, REAL mods were into the original R&B standards which had been copied copiously by all British groups.

A real mod, as opposed to a poseur, would never have been seen carrying an ordinary beat record (although we did allow ourselves to enjoy groups such as the Yardbirds, who had a certain cred-value at the time).
Kristan Deconinck, UK

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