** Spoiler Alert **
This part touches on, among other things, the Profumo affair, which will have a profound impact on Reggie’s view of the world – and how he comports himself – in the fourth book in this series (working title Someone, Someone) due out in early 2017.
** Another Spoiler Alert **
Between 1966 and 1968, as we’ll see in the series’ seventh and eighth novels, our (now teenaged) hero, Reggie Stone, will also be adopting Edwardian dress, with Wild West Dandy and Mississippi River Gambler thrown in for good measure. But although he will draw on his Uncle Roddy’s Teddy Boy experience for pointers, his motivation for doing so (to say nothing of his attitudes and the look of his hair) will be far more influenced by San Francisco bands like The Charlatans, pictured above, and the Beau Brummels. More on them in this article, too.
** End of Spoiler Alerts **
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
- Philip Larkin, Annus Mirabilis
I’m not a big fan of Larkin, as a rule, but I find this above verse rather droll. Better, for our purposes here, it sets parameters of a wonderful timeline that paved the way for the downfall of the very gang of posh-boys who, in their hubris, had attempted to act as cultural ayatollahs, whilst doing their best to keep everyone in his or her place. This was the gang who’d ensured that nearly everyone on all but the uppermost strata stayed economically oppressed. Let me back up a moment and provide some context. 1959 must have looked like dark days indeed for the Teds.
The very government that had left the poor of Notting Hill – white and black – with high unemployment (and much of what there was low paid) and with cramped and substandard housing, refused to do anything about it, had been returned to power. They had beat the Teds into submission in the aftermath of a riot fueled by this failure, scapegoating them when they knew the Teds did not start it (but which it knew lacked the organization and resources to defend itself). The government well knew Mosley and his neo-Nazis were the real instigators, but also knew that they were well organized and backed by Mosley’s personal fortune as well as that of his second wife, Lady Diana Mitford, and prepared to fight back.
The craven Tory regime behind this hubris, cowardice and repression received a landslide majority of over 100 seats in the House of Commons. Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan basked in the glow of a near-landslide election victory with a majority of over 100 in the House of Commons. Political cartoonists called him “Supermac;” political writers became addicted to using the adjective “unflappable” – rather past the point of cliché – in their portrayals of him.
Suave, sophisticated, polished, refined – and quite diabolically hardhearted and ruthless when he felt his patrician enclosure threatened - he seemed scarcely threatened by a nearly dead Liberal party and a Labour party wracked by a fratricidal conflict between moderates and hardliners, not least over the issue of nuclear disarmament. It looked as if “Supermac” would be staying in control for the indefinite future.
Meanwhile, on the sartorial level, it looked like the beginning of the end of the Teddy Boy as arbiter of alternative fashion. Young men began to wear suits with short, boxy jackets (known colloquially as “bum-freezers”), tapered knife-edge trousers, waistcoats, with white button-down shirts and thin or crossover ties, ideally with matching handkerchief (in a move not dissimilar to the clip-on tie, it was usually a white card with a bit of cloth on a the end, slipped into the top left hand pocket of the jacket).
The Edwardian look was soon considered passé. But “Supermac” wasn’t at all invincible, and the Edwardian look wasn’t yet extinct. There was rising discontent in the country – even within the Conservative party – over the U.K.’s lackluster postwar economic performance. Japan and Germany were booming, while Britain’s moribund, hidebound economy had been plagued by inflation, stagnation and labor relations bordering on draconian. Belatedly, the government lumbered toward an application to join the European Economic Community, universally known as the Common Market, but the U.K. was becoming increasingly less than captivated by a coterie of ministers who seemed to represent a bygone age.
And what looked like a harbinger of doom for the Teddy Boys turned out to be a prelude to the Mods – a group that, like the Rockers, turned out to be a haven of sorts for Teds, after all. And it was in this context that the shibboleths of this bygone age began to fall. The first, in fact, was the Chatterly ban. In August 1960 Penguin books was prosecuted for publishing one of D.H. Lawrence's lesser works, Lady Chatterley's Lover, notable only for its use of the f-word and some ludicrous sex scenes. The U.S, Federal Court of Appeals, in its own lifting of the Chatterley ban a year earlier, gave the book the backhanded praise of saying it wasn’t utterly without redeeming social importance.
The U.K. trial was as ludicrous as the book - at one stage the jurors were invited to consider whether they would be happy for their “wives and servants” to read such a book. Penguin was given the permission to publish, and the initial print run (200,000 copies) sold out on 10 November, the day of issue, at the then rather stiff price of three shillings, six pence.
Several more sensations were to unfold before - to follow Larkin's timeline - the Beatles’ first LP. 1961 saw the first publication of a little magazine, trying to revive an age-old tradition of political and social satire, called Private Eye. In the same year, and the same spirit, a group of Cambridge graduates - Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller - brought their irreverent revue, Beyond the Fringe, to London's West End. In July 1962, after several byelection defeats for the Tories, a desperate “Supermac” became Mac the Ripper. In what was came to be called the “night of the long knives,” he abruptly gutted a third of the entire cabinet - sacking and replacing seven senior ministers - in one of the most ruthless political purges in a modern democracy
Meanwhile, Labour was reinventing itself as the party of change, with Harold Wilson – only a year older than John F. Kennedy – the leadership heir-apparent. He was a pragmatic leftist leader of a new generation of Labour leaders – George Brown, Jim Callaghan, Denis Healey – who looked to address past problems and future challenges, not blindly implement ideology. Satire also burst out on television in 1962, with the late night show That Was The Week That Was, (“TW3” to its aficionados). It thrived on comedy that deflated and demystified sex, religion, royalty - and politics – in a way that they hadn’t been rubbished since The Goon Show, but now less gently, attracting a colossal audience of some 12 million viewers.
And by 1962, the Mods had come into their own, although they wouldn’t be in full flower until 1964. They seemed to be the opposition British youth culture to the Rockers, although, like the Rockers, they had roots with the Teddy Boys, even if they initially deliberately set out not to reflect those roots. They were another working class movement typified by wearing of tailormade suits with narrow lapels (sometimes made of mohair), thin ties, button-down collar shirts, cashmere or wool jumpers (crewneck or V-neck), Chelsea (“Beatle”) boots, loafers, desert boots, bowling shoes, and hairstyles that imitated the look of French Nouvelle Vague film actors.
A few male Mods were bold enough to use eye shadow, eye-pencil, even lipstick. Mods chose scooters over motorbikes, partly because they symbolized Italian style and party because their body panels concealed moving parts, making them less likely to stain clothes with oil or road dust. Many wore military parkas while driving scooters in order to keep their clothes clean.
Toward the end of 1962, there was a surge of interest in a new group - they weren’t yet called bands - from Liverpool. It wasn’t so much their music that caught the public eye at first (their first single, Love Me Do, barely scraped into the Top 20), but rather their long hair. By 1963, the novelty became a national craze, and the Beatles were on their way to their first LP. Meanwhile, where did this leave the Teddy Boys? One shouldn’t get the impression that they’d completely died out. Even hard-core unapologetic hard liners could be found - looking little different than they had in the 1950s - mostly working around traveling Fairgrounds, where they’d found acceptance and a home, of sorts.
But most Teds had adopted aspects – that usually included Edwardrian ones – of Mod or Rocker culture. Not that the Mod and Rocker cultures were outside the crosshairs of the new centurions and cultural ayatollahs of the media and mainstream society who reported that a few skirmishes between the groups represented a blood feud that was going to turn at any moment into full scale war throughout the U.K.
But no one’s heart was really in the story – not with the bigger one that was looming on the horizon – a scandal more sensational than any in modern British politics, that would bring down the Tories and their mean-spirited, oppressive policies, and unexpectedly rocket Labour – already on the ascent – into control.
Even today, nothing gets attention like ministers and other public figures are caught with their pants down. In 1963, the very notion was deeply, deliciously shocking. It was still mostly a pre-pill, pre-promiscuity age, when unmarried pregnancy was a matter not only of deep personal shame, but of shame for the entire family, and back-alley abortionists did a land office business. The tabloid newspapers were already brazen, but still largely polite. But when the storm broke, it wasn’t simply driven by sex; there was a rank stench of treachery.
For months, rumors had circulated about the private life of John Dennis Profumo, secretary of state for war. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, he was the quintessential high Tory, who’d achieved cabinet rank after serving in a number of junior posts. He was married to film star Valerie Hobson, and moved effortlessly in the highest levels of society. Initially, the deferential spirit of the 1950s had restricted the rumors may to drawing room gossip. But then, TW3 scored a coup with a fabulous parody of an old music hall number, She was Poor but She was Honest.
The parody’s words went: “See him in the House of Commons / Making laws to put the blame / While the object of his passion / Walks the streets to hide her shame.” The lyrics could well have related to the entire scapegoating hubris of the Tories for a number of years preceding, and maybe that’s why they resonated so well, but the specific “object of his passion” in this instance was a young woman whose name has become iconic in the epic of 20th Century U.K. politics: Christine Keeler.
Keeler, unlike Profumo, had led an exceedingly indifferent life. Born in 1942, she’d left home at 16, after an unhappy childhood in the Thames Valley; she’d been drawn to London and found work - of a sort - at a cabaret club. She met, and became friends with, another showgirl, Marilyn “Mandy” Rice-Davies, two years her junior. Although little more than girls, both young women soon drifted into the racy circle around Stephen Ward, a man who, after a colorful youth, had picked up a medical degree in the U.S. and practiced medicine there, then returned to the U.K., where he became a fashionable West End osteopath and socialite.
By his own admission, Ward liked “pretty girls” and was “sensitive to their needs,” which translated as loaning them money and giving them a place to stay. Keeler's relationship with Ward was both torrid and rocky. They broke up several times, and she had a series of men on the side, but he seemed to exercise an almost centripetal force on her, and always she drifted back. Soon, Keeler and Rice-Davies were circulating in more exalted milieu, including Lord Astor's country mansion of Cliveden (now a hotel).
It was at there that Profumo first laid eyes on Keeler. Legend has it he spotted her at a wild party in 1961, as she climbed naked out of a pool. A brief but passionate affair ensued; tongues began to wag. It wasn't until ten days before Christmas 1962 that the starting gun - literally - sounded for the press frenzy that followed. Keeler had walked out on another one of her boyfriends, a smalltime hustler named Johnny Edgecombe, who tracked her to Ward’s Wimpole Mews flat where she’d sought refuge. He fired several shots at Ward's front door, opening the floodgates.
Even then, it might have been brushed under the carpet in the time-honored English way, but Profumo made a fundamental error: He lied to the House of Commons. In March 1963, he told the chamber that there was “no impropriety whatever” in his relationship with Keeler. Ten weeks later he appeared before MPs again to say “with deep remorse” that he had misled the House,. He resigned on 5 June 1963. What brought Profumo down even more than lying to the House of Commons, was the startling revelation that Keeler had also slept with Yevgeny Ivanov, a dapper naval attaché at the Soviet embassy – and a Soviet spy.
Keeler claimed that she delivered envelopes to Ivanov from Ward at bridge games. She's also said that Ward asked her to extract information from Profumo on the movement of nuclear warheads. That detail led to parliamentary inquiries, telephone taps authorised by Scotland Yard and an FBI investigation codenamed “Operation Bowtie.” In the U.K., Profumo's disgrace naturally resulted in an enormous uproar, and the Tory establishment, having learned nothing about the way recent trends had now altered the public consciousness, immediately set out to find itself another scapegoat.
As with the Teddy Boys after the Notting Hill riots, official wrath was turned on those least able to defend themselves. Stephen Ward was prosecuted for living on immoral earnings. No one was convinced by the pantomime, but it finished off Ward, all the same. On the final day of his trial, he committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping tablets.
Christine Keeler was tried and imprisoned on similar charges, whilst Mandy Rice-Davies escaped prosecution, becoming iconic herself when, during the Ward trial, she was told that Lord Astor disputed her version of events and replied: “He would, wouldn't he?” To this day, MRDA on the internet stands for “Mandy Rice-Davies Applies” – and intended as a reply indicative of a belief that someone advancing a proposition is only furthering an agenda and that the remark has no credibility.
The Profumo affair was no passing sensation. It all but brought down the Macmillan government and it almost certainly finished Macmillan himself as prime minister. In October 1963 the prime minister resigned citing ill health. The press, having registered so much disgust at the aristocrats who’d generated and/or tried to cover up this fiasco, focused a new found a new-found affection on the working class in general, and four cheeky but charming lads from Liverpool collectively calling themselves The Beatles, in particular. There was enough of a glow for everyone - even Mods and Rockers with hints of an Edwardian look - and there was a general “hands off” attitude towards all but their most egregious conduct.
The downfall of the powers who’d oppressed the working glass in general – and alternative types like the Teddy Boys in particular – would be complete within the following year. The Tory mandarins - known as “the magic circle” - continued to prove that they’d learned nothing. There were no party elections in those days and, desperate to keep out Rab Butler, from the moderate/liberal wing of the party, who might have given the Tories a fighting chance and was the obvious choice for successor as interim party leader, handpicked Sir Alec Douglas-Home, an Old Etonian, cricket-loving laird. Labour drummed home the slogan “13 wasted years” again and again; it found resonance with an electorate who knew they’d been had, and were now were living in a new age, one that was no longer represented by the Tory old guard who had propelled an earl into Downing Street.
Harold Wilson became Prime Minister and the hubris of the old guard – for the moment at least – was at bay. The Teddy Boys, Teddy Girls and Judies never did return in their original form – but then again, neither did anything else from the 1950s. As Mods became victims of their own success, and too many “wannabes” became obsessed with fashion labels, a number of the old guard began to look elsewhere for inspiration. This included the psychedelia coming out of San Francisco, which, in bands like the Beau Brummels (pictured on the next page) and the Charlatans had a surprising reliance on an Edwardian look harkening back to the Teddy Boys.
The Charlatans in particular influenced psychedelia, at least in terms of its design and attitude. In the mid-1960s, they regularly commuted between San Francisco and Virginia City to perform (most people don’t know that, in the very beginning of psychedelia, Virginia City was as much a Mecca of the scene as San Francisco was). They were certainly was first band to play live under the influence of LSD (albeit inadvertently: They had already dropped the acid when they got word at the last minute that they’d have to go on).
What had The Charlatans – or the Beau Brummels, first successful band of the “San Francisco sound” - to do with Teddy Boys? Who knows? The bands tended to be well-read, and likely knew of them (the waistcoats, velvet on the cuffs and collars and Maverick ties on the Beau Brummels seems too eerie a similarity to Former Mod groups Twice as Much (left) and The Poets (right) taking on aspects of Edwardian looks ca. 1968. be mere coincidence). The Edwardian look itself was one of a time when people were emerging from the velvet-gloved iron fist of the Victorian age.
For all its surface formality, it is a look of liberation, one screaming, “rebel” to any stuck in colorless, featureless mass conformity. Always has. Always will. Perfect for kicking off nascent youth culture in the staid, conservative U.K. of the early 1950s, and revive it in the shapeless, confining U.S. of the early 1960s. Rest assured that it - and the spirit that goes with it - will return again, the next time society becomes both too hidebound, too repressed and too repressive.