“Cinemas, dance halls and other places of entertainment in South east London are closing their doors to youths in ‘Edwardian’ suits because of gang hooliganism…The ban, which week by week is becoming more generally applied, is believed by the police to be one of the main reasons for the extension of the area in which fights with knuckle dusters, coshes, and similar weapons between bands of teenagers can now be anticipated…In cinemas, seats have been slashed with razors and had dozens of meat skewers stuck into them” (The Daily Mail announces the birth of Teds, 27.4.54)
“A night out with the Teds was generally a good crack – sometimes some violence, some vomit on the carpet, but generally a rock’n’roll party” photographer Chris Steele-Perkins told the Observer. In 1976 he went on Teddy Boy safari, jostling his way through the drape jackets of Old Kent Road and into a rockabilly backwater.
This was the same ground where the original bad boys crawled from the grim ruins of blitz. They had been London’s original 50s ‘folk-devils’; vicar-scaring lads in Edwardian suits – a post-war aberration that hijacked Savile Row fashion and cultivated it with a quiff, flick knife, violent riots and rock n’ roll. By 1976 it was hemmed in by Mods, Rockers, the loom of punk.
“I wasn’t a Ted” said Steele-Perkins “but it was easy enough to fit in. I was the bloke who took photographs”. Despite threats of Teddy extinction, between a watershed 60s and volatile 70s, the resurgent scene was as virile as ever. The Adam and Eve and The Black Raven rattled with Bill Haley, Nancy Whiskey, Billy Fury. And the legendary Flying Saucers and Crazy Cavan played The Castle, blew the ceiling. It was enough to make any skewer-fearing cinema seat roll a mile.
While the 70s are occasionally maligned now by Teds as “the bad days when Showaddywaddy took the mickey, took their drape jackets and turned them into kitsch day-glo fun” (from the definitive Edwardian Teddy Boy) – their spirit is incarnate in Steele-Perkins’ photos of jive-pianist ‘Fingers’ Lee, Tongue-Tied Danny, Fifties Flash, The Adam and Eve, The Castle, other pubs where Teds emerged from the woodwork – along with their new blood.
“At the Black Raven pub in Bishopsgate, on Friday nights, it’s as if the 1960′s had never been” reads an article from The Sunday Times, 1970. “The bar is filled with men wearing the classic costume of the historic Teddy Boys: drapes, crepes and bootlace ties. Deafening music from the juke-box insists on the simple beat of early rock ‘n’ roll”. Black Raven proprieter Bob Acland told the Sunday Times: “The Teds aren’t a broken army, all gone down a hole like rats.”
“Half-a-dozen just happened to walk in” said Acland, on the beginnings of the Ted revival in The Black Raven. “Some of them was original Teds, some was the younger brothers of Teds who remembered the good old days. The word got round – I don’t waste money advertising”.
“From 1976, if you were living in England, it was hard to keep track of the sheer number of rockabilly reissues that started to appear” recalled Max Décharné, in Rocket in My Pocket. “Chiswick Records had put out Vince Taylor’s ‘Brand New Cadillac‘, and when the same company started the Ace label they gave the world another chance to hear all kinds of fine items, like ‘Tennessee Rock‘ by Hoyt Scoggins & The Saturday Night Jamboree Boys”.
“Of course, in 1977 punks and Teds were supposed to be knocking hell out of each other, and many of them were, but I was seventeen that year and spent much of it buying the likes of Gene Vincent alongside records by The Clash, and Sonny Burgess at the same time as Richard Hell and the Void-Oids. It all sounded as though it came from the same three-chord rock n’ roll spirit as far as I was concerned. Not everyone agreed.”
A gauge of the times was Malcolm McLaren’s 1971 Kings Road ‘Let it Rock’ shop, stocking original fifties clothing. In 1974 the name of the shop had changed to ‘Sex’ – famously magnetising a clutch of ‘street urchins’ and alchemising (according to McLaren) into punk. In 1977 the store became known as ‘Seditionaries’ and the transformation was complete. A few items of Teddy Boy gear hanging between fetish wear, outrageous T-shirts and leather.
“I remember going to see X-Ray Specs in 1977. When we left the building a sizeable number of local Teds – full grown men at least a decade older than us – were waiting across the street looking to batter some punks” writes Décharné. “There’s no room in circumstances like that trying to explain how many Eddie Cochran albums you’ve got at home”.
“The Teds were different from the Punks in that there was so many ages” says John Lydon in No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish. “There was the older lot, all the dads, along with younger kids. The Punk thing was very young. It was like going out and fighting old men, kind of ridiculous really’. While still Johnny Rotten, Lydon had occasionally dressed in the full Ted regalia – convincingly enough to cross lines unmolested for a drink at The Roxy. “One week I looked like a complete Teddy Boy. I used to enjoy quaffing my hair up. Teddy Boys were the enemy. Therefore they interested me”.
“I do remember someone going on and on about how he was going to ‘get that Ted at the bar’” said Fiona Dutton of Roxygoer, “who was in fact Johnny Rotten. He hadn’t recognised him’ .
A more productive battle came to a head on Saturday 15th May 1976. A five-thousand-strong mass of Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls from around the UK assaulted Central London, marching onto the BBC in a national campaign for more Rock n Roll to be played on the radio; numbers rallied by the lack of authentic Rock n Roll on the airwaves.
The march swarmed onto the BBC Broadcasting House and, in a move that would have made Mahatma Gandhi proud, peacefully submitted a petition and taped pilot Rock ‘n’ Roll show. Their caravan was a success. The BBC created a weekly Rock n Roll Show on Radio 1 late on Saturday afternoons.
In 2003 Steele-Perkins made an interesting revisit to the Teds from ’76, to find that their biggest enemies hadn’t been the Mods or the punks – but time; cancer, baldness, old age. But for many the fire never went out, only flick knives and turf-war traded for more sartorial conservation, circa 1953 standard. The Edwardian Teddy Boy site says this “involves the wearing of Drape jackets with 3″- 4″ lapels, minimum use of velvet apart from the collars and cuffs (or none at all) and 16″ bottom trousers with turn-ups”.
“They form a strange kind of community, but it had been that strange community which first fascinated me all those years ago” said Steele-Perkins. “They have held on to something that was important to them. Kept faith. Those markers that once quickened our youth can still drive our dotage”.
All hail rock n’ roll. What it all comes down to.
Originally published in paperback in 1979, “The Teds” was re-issued in 2003 by Dewi Lewis and can still be found – check out Magnum’s page on the book.