Wednesday, 27 August 2008


As Britain edged it's way out of post-war austerity the Soho area of London danced to a sound of modern jazz as London teenagers mixed with black GI's from the American air bases in Cambridgeshire at clubs such as The Flamingo, The Mapleton and The Lyceum.

From these routes the modernist scene emerged developed into the early 60's and is still alive and well today. They were young men and women in various cities and towns throughout the country that were in love with the American style. They loved soul music and the Ivy League look of America. Wing-tip brogues, Sta Prest trousers and Brooks Brothers shirts. John Simons opened Clothesville in Hackney, East London and then The Ivy Shop in Richmond in the early sixties. They are arguably the most influential menswear shop this country has seen and continues to trade to this day at J. Simons in Covent Garden. During the early days of The Ivy Shop there was another scene that was developing in Carnaby Street.

The press and media eventually caught on to this as Simons said in February 2005: "It was Clothesville and the Ivy Shop that defined the mod look.
"We had working class guys coming down from the East End and West London who were influenced by American culture, clothes and music.
"By the time the Carnaby Street mods had hit the news the main characters had moved on."

As R&B bands such as The Who gave patronage to the Carnaby Street mods it was the events on Brighton Beach that alerted the media to this new trend amongst youngsters.

However there had been disturbances earlier at Clacton.

As the academic Cohen said in his seminal book Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers 30th Anniversary Edition: “The one that was to set the pattern for all the others and give the phenomenon its distinctive shape, was not Brighton, but Clacton, a small holiday resort on the east coast of England.

"It has never been as affluent and popular as Brighton and has traditionally become the gathering place for tougher adolescents from the East End and north-eastern suburbs of London."

Although the events at Clacton were recorded in the Daily Mirror of 30 March 1964 it had been ignored by most and it wasn’t until it entered the lives of the wealthy inhabitants of Brighton in May 1967 that it was reported in the mass media.

It may be argued that the reporting of these events was another case of the media introducing the concept of moral panic as they worked in collusion with the police and society to include moral panic in the general hegemony.

The press and television had no excuse for in 1959 Colin MacInnes published what was to become one of the greatest cult novels of our time: Absolute Beginners. MacInnes recorded events in the capital during 1958 through the eyes of a teenage photographer. From hence on it can be seen that people are chronicling events of teenagers - and nearly always working-class teenagers - but it is mainly from the left field. Few pick up on events at the time but are later embrace the music film and writing by which time as John Simons says: "The main characters had moved on."

By 1969 these "characters" had moved on as the lifestyle of this particular type of working class male had moved onto what the media were to christen skinheads. They again had been slow to jump onto the scene and again they only focused on the negative aspects of the latest cult. Skinheads were portrayed as racist thugs ignoring the fact that much of the image was taken from Jamaican immigrants and the music that was popular was the early reggae sounds emanating from that island.
Away from the press the movement was rarely chronicled in other areas of the media. The pulp books of Richard Allen: Skinhead, Suedehead and others were eagerly consumed by schoolboys but received no critical acclaim.
Ironically the books are now being reassessed and original copies are changing hands on auction sites for large sums.

By the end of the seventies and with the country in economic turmoil the musical revolution that was Punk Rock captured the media's attention. The movement was embraced by people from all classes yet away from this a new exclusively working class, exclusively male tribe emerged. And it emerged in Liverpool; that most political city that likes to stand apart from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Gangs of young men began travelling abroad to watch Liverpool Football Club in the European Cup competition and over the next few years began bringing items of European sportswear, especially training shoes, that were unavailable in the United Kingdom. A code of dressing developed as fashions changed on an almost weekly basis.

As this was the first youth movement that was exclusively based around football the various styles traversed the country as various football teams’ supporters visited other towns and cities. Styles differed between towns yet the defining factor was that, even though numbers were growing, many people including the media were unaware of what was happening under their noses as young men bought (or acquired) expensive sportswear and designer wear.

The eighties heralded a much more “savvy” media as magazines such as The Face, Blitz and ID emerged to commentate on the burgeoning New Romantic scene. The Face that was launched by Nick Logan’s Wagadon company in May 1980 is often looked upon as the “80s fashion bible” and while there is no doubt it was closer to the mindset of the youth it again fell short when reporting trends among working class males.

It wasn't until The Face's Issue 22 of 1983 that they addressed the topic: a full five years after the early stirrings on the streets of Liverpool and other towns and cities in the north west of England. The newspapers were unaware of this underground culture and were genuinely amazed when Millwall supporters in designer clothes attacked the police at Luton in 1985.

By then the early protagonists in Liverpool were listening to Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa and clothing wise had "scruffed down": denim shirts, desert boots, tweed and wax jackets. Money that a few years earlier was spent on clothes was now being spent on music and drugs - as Phil Thornton recalled in Casuals.

This cult - that has no name - continues to this day.

By looking at this particular strain of working class males over the last fifty years it can be seen that this never-ending, always changing world of clothes, music and an occasional penchant for violence passes from one generation to another. The dress codes are passed by word of mouth. To the outsider there is no logic on why skinheads wore Dr Marten boots or why the label-obsessed football fans appropriated old English clothing companies such as Aquascutum and Barbour. And there is no bigger outsider than the media!

This section of the general public is rarely reported at the time and each era is only generally reported favourably when the participants at the time have entered their 30s or 40s and themselves have positions within the media. It is almost exclusively reported retrospectively. If it isn't then it is always the negative aspects that are reported. Hence mods - in the mainstream media's view - will always be seen fighting rockers on the beach at Brighton, skinheads will be racist thugs and football casuals - as they are known - will always be hooligans. The fact that many men - now in their 60s continue to live a modernist lifestyle with no ill-effects is ignored. Rare Jamaican reggae and northern soul vinyl exchange hands for extortionate amounts and the person stood next to you in the pub is probably wearing at least one item of designer clothing.

As for the future with the advent of the internet the reporting may be more instant. Whether it will be accurately reported is up to question. With hoodies and ASBOs being the latest folk devils and Shameless a television ratings success it may appear that things are merging together a little quicker. However Shameless first hit the screens in 2004 while the critically-acclaimed novel - that hugely influences Shameless creator Paul Abbott - Low Life by Mike Duff was published in 2000.

The film of Low Life is currently in development. It will be interesting to see when it is completed and how the book will be covered.

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