Britain's summer of discontent
Peter Dunn hangs out at the Scene for a Mods’ eye view of the tribal war that led to the vicious battle of Margate.
The Mod and Rocker season will probably last in its present form until August Bank Holiday. It will feature renewed forays to the south coast and possibly to Southend. Last Monday’s fighting at Brighton and Margate, followed by skirmishes throughout the week in London, is then expected to enter its final phase. That, in any event, was the opinion of a Mod who stood outside the Scene, the rhythm and blues club off Great Windmill Street, early yesterday. It was raining and dark and he wore sunglasses.
He was a smallish boy who came from Liverpool to find work and had got a job loading crates in a London milk depot. The languid Merseyside tone underplayed the alternating exhilaration and disappointments of his life – the T-shirt he got by “chatting up a Yank”; the purple heart pills he could buy at 18s 6d for 20; the singlehanded fight he almost had in Paddington with three Rockers; and the battle of Margate.
“We just charged up the beach. There were 800 of us and 100 Rockers. I didn’t see what was going on because I was at the back with my tart.”
Last week’s fighting in London isolated both factions even further from the public, which welcomed the hearty talk about “hooligans… rats… and miserable specimens” from the seaside magistrates’ bench. The heavy sentences handed down last week have led to some ominous threats of retaliation. “If anyone fined me £75,” a Mod said,
“I’d go back and do some real damage; put a few windows through with a hammer.”
Mods and Rockers have co-existed comparatively well for a year or so – the Mods, neatly dressed and on scooters, the Rockers in studded leather jackets and on motorbikes. The Rockers may have jeered at the Mods’ fancier ways (sublimating sex, as one Mod’s father put it, to the problems of motorbike clutchplates) but they had been slowly copying the Mods’ form of dress. When, for example, the Mods’ high-heel boots went out of fashion, the Rockers started wearing them.
Mods are losing interest in their scooters but they do care about changing fashions and spend £4 or £5 a week to keep up to date. The latest trend is towards American crew-cuts, T-shirts with big letters, Y for Yale, H for Harvard.
Seventy-five per cent of the Scene’s members are reckoned to be middle class and can usually afford to follow the trends; the rest tend to say that fashion is no longer so important.
Four of the Mods outside the Scene at 2am yesterday – two still carrying their Margate war wounds – said they stayed out all night because they wanted to enjoy themselves while they still had time. One said:
“My old lady raised hell the first few times. I’m not going home tonight. I might go in for a wash-up tomorrow but I’ll be out again all tomorrow night.”
This is an edited extract