'Mods and Rockers.' 2

Photo: Rex The Telegraph
The wary eye of the law keeps the youngsters in place
Photo by Ron Charlton
Lewes Prison
Brighton Argus
David Rowland

‘Mods and Rockers.’

May Bank Holiday 1964.

The ‘Mods and Rockers’ described two rival youth cultures that were prevalent during the early1960’s. This was really a social phenomenon, and such public behaviour from large groups of youngsters was virtually unheard of until then. The two groups were totally different in their dress and modes of transport

The ‘Mods’ were neatly dressed with short ‘mod’ (modern) haircuts and rode motor scooters, which were invariably covered in badges and lights. The ‘Rockers’ on the other hand were dressed in leather, many having long hair and they rode various types of motorcycles. Their ages varied between 16 and 18 years of age with very few over the age of 20 years. The ‘Mods’ often gathered on street corners in groups of 6 upwards while the ‘Rockers’ were only seen in two’s three’s but mostly on their own. Being on their own invited trouble from the Mods but being on more powerful machines often managed to get away from the slower scooters.

Easter Bank Holiday in 1964

During the Easter Bank Holiday in 1964 the Mods and Rockers all seemed to descend on Margate, hundreds of them where they turned the town into a battlefield. The Police there struggled to maintain Law and Order and called urgently for reserves from surrounding Police Forces. A large contingent from The Metropolitan Police was bussed into the town. The local and National newspapers were full of pictures and stories of how the two groups ‘tore’ up the town bringing fear and mayhem to the town. The media really did have a field day with this story.

Between Easter and the May bank Holiday, the early summer weekends were fairly quiet but rumours began to grow that the next target for the Mods and Rockers would be Brighton.

Police tactics

Police intelligence was quite poor in those days compared with the intelligence of today. However, information was growing and the early rumours appeared to be justified. The Chief Constable, Bill Cavey, called a meeting with Superintendents Bob Beard, Norman Custance and Alan Probyn and discussed the best course of action should these two groups come to the town as the rumours suggested. One serious problem could be the fact that if they were kept to the seafront area, the beach stones could be used as ammunition. Balanced against that was the fact that if they were allowed to wander through the town centre the damage that could be caused could attain many thousands of pounds. That as well as the loss of business for the Bank Holiday traders. The discussions went on throwing ideas back and forth. Many such meetings were arranged with many officers putting up ideas and suggestions. Another problem would be the lack of Police transport, as having liaison with the Police at Margate was one of their biggest problems, as well as after the Bank Holiday they had had many of their Police Vehicles damaged and off the road, normal patrols were difficult to maintain.

Several further meetings were arranged and included officers from the various police departments, including CID and Traffic. Lower down the ranks other Officers were holding their meetings, people like Chief Inspector Eric Bourne and Inspectors Norman Cooper, Gerry Baines and Dick Clay BEM.

There was little doubt that every care was being taken with the meticulous planning of this operation, similar to a wartime battle, at a guess.

Meetings were held with senior members of the Town Corporation including the Waterworks. The Chief Constable had quite a decision to make about the safety and Policing of the town should the Mods and Rockers come to Brighton. More and more information was being gathered and the collecting of this information became almost an obsession.

Metropolitan Police

Members of the Metropolitan Police proved invaluable and gathered some good information. As the Bank holiday got closer the Senior Police Officers accepted the fact that it was almost a certainty that Brighton would receive these unwanted visitors. The organising of Brighton police went up a gear and all officers were briefed daily as to what they were expected to do including the possibility of working long hours with no time off, all leave days were cancelled to give maximum police cover for the whole weekend. One fact that surprised many people including Police Officers was the water board gave up their vehicles for police use. This would greatly increase the numbers of vehicles available to ferry police officers to various trouble spots.

The Water Board vehicles were driven to the Police radio Station in Kent by police officers of the Traffic Division and were fitted with the Brighton Police Radio frequency. On the day these vehicles were invaluable and totally fooled the Mods and Rockers as they never expected a dozen Policemen to jump out of the back of a Corporation water works lorry.

May Bank Holiday

As the  weekend dawned all arrangements had been made and everyone knew exactly what to expect and what to do. It was a strange feeling and without any discussion everyone was determined that these troublemakers would not destroy our town or frighten our visitors. The order went out to be very firm but fair with these people and to arrest anyone committing any offences, however small. We knew that many of them would fill the cells at the Town Hall Police Station, or ‘Battle Headquarters’ as it was known. (A throw back from the war years.)

On Friday 15th May, the start of the Bank Holiday weekend, the traffic Division set up road blocks on the main roads leading into the town, stopping the scooter and motor cycle riders and checked their driving documents. This gave the police a lot of information as to who these people were as well as their addresses. A number were ‘booked’ for a number of traffic offences. This was the start of giving them as much harassment as possible and hopefully it may turn some of them away. The police knew that they would be outnumbered during the weekend and arranged for officers to be drafted in from neighbouring Forces.

The rumours were right as more and more scooter riders came into town and made their way to Madeira Drive and Kings Road. They rode up and down the seafront in convoys. These ‘convoys’ were soon stopped as police stepped into the road and halted traffic, directing  the scooters go to the side of the road and letting other traffic pass by. The scooter riders were then set off in small numbers, some being sent back the way they had come while their friends were sent in the opposite direction, another means of harassment.

Friday evening

As Friday evening came to a close most of the Mods had settled at the eastern end of Madeira Drive, their scooters lined up near the Gardens at Black Rock. They were noisy having their radios blaring but this was by far the best place to have them, the police could then keep an eye on them. What the Police didn’t want was dozens of Mods in the town centre. By around 1am many of the Mods had settled down to sleep on the grassy bank at Black rock, the noise subsiding. This was the signal for the Police to move in and three van loads of police moved in among the sleeping youths, waking them up. The youths were questioned and many checked as to who they were and where they were from. ‘Why are you in Brighton?’ was an often-asked question. After about an hour the police moved off and the Mods settled down once more for their sleep. The idea was to deny them sleep so that they may well sleep during the day and not cause too much trouble in the town, well that was the theory.

Sometime between 3am and 4am, the police were back on the scene, waking up the sleeping hordes and questioning them again as to their name, address and the purpose of their visit to Brighton. For many of them, this was just about the last straw and a number got on their scooters and left the area. The large majority were never able to get back to sleep and so sat on the grass and lighting up their cigarettes as the new day dawned.

There was little doubt that the Police night shift had done a good job in not allowing the Mods a decent night’s sleep as they wandered around, half asleep while they searched for a café that might be open.

Policing in numbers

The senior officers had managed to enhance the ordinary ranks of the local force by bringing on many more officers than would normally be on duty. The officers knew that they were starting a very long shift. They were divided into various groups with a large number being kept at the police station in reserve. Sufficient numbers on the early shift were soon down at the seafront to relieve the officers who had been on the night shift. The returning vehicles were quickly cleaned and re-fuelled ready for the long day ahead.

In the town centre patrols reported the gradual build up of both the Mods and the Rockers. Many officers were placed on static duty at the railway station as trippers and the youths poured into town and headed straight down Queens Road and West Street towards the seafront area. They were tracked by police motor cyclists and any group on scooters were stopped and asked for the production of their driving documents as well as their scooters being examined for any traffic violations. It was essential that the youths were harassed as much as possible and that the police were in command at all times.

On the beach

The general idea was to herd the ‘Mods’ onto the beach and as far as possible to keep them there for as long as possible. The reasoning being that they couldn’t then run through the town area smashing windows or causing any other type of damage.

As an officer on the beat,  herding them onto the beach would give them the opportunity to arm themselves with stones, possibly to use against the police and the public at large.

Every so often a group of Mods would suddenly run across the beach for no apparent reason, while on other occasions they ran as they had spotted a poor unfortunate ‘Rocker,’ this was a source of some amusement as the unfortunate individual ran for his life, he wouldn’t make the mistake again of venturing down onto the beach.

As the day wore on, more and more Mods and Rockers arrived in town, many being closely shadowed by groups of police. A command centre had been set up so the Senior Officers knew exactly what was happening at any given time, as various groups of officers radioed in as to the situation in various parts of the town.

The town continued to fill with the youths; it also began to fill with sight- seers as they lined all of the vantage points in order to get the best view of the proceedings. They wanted to watch the predicted fights and arrests that would surely follow. The officers who had been kept in reserve now found themselves being loaded into the blue Water Works vehicles, 8 or 10 to a vehicle, depending on size.

The first major incident

The first major incident occurred about mid-morning when a group of some 50 Mods chased and cornered two rockers. The two had tried to out run the Mods but were caught. They were badly beaten and after being rescued by police were taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, who had also brought on more staff to cope with the expected extra patients. Six Mods were arrested at this incident and loaded onto the Water Works vehicles and conveyed to the police station.

At the police Station about 10 officers would take over from those officers involved in the arrests, searching the prisoners and placing them in the cells, this enabled the arresting officers to get back to the seafront area where they were most wanted. Gradually more fights broke out as officers rushed to quell them. A couple of groups managed to leave the beach and make their way into the Lanes area where a number of shop windows were smashed. They also called into a café and assaulted two youths who they believed were ‘Rockers.’ In fact they were not Rockers, just a couple of local lads; they refused hospital treatment and made their way home.

Sun Terrace of the Aquarium

One fight occurred on the  when a large crowd of Mods armed themselves with deck chairs and attempted to crown a small group of Rockers. The Rockers, unable to escape jumped from the top of the Sun Terrace to the pavement below and ran off at a rare pace. A large number of police had made their way to the Sun Terrace and were just arriving when the Rockers jumped over the balustrade. We had managed to witness part of this fight and so five more Mods were arrested. Many of the Mods were very young, perhaps being an average of 15 or 16 years. As there were many officers on duty we were able to return to the Police Station for a break during the day, just for half an hour. Quite a number of these Rockers were happy, when in a group to give the police a fair amount of cheek. They soon realised that the police were in no mood to accept this and were dealt with.

Time and time again information reached us that another three Mods had been arrested for a variety of offences. Then a few minutes later another small group would be arrested, then more. This continued throughout the day, – and this was only Sunday, the Bank Holiday was still to go.

The Courts and magistrates

It had been arranged between the Police and the Courts that the magistrates would sit each day to hear the evidence and mete out suitable punishment to the wrong doers. As evening came the cells at the Town Hall Police Station were bulging, more than 40 persons had been arrested on this one-day? A number of them were Juveniles and so their parents or guardians would need to attend the police station. Many of the juveniles didn’t realise that this would happen and were terrified of the consequences of their parents being called to the Police Station. Others, who were a little older, appeared at the Magistrates Court and if they pleaded guilty, as many did, they were remanded in custody for one week and taken to Lewes Prison.

For many Officers this had been a very long and tiring day, a 12-hour shift had been the minimum, while others involved with prisoners would do more. Just about every police Officer on duty generally thought that it had been a very good day, interesting to say the least. For many it had been like the ‘old days’ with the implementation of The ‘Ways and Means Act,’ with officers ‘clipping a few ears’ of the youths, hell bent on causing trouble in our town; Oh yes, for the police a very satisfying day.


Sunday night followed the same pattern as the previous night when officers kept the Mods from a decent night’s sleep. It rained on and off for most of the night. This deterred them from wandering about and made sure that they would stay at the far end of Madeira Drive for almost the whole of the night. It seemed to work for there had been many seeking sleep on the beach during the daytime activities.

Monday duly arrived, and the early shift reported for duty and more and more officers came on duty. Officers from the surrounding Forces would join us as the day progressed; they too wanted ‘some of the action.’

There were a number of ‘runs’ across the beaches, this had the public getting quite excited as to what was going to happen next? In more cases than not, the Mods just suddenly stopped and sat down on the beach. There was one occasion when a small group of five police officers, including a sergeant saw a group of about 200 Mods running towards a slope that would bring them up to the promenade. The police quickly formed a line across the top, to block their path. They continued to run up the slope and when they were close to the top, the sergeant ordered the policemen to draw their truncheons, this was followed with a very threatening attitude and although the policemen knew that they were probably going to get hurt, they were determined to defend themselves with their truncheons. As it happened the fierce attitude of the policemen involved was enough to turn the large group away and they quickly returned to the beach. I was one of these officers.


Throughout the morning many scuffles occurred between the Mods and Rockers and also amongst the various groups of Mods, this amounted to a growing number of arrests. The police had organised ‘Snatch-Squads’ who would go onto the beach and arrest one of the ‘Ring-Leaders.’

With large numbers of Police Officers on duty the weary early turn officers were allowed to take regular breaks. This didn’t however detract away from the tiredness of some officers. This in turn resulted in some officers showing their frustration at times. Some arrested Mods were handled roughly, especially when they put up a struggle. The police were determined to teach them a lesson and to put them off ever returning to Brighton for their fights.

One incident occurred when a number of ‘ring leaders’ that had been watched for most of the day were rounded up and put into a large Water works van. The policemen who were using this vehicle, made their ‘charges’ comfortable in the back of the van, removing their shoes, shoelaces and trouser belts. They were then driven up towards the Devils Dyke. They stopped at the junction with the Saddlescombe Road. The youths were told to leave the van and stood demurely in a group, wondering what was going to happen. The majority of these ringleaders came from London or the South London area. They were then run ‘out of town’ minus their shoelaces and belts. The policemen watched as they slowly made their way along the road en route for their London homes. About 50 yards away from where the officers were, they stopped and started to ‘thumb a lift.’ The Officers then took up a position on the road leading to the main London Road and stopped the vehicles that came along the road, advising the drivers not to pick up any hitchhikers that they may see thumbing a lift to London.

The drivers obviously understood the meaning behind the advice and drove past the hitchhiking group of Mods. About 20 minutes later, with the group out of sight the policemen returned to their van and headed back to the seafront.

Arrests continued to grow

Meanwhile the numbers of arrests continued to grow. The Magistrates were sitting for most of the day and again, those pleading ‘Guilty’ were remanded to Lewes Prison for seven days.

Around about 5pm the youths started to make their way towards the railway station and home accompanied by large numbers of policemen in order that they would not cause any damage to the shops as they passed. Many were ‘herded’ to the Station, being surrounded by the police. By this time it was generally accepted that the Mods had had just about enough of Brighton, some admitting that it had been a horrible weekend and that the Police had been very brutal. The police agreed with this saying and making it quite clear to them that should they ever return then it would be a lot worse. As they arrived at the station they were directed to two platforms. Both of these platforms had trains that were heading for Victoria. They boarded the trains at Brighton Station for Victoria Station, whether they wanted to go or not. Many of the youths who lived in Brighton were also put on these trains. The police made sure that there were a sufficient number of Policemen as travelling companions.

They were greeted at Victoria by a large contingent of Metropolitan Officers, together with their dogs and horses. By this time all the ‘fight’ had gone out of the youths and all they wanted to do was to get home.

A sigh of relief

As the last of these youths left the town, there was a sigh of relief. It had been a very busy but for the vast majority of the policemen on duty, an unusual and interesting experience. A sight that many officers will never forget was the help offered and given by a number of well known ‘Barrow Boys’ and petty criminals who were so incensed that these people would have the audacity to ‘invade’ our town, they joined in and on several occasions meted out summary justice to the heads of both the Mods and Rockers.

One ‘Barrow-Boy’ gave one youth, ‘a leather injection’ (A hefty kick in the rear) when in his mind he didn’t move quick enough after being directed to move on by a police officer. The police officer had just turned his head and so failed to witness this incident.

Magistrates Court

A week after the Bank Holiday, those youths, both Mods and Rockers who had committed one of the many offences and who had been on remand in Lewes Prison attended the Magistrates Court. The Chairman of the Bench, Mr. Cushnie had previously indicated that anyone who appeared before him would be severely dealt with. As the youths appeared in court, one by one, those present couldn’t help but let out a gasp; these youths were almost unrecognisable from those that had been arrested a week before. Their looks had certainly changed as on arrival in Prison, it was advisable for health reasons to shave their hair and standing in the dock at Court, they were close to being bald.

For those convicted of breach of the peace and other similar offences, heavy fines were initiated. Those convicted of any type of damage were heavily fined and had to pay a large slice of the costs of the damage. For anyone convicted of assault, it was in the main a prison sentence. Addressing many of those facing him in the dock, he said,” I will not have you people coming here to destroy our town and upset both the residents and the visitors who we hold most dear.” Mr. Cushnie was passionate about his town of Brighton.

There was one very sad event that occurred during the course of the Bank Holiday weekend and that was when a small group of youths camped out on the cliff top at Saltdean. On waking in the morning one of the occupants was missing. His body was later found at the foot of the cliffs.

The ‘Mods and Rockers’ phenomenon carried on for several years after the May ’64 Bank Holiday, although not on quite such a large scale. All Police leave on Bank Holidays was cancelled for years. It was imperative that the Force had available as many officers as was possible.

As Brighton Police had assistance from other parts of the county and other Forces then there was a time when Officers from Brighton went to Hastings (this was also a separate Force in those days) to assist them with their ‘Mods and Rockers’ problems.

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