The 60s British Rocker and Ton-Up Movement

Did it really happen ... " MOCKERS " anyone ?

" What you are really saying is that they are morons ... lay the discipline on hard ... essentially you have to degrade and humiliate these people! ".

Click here for a voice from the 60s

- [ Real Player required ] streaming audio

Click here for TV footage from the day
- [ Quicktime Requred ]
or here for TV footage from the day
- [ Windows Media Player ].

warning - big video files, slow connection!

Good God. Something ought to be done about it ... send them to the army etc!

During the press conference depicted in the movie A Hard Day's Night, a patronising reporter asks Ringo, "Are you a Mod or a Rocker?" to which he replies, "Uh, no. I'm a Mocker." According to Richard Lester, the film's director, the scene was improvised and the wit spontaneous.

It was certainly bang up to date in its reference to Mods and Rockers, as those particular groupings of British youths were just then beginning to be news.

And it will become clearer just how influential the media were, searching for a juicy story to sell papers on, in creating the schisms that divided youth culture.

Just a short time earlier, America had been rocked by an article in The Nation Magazine about the Hells Angels written by a young Hunter S. Thompson. An article that then went on to launch his career, the influence of which was to come back and haunt the British biking scene only a few years later; tearing up the once united Rocker scene into divisive factions, setting bikers against bikers in aping the fiction they were reading. The young Californian greasers had become the scourge of America. Great for business when you are selling news. The British press were hungry for an equivalent to run with a copy cat story and picked up on what by today's standard was an incredibly mild affair.

The concept of Mods and Rockers actually crystallised in the public consciousness at a specific place and time: Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, during the Easter Bank Holiday weekend of 1964. After two days of comparatively mild violence in the wet seaside resort - the worst was a shop window being broken - the newspapers were full of blaring headlines:




It was under this glare of publicity that the idea of scooter gangs - Mods - versus motorbike gangs - Rockers - really flourished. Until then they had not been rigidly separate groups: the conflict was more a case of rivalry between Londoners and local groups which came in for the weekend from villages in the surrounding county of East Anglia. Then, as later, there were no massed opposing groups of scooter riders and motorbike riders: the riders were a noisy conspicuous minority, with most of the youngsters getting there by train and bus. In truth was, especially in cities, the groups were inter-related, often from the same housing estates; only separated by fashion or generations. Older brother / younger brother etc. The rocker's dress dictated by function which is why it changed so little over time.

But the image of smartly dressed louts with scooters and leather-jacketed, oily louts with motorbikes meeting to do battle at seaside resorts was set. A further weekend of "blood and violence" (two stabbings and the dropping of a man into a flower bed) at Margate later that year helped make scenes of youngsters running along beaches and being bundled into the backs of police vans familiar sights on British TV screens during Bank Holidays. As the free use of amphetamines had been made illegal the year before, the press could keep the story going with frequent references to youths crazed by "purple hearts" - Drinomyl tablets that were really blue and triangular. Drug taking amongst the young nascent bikers - beyond the notorious " British Rail Tea " - almost unknown.

Whilst the division of these particular minorities of British youth into factions emerged at Clacton, it's true to say that stylistic differences had already emerged in the early 60s. An " Italianate " or " Modern " style of designer dressing and an attraction to R&B and Espresso bar culture had given birth to the Mod, though they were lumped in under the general heading of Teddy Boys at the time. They would go on to generate their own dance culture focused on clubs like the Marquee, and also their own bands, including The Who. The Rockers, meanwhile, found their models in the leather-clad style of the movie The Wild Ones, their inspiration in the " ton-up boys " of the motorways - Motorcyclists who defied the law by riding at over 100MPH - and their haunts in the greasy roadside transport cafes.

Which is all rather too neat, as the Mods, at least, fractured into a variety of sub groups almost from the beginning. There were the scooter boys, all flapping jeans and anoraks, centring on art-school types. Then there were the short-haired hard Mods, who wore jeans suspended from braces and weighty boots. They are the ones who seem to have been at the centre of the violence, and they are thought to have been the precursors of the crop-headed, violent Skinheads, who emerged at the latter end of the decade. Again, there were smooth mods, usually slightly older and better-off, who played close attention to their dress, cruising the boutiques by day and the clubs by night.

" So what will the well dressed Mod be wearing this weekend? " BBC Video Footage - [ Real Media Player ]

Likewise with the Rockers, few could ever have dreamt have afforded all the leather gear, pudding basin helmets and shiny chrome cafe racer style that the Rocker Revival movement has championed. They were poor, they rode old bikes, some could afford old leather jackets but plastic copies, ex-army gear, wellington boots etc were often the order of the day. There was no uniform as such until much later. Even blue jeans were relatively rare.

The diversity amongst Mods helped to make the Mod less and less identifiable as the 60s wore on, especially once Britain's particular version of the hippie began to make an appearance, and reflected the restless change of the period that The Beatles and their music both exemplified and encouraged. Ironically, the Mods were largely absorbed, while the Rockers went on virtually unaltered, apart from the odd name change.

They entered the 70s as Greasers and largely switched allegiance to heavy metal and went on to later influence the sound and fashion of Punk Rock as many of the early founders of that movement; The Damned, The Clash, The Stranglers, also rode " Brando-style " British bikes or cafe racers. [ As an interesting aside, it is worth noting how history repeated itself in the schism between Punk and New Wave; prime movers in the latter, such as Paul Weller and The Jam, overtly referencing Mod fashion and design ].

In fact, it is probably fair to say that the connection between Rockers and Rock and Roll in the early days was largely incidental. By their inherent oiliness, due to old unreliable bikes, road filth and early 20th Century British plumbing, they were marginalise to where they could socialise; truck stops and roadside caffs. The juke boxes there, well out of date, and determined by much older clientele were the order of the day. They were also largely teenagers, they listened and danced to whatever pop was around. The big difference perhaps being that their first romance was with the road and their chances of getting laid out on it much higher than anything else, for most.

When The Who produced Quadrophenia in 1973, later made into a feature film in 1979 where Rockers were laughably successfully pursued and caught by Mods on Vespas, it's take on Mod culture and angst already seemed as elegaic as hearing your dad tell his war stories. The annual battles on the beaches were had ceased long before, and the war between Mods and Rockers that had raged on our TV screens was already fading from popular memory.

Did it actually ever happen or was it just a media creation?

" Folk Devils and Moral Panics ; Creation of Mods and Rockers " by Stanley Cohen. Folk Devils and Moral Panics ; Creation of Mods and Rockers is a classic study of deviant subcultures and the moral panic they generate in the media and in public debate. It has never quite made its way into the motorcycling world before as it is a classic sociology book.

Apparently, it is a " foundational text " - a proper, well respected, big words book for big word men - in terms of investigating the workings of subcultural groups, identifying what leads to such groups as Rockers being vilified in the popular imagination and what inhibits rational debate about solutions to the social problems such groups represent.

They say that the insights Cohen provides into The Rocker Movement and its effects on " mass morality " are as relevant today as they were when the book was originally published. The author's introduction for this new edition, in which he tracks moral panics over the last thirty years, comments on the demonisation of young offenders, asylum seekers and on the News of the World's "name and shame" campaign against paedophiles.

Generally, most so called scientific research of the motorcycle world puts the word anal into analysis, as in where they authors had their heads, but this is as interesting as it gets - as long as you dont expect lots of pictures in your books.

Stick to Johnny Stuart's Rockers, Kings of the Road if you do.