OK, kiddies, the above photo is from the Notting Hill riots, and I have a fun game for you to play. It’s my own version of Where’s Waldo™ called Where’s Teddy. Now there are blokey looking chaps all around, but Teddy Boys? Hmmmmm…. Well, there is that natty chappie in the foreground, lying in the street.
But the hair seems a trifle short, the cut of the trousers is wrong, there’s no waistcoat – and those shoes … he might just be a guy in a business suit. Then again, he might be a Ted that the camera caught at a bad angle. Let’s put him down as a definite maybe.
See any others? There’s one other possibility. See him? He’s by the third window from the right. I’ve blown up that portion a little; he’s not very clear, I admit. But is that a Teddy style shirt collar? Is he wearing a jacket, or a jumper? It might be a Teddy collar extending over a jacket.
Or it might be someone in a jumper whose collar got turned up. So there you have it: Two definite maybes – neither of them taking a particularly aggressive stance. See any others? I don’t. But that can’t be right. After all, everybody knows – because our beloved mainstream press has told us so for over 50 years – that the Notting Hill riots were caused by gangs of racist Teddy Boys. So where are they? Is it possible that the press fabricated that portion of the story?
Or, more likely, that they simply went along with official findings of a sitting Tory government that the Teddy Boys, as a homogenous group of racist working-class youth, were responsible for the riots – a revised finding after their initial finding that the riots as the work of “ruffians, both coloured and white” was completely debunked. The reality was quite different. Yes, there were racists amongst the Teddy Boys – but not much more so than the percentage pervading British society generally. Many whites believed at the time that newly arrived Black immigrants from the Caribbean were stealing British jobs and housing, and were refusing to adapt to the “British way of life” (haven’t we heard a refrain like this rather recently? Someone named Nigel, I think?) .
In fact, Teddy boys and Judies were of all political stripes. There were even communist Teddy boys, known as “Red Teds,” working with elements of the Black Caribbean community in solidarity against a Tory government’s willful failure to meet, or even address, the needs of the working classes.
This fact, inconsistent as it is with the official narrative, has been willfully swept under the carpet, although its existence is acknowledged by Communist groups in the U.K. But reds and racists were both miniscule Teddy Boy factions – most Teds were apolitical. Many Teddy Boys frequented the premises of Clifford Fullerton, a Black Caribbean tailor on Talbot Road, North Kensington, who created many of their outfits, and were on cordial terms with both him and his Black Caribbean friends and customers.
But what about photos, like the famous one at left, depicting Teds and Judies on the run from police during the Notting Hill riots? That’s just it – they’re on the run, not attacking anyone (notice the kid in the foreground at right – he can’t be over nine or ten years old; what was he supposedly doing – taking on police or Caribbean grown men, like some latter day Gavroche?).
“But why are they all out there in the streets in the first place,” you ask? Maybe because they lived there, and they’re out on the streets because they had nowhere else to go.
The Notting Hill of the 1950s was a far cry from the chi-chi neighborhoods full of bourgeois bohemians it is today. It was largely a place of dirty streets and decrepit, overcrowded tenements. In fact, there have always been two Notting Hills: The well-heeled south end, with its gleaming Victorian town houses, and the rundown north.
The latter was a full world of bookies’ runners working street corners, of milkmen collecting bets as a sideline and of rag and bone men in horse-drawn carts. It was where entire families sometimes lived in one or two rooms in with no bathrooms and outside toilets, with a wash once a week at Silchester Baths.
It was having a sugar sandwich for tea, gas lit streets and smog so thick you could barely see where you were going. Illegal gambling and drinking dens, called “spiels and afters,” surfaced faster than “old Bill” could shut them down. Everyone was related to everyone else by blood or marriage, with the clannish allegiances that invariably arise from such circumstances. It’s all gone now, sponged away from the landscape by slum clearance, and purged from memory by stipulated collective amnesia – but it was very much alive in the 1950s.
Carthaginian solution to follow. This meant a dual strategy of suppression and marginalization. We’ve already discussed the suppression, with “Teddy squads” and all. Marginalisation needed private sector cooperation to succeed, but that cooperation was largely forthcoming. Youths wearing Edwardian dress were systematically banned from youth clubs and dance halls, sometimes from cinemas, cafes – even fish & chip shops.
So what else did Teddies and Judies have left but the neighbourhood streets? Meanwhile, by thumbing their noses, in essence, by asserting their independence from those demanding unquestioning acquiescence, Teddies attracted an opposing contingent who insisted that Authority (with a capital “A”) questioned is, or ought it to be, not only victorious, but triumphant. Those who dare question, much less rebel, must not only be defeated, but ground into the dirt.