Some Thoughts from the Cappuccino GirlThe Rise and Fall of the Rockers and the ModsSpeeding down the road on her pale blue Triumph 21, Jane turns and stops to join the other bikers at the side of the road. Mick, her boyfriend, is waiting for her. They are part of the Rockers, one of Britain’s youth subculture of the 1960s. They are all going to Clacton to spend Easter weekend at the seaside. It turned out to be a day they would never forget.
Fifty-six years later, Jane recalls what had happened that Easter weekend in 1964. “By the time we arrived at the seaside, Mods had crowded the beach.”
This was the beginning of the infamous ‘Battle of Pier Gap’. The clash between two youth groups, the Rockers and the Mods, would make history on this beach. By the end of the day at Clacton, arrests were made on both sides.
Mary, who was also present at Clacton that day, left the scene on her Vespa after her fellow Mods, boyfriend Jimmy and cousin John, had been arrested. The next morning, she woke up to a media frenzy which shook the country. The papers reported about a youth gang fight on the beach, describing it as the moral decadence of Britain’s future generation. Mary realized that the whole thing was blown out of proportion.
The overwhelming press coverage had turned the Rockers and the Mods into the image of Britain’s ruthless teens. As Mary remembers it, “Some of the things that the papers said happened were true, but most weren’t.”
The Mods were a new breed of British youngsters that emerged after the Rockers during the 1960s. They ditched the loud motorbike, heavy leather jacket, denim, and boots—the ‘50s-rooted culture that the Rockers worshipped—for scooters and continental style attire. Mods danced in R&B and Jazz clubs, while Rockers listened to American ‘50s Rock and Roll. They may have not liked each other, but any clashes were, as Jane described, “harmless compared to England’s backstreet gang fights.”
The series of ‘60’s seaside battles (in Margate, Brighton, Hastings, Bournemouth, and Clacton) were isolated events, each causing minor damage. The media turned the events into something more perhaps because they needed “news” to write about after Britain had rose from its war-torn state. For Jane, this did the damage. She resented the fact that, “ [their]Rebellion against the system was shifted to a gang war problem.”
The Daily Mirror's coverage
Nevertheless, aside from the intention of creating a media sensation, the papers may have been expressing, albeit in a rather exaggerated manner, what at that time appeared frightening to the older, wartime generation: A new generation of teens who are independent and have spending power, and with the military draft abolished, have no responsibility to the country.
The Rockers and Mods were working teens, better educated and some were making more money than their parents. They were able to purchase motorbikes and buy better clothes than their parents. When it came to clothes, the Mod had a distinctive taste, but with a philosophy to go with it.
“It was about individuality,” former Mod, Mary explained, “We didn’t want to be part of the masses, we wanted to be a different working class.” For Mary who is a week shy of her 72nd birthday, the Mods were a symbol of rebellion against the old way of doing things.
Unsurprisingly, the industries welcomed the consumerism of the new generation. The Rockers’ love for big motorbikes resulted in the boom of Britain’s motorcycle industry and the Mods’ love for clothes benefited the fashion industry. Wide media coverage took the Mod look from the streets to the stores. But by this time, for the original Mods, this meant the end of it.
The media and the industries undeniably contributed to the fall of the Rockers and the Mods ‘60s subcultures. “We started from the streets, Mods were underground. It was about freedom. When everybody started dressing the way we did, it was over for me,” Mary, explained. She couldn’t have said it any better.
Note: Mary and Jane are loosely based on real people; Mick, Jimmy, and John are fictitious.
Photo credit: Pinterest, https://www.clactonhistory.co.uk/mods-rockers-1964/