Adam Trimingham looks at the trouble caused by mods and rockers in May 1964
Bank holidays in Brighton tended to be busy, jolly affairs in which thousands of Londoners flocked to the sea and sunshine. All that changed in 1964 during the Whitsun bank holiday when more than a thousand mods and rockers fought pitched battles with each other on the prom and pavements.
There was more trouble in 1965 during both the Easter and August bank holidays, only this time they were met by a force of 100 policemen chosen for their barn door proportions. Deckchairs were a favourite weapon and if they were not being used for striking enemies, they were destroyed in fires on the beach. There were 75 arrests and the courts were kept busy for weeks afterwards in dealing with all the cases. Images of the fights went all round the world.
In a new book on the shady side of Brighton, David Boyne says,
“As shocking as the violence for many of the older generation was the discovery that many of those involved were taking drugs, particularly amphetamines.”
The Brighton Council of Churches found that more than half the mods and almost half the rockers were taking blues, a form of speed.
There was more trouble in 1965 during both the Easter and August bank holidays, only this time they were met by a force of 100 policemen chosen for their barn door proportions.
Boyne says all kinds of ideas were offered to solve the problem, including bringing back conscription, hard labour and even reviving the stocks.
Sentences handed out by Brighton magistrates were generally tough. One of them, Hebert Cushnie, referred to the youths as “sawdust Caesars”. He was widely quoted but few were sure what he meant.
But after that there was comparative peace on bank holidays until the late 1970s when the Brighton-based film Quadrophenia and the start of the punk fashion led to a mod revival.
This time the enemy was skinheads rather than rockers and confrontations Police worked out a simple but effective way of stopping youths from kicking each other. They made youths take out their bootlaces.
Mary Whitehouse, the doughty defender of old- fashioned morals, blamed the violence by young people on copying what they saw on TV.
Less predictably, support for mods and rockers came from the National Federation of Hairdressers as both sides paid much attention to style.
The early 1980s revival ebbed away and since then all resorts including Brighton have not suffered from large-scale fighting by violent gangs of youths.
It is almost half a century now since the first clashes and some of the combatants have become nostalgic about them.
Every September there is a huge convoy of men on motorbikes and scooters who ride down to Brighton for the day.
Now mostly pensioners, they reminisce about what they see as the good old days while often drinking nothing stronger than tea.
- Bloody British History: Brighton by David J. Boyne (The History Press £9.99)