Ready Steady Go? Easter 1964- 50 years of Mods & Rockers
It is fifty years since the first clashes between Mods and Rockers which took place at Clacton on Sea at Easter 1964.
On Easter Sunday 29th March 1964 there were skirmishes between mods and rockers on Clacton beach.
The press and indeed local magistrates were extremely excited about this. As the late sociologist Stan Cohen has argued it was one of the origins of moral panics about the ‘youth of today’.
In reality, according to Dominic Sandbrook, Easter 1964 was the coldest for 80 years and the Sunday was wet. Whatever took place on Clacton beach did not involve anyone much aside from a few bored teenagers and possibly some seagulls.
The clashes were repeated on a wider scale in mid-May 1964 on the Whitsun holiday in Brighton and elsewhere. Again local magistrates and the press were excited.
The mods were fashion conscious, sharp dressers, sometimes to be found riding scooters and wearing parkas, and frequent attenders at dance clubs. The lifestyle was possible partly because all involved were young and partly because of the widespread use of amphetamines- Purple Hearts- which until the 1964 Drugs Act were legal.
Mods were thought to be more middle class than Rockers who stood more in line with the rock’n’roll tradition of the 1950s, rode bikes rather than scooters and possibly did not have that sharp a dress sense.
Mods and Rockers were two distinctive aspects of a youth culture that in the following decades saw the appearance of hippies, skinheads, punks, Goths and much else.
Why is this of interest?
Firstly because it was one of the first visible signs that young people after post-1945 austerity and the end of national service might not fit into the mould of previous generations. There was an element of rebellion about those clashes at Easter 50 years ago, even if what precisely it was, was less clear.
Secondly because media and official reaction, Stan Cohen’s‘moral panic’, remains firmly with us today.
The clashes of 50 years ago are probably best known through the prism of The Who’s 1979 rock opera Quadrophenia. While that makes some useful political points about youth culture it is not regarded as being historically accurate, nor one suspects, was it meant to be.
The rise of the Mods in particular reflected some important trends in the configuration of the class struggle.
Many of those involved were, during the day, training for a range of skilled occupations.
They disliked the lack of control they had at work and the Mod culture, and the evening clubs, were a way of expressing their discontent at their alienation at the workplace..
That disaffection fed its way back into labour relations, and it is no accident that as the Mods became a feature of youth culture so industrially there was a rise in industrial discontent including unofficial strikes.
It was a generation rather less inclined to put up with what the boss wanted.
Cohen makes a further point which has been largely overlooked by historians.
While it was not unusual for working class young men to exert some independence from family ties and authority, it was for young working class women.
The Mods started to change all that as young women too adopted distinctive styles of dress and music.
Some of that new independence can be seen reflected in the equal pay battles that started to take place at the end of the 1960s.
It may have started with a few skirmishes on Clacton beach 50 years ago but the ripples from the Mods and Rockers went much wider than that.
The contours of the modern working class movement and particularly its current leadership were, to a considerable degree formed in this period of new working-class independence.
The music itself is now social history although bands like The Who and the Rolling Stones continue, albeit not with identical line ups