By 1964, the majority of British youth was split into two factions called Mods and Rockers who each dressed in their own distinctive style.
Mods were the smarter of the two and wore sharp lightweight suits or smart jackets over polo necks or Fred Perry shirts. They were originally an exclusive group of fashion-conscious men, but by 1963 the term ‘Mod’ had taken on a much looser meaning and could be applied to most tailored youth fashions of the period.
The Mods built a complete subculture around themselves, their fashions, their musical tastes and their prejudices. Scooters, amphetamine pills (taken by the dozen to keep awake through the weekend), US army parka jackets, pork pie hats, and short feminine hairstyles were all part of the culture, while for music they turned to West Indian Bluebeat, American soul and the records of a handful of cult British bands that came closest to capturing the narcissistic spirit of Mod.
It was the Mods who gave British pop a definite sense of style in the mid-sixties, dominating the number one pop television show Ready, Steady, Go! and making Carnaby Street the centre of hip young fashion long before the colour supplements discovered it.
The Rockers wore winklepicker shoes, tight jeans and leather jackets with polished studs. They rode large motorcycles such as Triumphs, BSA’s and Norton’s – and had a greater affinity with motorbike grease than a tailor’s measuring tape.
Their rivalry often spilt over into violence. Every Saturday night the Mods and the Rockers would dress with great care, groom their hair so that not a strand was out of place, go out on the town and beat the shit out of each other.
The 1964 holiday weekend clashes in resort towns such as Margate, Clacton and Brighton on the south coast terrorised local residents and outraged much of the nation.
In May 1964, most major southern seaside resort in England were turned into a battlefield by the warring factions.
Worst hit was Brighton where over 600 youths had to be controlled and 76 were arrested. The violence, which included fistfights, bottle and stone-throwing and general vandalism, terrified holidaymakers engulfed by the chaos.
51 youths were also arrested in Margate, where two teenagers were stabbed.
A 22-year-old from Blackheath was treated to this widely-quoted harangue from the Chairman of the Margate bench, Mr George Simpson:
“It is not likely that the air of this town has even been polluted by hordes of hooligans, male and female, such as we have seen this weekend, and of whom you are an example. These long-haired, mentally unstable, petty little sawdust Caesars seem to find courage like rats by hunting only in packs”.
The man’s offence, according to the police, was that ‘while running with a group of youths, he knocked into a fruit stall’. He was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
By August 1964, the words ‘Mod’ and ‘Rocker’ were widely known outside the UK, if not understood.