“Here’s a recipe for a riot; take a group of Teddy Boys who are bored to death with the Welfare State, expose them to the wild rhythms of ‘rock’n’roll,’ then turn them loose. “The result is the worst wave of hooliganism that Britain has known since the war, and all of it touched off by the American film ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in which the new dance craze is introduced. Teddy Boys, a Teddy Girl and a couple of Judies gathered around the jukebox listening to rock’n’roll.
“More than a hundred British youth, including teenage girls, have been arrested in connection with the ‘rock’n’roll’ riots and the end is not in sight. “In Manchester, Teddy Boys turned fire hoses on the cinema manager who tried to prevent them from climbing onto the stage and jiving in front of the screen. “In Woolrich, a crowd of 2,000 chanting ‘rock’n’roll!’ marched through the main streets. They halted traffic and beat out the savage rhythm on the sides of motorcars … while in London, tough Elephant & Castle District teenagers hurled bottles at police who tried to break up the rioting.
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[The reporter went to watch the reaction of Teddy Boys, Teddy Girls and Judies to rock’n’roll for himself, during a screening at Trocadero cinema in Elephant & Castle]
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“The program began peacefully enough. Newsreels of the Suez crisis met with stony silence, but when the title – ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – flashed on the screen, it was greeted by the teenage battle cry of ‘Doing.’ Then the music came roaring like an express train through a tunnel, ‘One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock ROCK.’
“The audience hurled back the words, stomping their feet, clapping their hands, beginning to twitch in their seats. Then one youth, bolder than the rest, took out into the aisle in a solo dance. “Whenever the music stopped in order to fill out the film’s plot they hissed and booed, and when the music started again the shouts all but drowned it. I left the Trocadero with only the haziest notion of what the film was about.”
- Daily Reporter 15 May 1957
Teddy Boys, Teddy Girls and Judies embraced Rock 'n' Roll made it their own. The government, the police and the media were outraged and the film was subsequently banned from many cinemas. The media jumped on this phenomenon, placing the new rock 'n' roll music and the Teddy Boys at the centre of all the rioting. It confirmed the pre-conception of many members of the establishment that Teddy Boys were in fact Juvenile Delinquents and that rock’n’roll was the music of social outcasts.
That they went crazy over the rock music roaring out of the double feature of Rock Around the Clock and Blackboard Jungle should have come as no surprise to anyone with even a remote concept of what was happening in the world of British teenagers and young adults. Bill Haley & the Comets had done a whirlwind tour of the U.K. in February, March and April of 1957.
They were mobbed so badly at Waterloo Station that the press referred to it as “the second battle of Waterloo.” Others, less demonstrative, were nevertheless devoted (Graham Trocadero Cinema, Elephant & Castle, London Nash, for one, is said to still carry his ticket from Haley’s Manchester concert).
Granted Haley, over 30, overweight, his best days already behind him in the U.S., was an unlikely candidate for such adulation. But Haley did have twelve hit records in the U.K. by then. With the exceptions of Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis, American rock’n’rollers rarely toured the U.K. in the 1950s (Col. Tom Parker, everyone’s favourite Dutch uncle, saw to it that Elvis never toured outside the U.S., aside from a handful of dates in Canada in 1957 – apparently concerned that his own status as an illegal alien would be exposed if Elvis did).
It caused some skiffle groups on the fringes of the Teds, the Quarrymen among them, to consider a transition from skiffle to rock (Paul McCartney, legend has it, was admitted to the Quarrymen by John Lennon based on his ability to play Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock). When Cochran himself toured the U.K.. from January to April of 1960 (he died in a road accident on the way back to the airport to fly back to the U.S.) the tour turned into something between a spectacle and a phenomenon.
Hordes of British teens (George Harrison, as legend has it, among them) literally followed Eddie from town to town during the tour. Rock music was banned on British radio, but teens picked it up anyway via broadcasts beamed at the U.K. from Radio Luxemburg. Coastal residents picked the broadcasts up more easily and clearly, but even residents of the Midlands could pick it up with a modicum of effort and a great deal more aggravation (as Reggie, Ian, Stan and Rashmi do in The Bluebottle Boys).
Unable to quell the flames of rock’n’roll, the British music industry tried to generate its own safe, homogenized versions of it, doing “covers” of American records, recorded by session musicians and fronted by teen idols such as Tommy Steele and Wee Willie Harris.
TV shows such as “Six-Five Special” and “Oh Boy!” were generated that tried to reduce rock to family style entertainment (think a bunch of Pat Boone and Connie Francis style covers). But the Teds – and everyone else – knew the difference between these and bona-fide rockers. Finally, in 1958, Britain produced its first ‘authentic’ rock and roll song and star, when Cliff Richard & the Drifters (later Shadows) reached number 2 in the charts with Move It. Other homegrown rockers included Billy Fury, Joe Brown, and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, whose 1960 hit song Shakin' All Over became a rock and roll standard.
Though the Teddy Boy culture never completely died out in the 1960s, it did begin to morph and change, ultimately dividing into two antagonistic camps, the Mods (more about them Above: Johnny Kidd & the Pirates (Adam & the Ants, move over). Below: Paul McCartney, John Lennon & George Harrison, looking almost respectable, but still with hints of toned-down latter-day Teds, taken shortly after breakup of the Quarrymen (likely around the time they called themselves” Johnny & the Moondogs,” though quite possibly around the time that they first adopted the name “The Beatles”).
in a later article) and the Rockers. The Rockers continued their fervent love of rock’n’roll music, particularly Gene Vincent, Vince Taylor and Johnny Kid & the Pirates. Actually, two groups of Rockers emerged. The first identified itself with Marlon Brando's character in The Wild One, hanging out in transport cafes, exuding roving romanticism, violence, anti-authoritarianism and anti-domesticity. Their style primarily be composed of jeans, boots and leather jackets, decorated with enamel badges and studs denoting a motorcycle type or local gang.
This second group tended to be more “Teddy Boy” in appearance, except with either light blue jeans or black drainpipe jeans with coloured bottoms and stripes down the outer seam. The remaining Teddy Boys tended to hang around with this latter group, as most remaining Teds were not motorcyclists. Like their Teddy Boy predecessors, both groups of rockers were seen as anti-establishment rebels and “bad boys.” Yet the latter group of Rocker-Teds, as depicted with more casually attired, blue jeaned judies in the photo from the early 1960s, at lower left, seems rather innocuous, almost clean-cut, to us now.
Yet it was perhaps because they could be regarded as either dangerous or innocuous, at the option of the beholder, that this group, more than earlier ones, could be easily adopted by middle class suburban kids. Once that happened, it didn’t matter how the Teddys were depicted in film (as we’ll see the next time). The genii was out of the bottle, proliferating in a half-dozen distinct ways before he could be stopped.