I love looking at black and white photos, even if it is of two youth subcultures – the Mods and Rockers – fighting each other on Brighton beach, using…. deck chairs! Fun fact: this forgotten story in Brighton’s history inspired the cool cult film, Quadrophenia. Some of the scenes were filmed in Brighton
Let me set the scene for you: It’s May bank holiday weekend 1964 and we’re on Brighton beach. The Mods and Rockers have descended upon the seaside resort with their mopeds and motorbikes for some ocean air, but it’s only a matter of time before the simmering rivalry between the two groups turns into an all out war.
What’s funny is that it allegedly all kicked off when a Mod threw a pebble at the group of rockers gathered on the beach and within seconds, an uncontrollable brawl had erupted. Gangs of mods and rockers began openly fighting, using deck chairs as weapons, as iconically captured in these cool photographs, some by LIFE Magazine photographer, Terence Spencer.
The fighting lasted two days, moving along the coast to Hastings and back; earning it the “Second Battle of Hastings”. In the end, the police had to charge on to the beach and make hundreds of arrests. The bank holiday had begun with tourists and families flocking to the coast but ended with them ‘fleeing for their lives’ as Mods and Rockers turned the beach into a battlefield.
The Rockers were Elvis-loving leather-clad bikers. Usually older than Mods, in their 20s and 30s, their subculture had been around longer, rooted in 1950s Teddy Boy culture.
Then came the Mods… who despite being previously outnumbered by the rockers, by 1964, had far outnumbered the rival subculture. They wore designers suits, rode Vespa and Lambretta scooters and listened to the music of soul and jazz musicians. The older and tougher rockers looked down on the younger mods, comparing their scooters to a girls’ hairdryers and mocked their fancy clean cut style.
Newspapers the confrontation as being of “disastrous proportions”, and labelled mods and rockers as “internal enemies” in the UK who would “bring about disintegration of a nation’s character” and “surge and flame like a forest fire”.
It’s alleged that the media used faked interviews with supposed rockers such called “Mick the Wild One”, to get mileage from incidents that were unrelated to mod-rocker violence. When they ran out of real brawls to report, newspapers would publish deceptive headlines with”violence” in the title, even if the article reported that there was no violence at all. The media also regularly pointed to these two youth cultures on the topics of teen pregnancy and drugs. So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed this little window into Brighton’s past…
Pssst. Read about Quadrophenia Alley in my new guidebook, Secret Brighton.