A group of Teddy Boys admire the passing Teddy Girls on Clapham Common 1954.
History of the British Teddy Boy Movement
Teddy Boy Mike waits for his friend Pat on a cleared Bombsite, London 1955.
The origins of the Teddy Boys go back to the late 1940's when Saville Row Tailor's attempted to revive the styles of the reign of King Edward VII, 1901-1910, known as the Edwardian era, into men's fashions. The Teddy Boy fashion of the fifties has its origins in what was an upper class reaction to the austerity imposed by the socialist government in the years following the World War II.
EDWARDIAN STYLE - a photograph from the Tailor and Cutter & Women's Wear, June 23, 1950 with the accompanying text:
"Following on our article concerning the dress of the students up at Oxford, which we printed in our June 9th issue, we show on the right(above) a photograph of Mr. Hugh Street, an Oxford undergraduate who favors the individual in single breasted suits."
"His jacket is generously skirted and button-four with a very short lapel and squarely-cut fronts. Jacket pockets are slanted and are offset by narrow trousers (narrow all the way - not pegged topped) and double breasted waistcoat. The Oxford breeze obliginly blows the left trouser against the Street leg and reveals a fashionable half boot."
Wealthy young men, especially Guards officers adopted, the style of the Edwardian era. At that point in history, the Edwardian era was then just over forty years previous and their grandparents, if not their parents, wore the style the first time around.
Young Oxford undergraduates wearing elements of the neo-Edwardian style in the early 1950's.
The original Edwardian revival was actually far more historically accurate in terms of replicating the original Edwardian era style than the later Teddy Boy style which was a fusion of British Edwardian and American Western styles. Although there had been youth groups with their own dress codes called 'Scuttlers' in 19th century Manchester and Liverpool, Teddy Boys were the first youth group in England to differentiate themselves as teenagers, helping create a youth market.
The neo-Edwardian look worn by an off-duty Guards Officer creted by Saville row Tailors in 1948.
"Originally, the Edwardian suit was introduced in 1950 by a group of Saville Row tailors who were attempting to initiate a new style. It was addressed, primarily, to the young aristocratic men about town. Essentially the dress consisted of a long narrow lapelled, waisted jacket, narrow trousers (but without being 'drainpipes'), ordinary toe-capped shoes, and a fancy waistcoat. Shirts were white with cut-away collars and ties were tied with a 'windsor' knot. Headwear, if worn, was a trilby hat. The essential changes from conventional dress were the cut of the jacket and the dandy waistcoat. Additionally, barbers began offering individual styling, and hair-length was generally longer than conventional short back and sides."
The description above was obtained from the typeset of a picture of the 'authentic' Edwardian dress which was put out by the Tailor and Cutter and printed in the Daily Sketch, 14th November 1953, in order to dissociate the 'authentic' from the working class adoption of the style.
Three smartly dressed Edwardian's.
The emergence of the Working Class Edwardian
The 'Edwardian's' or a least 'The Working Class Edwardian' emerged without much warning ....... There was little preparation for his appearance as a fully fledged deviant, ( a person defined as a social problem) .... He had curious parents; one was the upper-class Edwardian dandy, the other the older delinquent subculture of South London .... his clothes were originally worn by the middle and upper classes, but this was only for a short period.
....Indeed the style was worn throughout the 1950's, but its meaning changed dramatically over the decade .... When the long jackets and tight trousers covered the middle class, the fashion was proclaimed a pleasing innovation, but it was rapidly re-appraised when it spread to young working-class males in 1952. It seems that these new 'Edwardians' were 'Spivs' not the 'respectable' working class .... as a result, the middle class felt that they could no longer share the style with its new adherents.
In 1948 Saville Row Tailors got together to push the style on to the young Mayfair bloods, the Guardees, and onto the Businessmen, they pushed it so successfully that it then became the uniform of the dance hall creepers.
"It means" explained a disconsolate young ex-Guardee over a champange coctail, "That absolutely the whole of one's wardrobe immediately becomes unwearable" Those who now wore Edwardian dress were described as delinquents .... Unfavorable social types were summoned forth to define them as, 'zoot-suiters', 'hooligans' and 'spivs' .... The newspaper that these comments appeared in did not hesitate to award them an unambiguous identity .... The clothing was unchanged, but its wearers had translated it into a stigma.
Teddy Boys at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in 1957.
Knowing the ingrown conservatism of any English working-class community and its opposition to dandyism and any hint of effeminacy, it must have taken a special boldness for the first Teddy Boys of South London to swagger along their drab streets in their exaggerated outfits.
The question which has to be asked is how had this style managed to cross the River Thames? It could hardly have come direct from Savile Row. The general explanation is that it reached South London via Soho. It was a new post-war development that young manual labourers from South London, especially those who had seen military service, went far more readily than before for their evening's entertainment to "the other side", that is, the West end, the square mile of large cinemas and little clubs, jazz haunts and juke box cafe's, which around Soho abut on theatre land and fashionable restaurants.
It was Soho that the Elephant Boys were said to have encountered the new fashion of dressing eccentrically, through meetings either with young Mayfair Edwardians or the latter's Soho imitators. Anyhow, the novel fact was that they picked up the fashion and imitated it, perhaps because its look appealed to them, but probably also because its exaggeration corresponded to something in their own outlook, a nagging dissatisfaction, a compelling demand to draw attention to themselves.
Some young Edwardian's form Wolverhampton around 1955.
Spivs, Cosh Boys or Creepers
During the second World War, the 'Spiv' was born and originated in the 'Borough' of Southwark in South London. Spiv's were a particular type of petty criminal who dealt in illicit, typically black market goods of questionable authenticity.
Young Spivs in Notting Hill, London in 1954 - the style which immediately preceded the Teddy Boy. Note the chain attached to the belt loop.
The image of the Spiv was a slickly-dressed man offering goods at bargain prices. The goods that Spiv's offered were generally not what they seemed or had been obtained illegally. The term Spiv was widely used during the Second World War and in the post-war rationing period of the late 1940's and 1950's. Spiv's however by contrast to the Teddy Boys were much older men in their thirties, forties and fifties and although they adopted a certain dress style, they were clearly not teenagers. Nevertheless, the image and style of the Spiv is generally accepted by historians a precursor style to that of the Teddy Boy.
The same two Spiv's at Notting Hill in 1954.
Following on from the Spiv's and during the early 1950's some teenage gangs started to appear in the East End of London and they became known as Cosh Boys. The fundamental differences between the Cosh Boys and the Spiv's was that Cosh Boys were much younger that the Spiv's. Cosh Boys were also violent, but probably the most important element was that they were youths who had adopted the Edwardian fashion as part of their identity. It was therefore very easy to recognise them as they had started to adopt the long drape jacket with velvet collar and cuffs narrower trousers and a Slim Jim tie. Their hair was "long" and greased. These Cosh Boys terrified London society with stories of razor attacks, robberies, fights between gangs and assaults against the police.
A number of quotes from newspaper articles from the early 1950's discuss the Cosh Boy, the clothes they wore and the fact that the general population regarded them as a menace to society.
As early as 1951, Cosh Boys had been wearing finger-tip drapes (so called because they must reach as far as the fingertip when the arm is fully extended) bright ankle socks, fancy shoes with thick crepe rubber wedge soles (which are known to the connoisseurs as "Creepers"). The girls, or so the boys claim, are copying male hairstyles, especially the D.A. (so called because of it's resemblance to a ducks rear). The costume most in favour now is a black be-bop sweater over a pencil skirt either slit or buttoned, a three-quarter check overcoat and three tier wedge shoes. - Daily Mirror October 28th1951.
The Sunday Graphic reported that the Police Forces of Britain are to "Get the first one in" against the teenage gangs of the big towns. A newly organised Police plan to rid the country of the Cosh Boys, the bicycle-chain thugs and the knuckle-duster gangs. The appointment of Flying Squad Chief Superintendant Chapman to the head of No.3 District Metropolitan Police, which covers the East End of London, is part of the new campaign. Toughness is the key and and the C.I.D. aided by the recent law making it a crime to carry offensive weapons "Without authority or reasonable excuse" - The Sunday Pictorial March 19th 1950.
Four Cosh Boys who robbed an old woman after one of them burned her face with a cigarette were jailed for five years. After hearing what they had done Mr Justice oliver told the prosecuting council " I wish some of the persons who oppose flogging could have heard your statement" - Daily Mirror October 15th 1952.
James Kenny and Joan Collins in the 1953 Film Cosh Boy.
A British film was released in 1953 called "Cosh Boy" starring James Kenny, Joan Collins, Hermionie Baddeley, Hermioine Gingold, Betty Ann Davis and Robert Ayres. The film was based on an original play by Bruce Walker, and tells of the exploits of 16-year-old delinquent youth Roy Walsh (James Kenney) and his gang in post World War II London. The characters portrayed in the film would later tar all Teddy Boys with the same brush as being juvenille delinquents.
Another nickname which was given to Teddy Boys in the early 1950's was "Creepers", this derived from the dance - "The Creep" by Yorkshire Big Band leader, Ken Mackintosh. This was a dance performed by Teddy Boys and Girls before the advent of Rock 'n' Roll in Britain.
A well known dance that the Teddy Boys adopted was 'The Creep', a slow shuffle of a dance so popular with Teddy Boys that it led to their other nickname of 'creepers'.
The Creep by Ken Macintosh
Writers Paul Rock and Stan Cohen date the crossover from upper-class fashion to working-class youth style at 1953 and they comment that the new Edwardians (Teddy Boys) were 'lumpenproletarian "creepers" ' (a German word literally meaning "raggedy proletarian" which is derived from the Latin proletarius, a citizen of the lowest class) and not of the 'respectable working class'. Writer T.R. Fyvel's account explains that the Edwardian fashion was usurped by working-class youths in 1953 after it had been 'launched from Savile Row … as an answer to American styles'.
10th October 1953: London gang member Colin Donellan dressed in fashionable Edwardian Teddy Boy style outside a Cecil Gee shop.
It was bold and rebellious in its own right before its usurpation by Teddy Boys because it was an extravagant upper-class snub to the post-war Labour Government and its message of austerity. Fyvel claims that, in this form, the fashion was shortlived because, having started in Mayfair, it soon vanished from London and entered the suburbs. In the meantime it was transported and transformed to the South London working-class areas of Elephant and Castle, Lambeth, Vauxhall and Southwark, where it retained its meaning of social revolt but in a new context, that of petty crime and swank, with clear connections to earlier groups like Spivs.
Two smart Teddy Boys with the Ted on the left wearing a brocade waistcoat with velvet trim.
Edwardian dress began to be taken up by working class youths sometime in 1953 and, in those early days, was often taken over wholesale (The Daily Mirror of 23rd October, 1953, shows a picture of Michael Davies, who was convicted of what later became known as the first 'Teddy Boy' killing, which would bear this out. In fact the picture shows him in a three piece matching suit, i.e. without the fancy waistcoat.)
The Boys from the Elephant
One theory as to how the Edwardian style was adopted by working class youths was that some young men from Elephant and Castle called the Elephant Mob were on a recce in the West End and were impressed by the rather flashy and expensive-looking new Edwardian-style and quickly took it for their own.
Tony Reuter, one of the Elephant Boys posing as a Teddy Boy for The People Newspaper in 1955.
Around 1950/51 these same young men from around Elephant and Castle, Lambeth and the Borough (Southwark) having appropriated the uptown Edwardian clothes started to mix it up with the look of a World War Two Spiv. In addition they borrowed the hairstyles and style influences of American Westerns (the Mississippi gambler maverick tie for instance) that were hugely popular in the early fifties.
A group of Teddy boys find themselves with nowhere to go and hang around on the Old Kent Road at Elephant and Castle, South London, 13th July 1955.
It would seem however, that there is somewhat of a case to suggest that the gang from Elephant & Castle who had been impressed with the upper class Edwardian dress that they had seen in Mayfair could well have been the first to start the Edwardian working class style in 1950/51. This was later described in T.R. Fyvel's book, "The Insecure Offenders" as being The Fashion from the Elephant, in other words it could be said that there is a probability that some members of "The Elephant Boys" could well have been the first Teddy Boys!
Outside the ABC, Elephant & Castle, 1954.
All of the Elephant Gang were snappy dressers. Suits cost roughly the equivalent of two weeks' wages or more. They were made to measure by excellent tailors on the basis of a deposit and some of the balance paid at each of the two fittings with the remainder paid on collection. The style varied but was never outlandish with generally two buttoned conventional suits.
Boys wearing Edwardian style clothes at the "Teen Canteen" at Elephant & Castle, South London, July 1955 - note the unusually long sideburns of the Teddy Boy with the double-breasted waistcoat for the period.
When the Edwardian fashion came in at Elephant & Castle, the style was a three or four buttoned three piece suit without velvet collar, although this sometimes appeared on overcoats. Fashionable materials at this time were mohair or twenty-two ounce worsted in say clerical grey. Just try to buy that material nowadays. Amongst notable tailors were Harris and Hymies, both in the Cut near Blackfriars; Diamond Brothers at Shaftesbury Avenue; Sam Arkus in Berwick Street, Soho; and Charkham's of Oxford Street.
The Teddy Boy Fashion spreads throughout Britain.
Young Teddy Boy Frank Harvey in Tottenham, North London in 1954 (from the Picture Post)
Although the popular press of the day claim that the working-class Edwardian fashion was initially worn in south and east London during the early 1950's, the fashion was actually taking hold all over the country at the same time. Examples of this can be found in Newspaper reports and Photographs which confirm this. This potent fashion statement of wearing the Edwardian style could very well have been the first time teenage boys developed their own style of clothing that differentiated from their fathers or elder brothers. It was a conscious and colourful attempt, just like the posh dandies in St James, to rebel against the grey post-war austerity that had enveloped the country after the war. These fashionable young men from South London and elsewhere would later be known as Teddy Boys but the term had not been invented at that point in time and the boys were then simply known as Edwardian's.
Teddy Boys outside 'The Royalty' Mecca Dance Hall, Tottenham, London 29 May 1954.
There are of course many differing accounts of where the Teddy Boy style actually started and the ensuing pattern of geographical expansion. Some writers, for example, maintain that the first Teds emerged in the East End and in North London, around Tottenham and Highbury, and from there they spread southwards, to Streatham and Battersea and Purley, and westwards, to Shepherds Bush and Fulham, and then down to the seaside towns, and up into the Midlands until, by 1956, they had taken root all over Britain.
Teddy Boy, Roy Bradley aged 16 in 1955 at Peterborough.
There is however now more evidence to support the view that the working class Edwardian style and fashion actually started around the country at around and about the same time. Part of the reason that South London is seen as the birthplace of the working class Edwardian style is because the popular press of the day reported the emergence of the style in the London Press. However there are many reports of the style being adopted in other parts of the country in the early 1950's with young men wearing tighter than normal trousers, long jackets, 'brothel creeper' shoes and sporting Tony Curtis hairstyles.
In 1953, the major newspapers reported on the sweeping trend in men's fashion across all the towns of Britain, towards what was termed the New Edwardian look. However the working class Edwardian style had been on the street since at least 1951, because the style had been created on the street by the street and by working class teenagers and not by Saville Row or fashion designers such as Hardy Amis.
Three Jamaican immigrants,(left to right) John Hazel, a 21-year-old boxer, Harold Wilmot, 32, and John Richards, a 22-year-old carpenter, arriving at Tilbury Docks, Essex on board the ex-troopship SS Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948, smartly dressed in 'Zoot Suits' and trilby hats.
The American Zoot Suit by way of comparison features high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long double-breasted jacket with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. It is generally worn with a Fedora Hat. Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket, which was a feature adopted by British Teddy Boys. The creation and naming of the Zoot Suit have been variously attributed to Harold C. Fox, a Chicago clothier and big-band trumpeter Louis Lettes, a Memphis tailor; and Nathan (Toddy) Elkus, a Detroit retailer. The name 'Zoot' is thought to have been a corruption or reduplication of the word suit.
The first appearances of Zoot Suits appearing in Britain was when a number of Black American soldiers wore Zoot Suits in Britain whilst on R & R in Dance Halls in Britain during World War II. Many West Indians, particularly Jamaicans then brought the suit to Britain during Commonwealth Immigration in the late 1940's and 1950's. This may have had some influence on the Saville Row Tailors during the re-introduction of the New Edwardian style in the late 1940's and early 1950's.
Turning the corner into Princedale Road, North Kensington, Roger Mayne saw a group of young Teddy Boys whom he thought 'a bit sinister'. Crossing to the opposite side, he had got past them when one called out, 'Take our photo, Mister!'. Mayne turned around and took a number of photos - he 'wasn't going to miss a chance like that'. 'Teds' had attracted a violent and criminal reputation. Some carried flick-knives.
The name "Teddy Boy" however, was not officially born until September 23rd 1953 when a Daily Express newspaper headline shortened Edward to Teddy and coined the term 'Teddy Boy' (also known as Ted). Nevertheless, it is also known that a number of girlfriends of working class Edwardian's were referring to them as Teddy Boys well before the Daily Express used its media power to officially christen Edwardian's into Teddy Boys.
It should be mentioned however, that at the peak of the Teddy Boy movement in 1954/55, the number of fully bona-fide Teddy Boys in the Greater London area did not exceed a top figure of 30,000. This fact dispenses with the modern idea that all British teenage boys in the 1950's were Teddy Boys.
Teddy Boy George Lamont and girlfriend Teddy Girl Edna Hockridge, Aberdeen Scotland 1955.
In 1954 second-hand Edwardian suits were on sale in various markets as they had become rapidly unwearable by the upper-class dandies once the Teddy Boys had taken them over as their own. This was then followed by by the Teddy Boys creation of their own style via the modifications already outlined. This, then, was the Teddy Boys one contribution to culture: their adoption and personal modification of Savile Row Edwardian suits.
Teddy Boys and National Service.
"National Service, unfortunately, aggravates the trouble. Most boys regard it as a tiresome chore that has to be completed before life really begins. Between school-leaving and call-up there is little incentive to settle down." - Unknown Newspaper column 1954.
Many people tend to forget that most teenagers who had started to adopt the Edwardian style were leaving school and entering the workplace at 14 and 15 years of age. The boys would then later at the age of 18 (or 21 if serving an apprenticeship) be called up for National Service into the British Armed Forces. In many cases the boys would be sent to overseas trouble spots such as Egypt during the Suez crises in 1956, the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya during the 1950's and Aden. Many older people who had previously served in the armed forces had the view that National Service would ensure that these youngsters would 'get their hair cut' and have the Ted Style 'beasted' out of them.
This was however not the case and many National Servicemen kept the Edwardian style holding onto the addage that whats under the beret is mine and what is outside is the Army's. However, a number of Army and Air Force units did everything they could to knock this Teddy Boy style out of their squaddies and airmen with limited success. Here is an example of this from the Daily Mirror, June 11th 1955:
'The order was given "on parade in civvies", it was quite the strangest parade in the garrison's proud history. Some of the men wore Edwardian suits, drainpipe trousers and long, tight-fitting jackets, drape suits. They had 'jazzy' shirts and ties, with fancy shoes "to match". The C.O. (Commanding Officer), six foot tall tough looking Colonel R.G. Pine-Coffin, D.S.O. stood and stared then banned the lot. In future, he ordered only modestly cut lounge suits, sports jackets or blazers and flannels or uniform may be worn by men "walking out" off duty. He added "When I saw how some of my went about Aldershot, I just had to order this Parade. I expect a few, the few who delight in the extravagant dress of Hollywood or East End Spiv's feel that their liberties are being interfered with, but the Edwardian Suits, fancy shoes and jazzy ties and socks I have seen some wearing are not becoming of a soldier. We're a proud lot in the Airborne and feel that these modern fashions that a few of the chaps like, rather let's the mob down!".'
It should be made clear however that these young Edwardians were only teenagers and thereafter society expected these same young Edwardian teenagers to grow out of this rebellious style - make sure they had a regular job, get married, have children and settle into 1950's family life.
Bob Corbett, 17 of Liverpool wears a silver grey suit with black lapels and black piping and brown suede shoes. A slightly advanced version of an orthodox Teddy outfit June 1957.
Many young men in the mid-fifties however could not actually afford to purchase the entire Teddy Boy outfit and would wear only elements of it. The shoes were an affordable part of the Teddy Boy style; brothel creepers, lots of entwined leather on the top and thick crepe soles. That element spread as shoes were more readily available than the clothes themselves.
A group of Northampton Teddy Boys all wearing Drape Jackets.
The sartorial signifiers like 'drain-pipe' trousers may well have identified a Teddy Boy however, this would have only been the case within the 'teens and twenties' age bracket. Male teenagers sported certain signs of peer group belonging, like the hair, the trousers and the shoes, but the Teddy Boys uniform in its entirety was not widely adopted by the mainstream teenager. It tended to be those Teddy Boys in gangs who would wear the whole regalia.
Outside of London, few youths adopted the whole of the Teddy Boy regalia, rather they took on only parts of it - the ones that they could get away with if they could afford them, 'there were a lot of the drainpipe trousers and haircuts and things like that'.
A Teddy Boy dances with his girl at The Royalty Mecca Dance Hall, Tottenham, London 1954.
It is estimated that in terms of numbers in 1953-54 there were a 'few thousand' Teds and that they roamed the streets in gangs and that they were territorial and occasionally violent towards other Teddy Boy gangs.
Bob Aber a then young Teddy Boy from Northampton photographed in London by John Facer in a single link two piece drape suit (the shadow). Note the photograph was made from the negative placed the wrong way round.
The advent of Rock 'n' Roll music in Britain - the Teddy Boys make this their own!
In 1954 Rock 'n' Roll had not really been heard of in the UK, it wouldn't arrive on these shores until as a main stream music until 1955/6. However, it is a mistake to believe that Teddy Boys and Girls did not have an interest in music, prior to the advent of Rock 'n' Roll. Dance Halls were extremely popular places with young adults during the early 1950s and there were plenty of new dance crazes to keep them interested.
Although Teddy Boys are associated with Rock 'n' Roll music, the style actually came before the music. Rock 'n' Roll was generally adopted by the young generation (which of course included the Teddy Boys) from 1955 when the film, Blackboard Jungle, was first shown in cinemas in the Britain.
By 1955, Britain was well placed to receive American rock and roll music and culture. It shared a common language, had been exposed to American culture through the stationing of troops in the country, and shared many social developments, including the emergence of distinct youth sub-cultures, which in Britain of course included the Teddy Boys. Trad Jazz became popular, and many of its musicians were influenced by related American styles, including boogie woogie and the blues. This was a style that tended to be followed by University students and tended to be shunned by working class Teddy Boys. The skiffle craze, led by Lonnie Donegan, utilised amateurish versions of American folk songs and encouraged many of the subsequent generation of rock and roll, folk, R&B and beat musicians to start performing.
Bill Haley and His Comets rehearsing at London's Dominion Theatre, February 6, 1957.
Bill Haley's 'Shake Rattle and Roll' is certainly the record that introduced Rock and Roll to an unprepared British Public. But most people will probably tell you that it was another record that started it all. That other record was 'Rock Around The Clock' which was recorded in 1954, but didn't chart in the UK until October 1955. However, it was still in the chart when 'Rip It Up', Haley's 11th UK success entered the chart at the end of 1956! 'Rip It Up' was almost the last in the amazing run of hit records that Bill Haley had issued in the UK during 1956.
At the same time British audiences were also beginning to encounter American rock and roll, initially through films including Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Rock Around the Clock (1955). Both movies contained the Bill Haley & His Comets hit "Rock Around the Clock", which first entered the British charts in early 1955 - four months before it reached the US pop charts - topped the British charts later that year and again in 1956, and helped identify rock and roll with teenage delinquency.
In 1956, the film, Blackboard Jungle made its premier at the Trocadero Cinema at Elephant & Castle in South London. It was then shown thereafter at Cinemas throughout Britain. At the end of the film, the song 'Rock around the Clock' was played and at the Trocodero, Teddy Boys danced with their girls in the aisles and when cinema staff attempted to stop them, they rioted and ripped up the cinema seats with flick knives.
This was replicated at copycat riots during the screening of the film at Cinema's throughout the country. Teddy Boys had now embraced Rock 'n' Roll for the first time and made it their own. The government and 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. This confirmed the pre-conception to many members of the establishment, that Teddy Boys were in fact Juvenile Delinquents and social outcasts.
Newspapers were filled with pictures of Teddy Boys and girls dancing and jiving outside the cinemas. The police were frequently involved in quelling, what was in many instances simply teenage high spirits. There can be no doubt that the media had a big hand in sensationalising the rioting and seat slashing, and thereby simply poured fuel on the smouldering embers of the Trocadero riot, and fanned the flames for what in many instances were obviously copycat riots. Blackboard Jungle was also the first major studio film to use Rock 'n' Roll on the soundtrack.
The success of the film, Blackboard Jungle, kick-started sales of Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and his Comets, which helped spark the advent of Rock 'n' Roll in Britain.
By the spring of 1957 Bill Haley & the Comets were never to enter the chart again, save re-issues of their previous material. Whatever doubts there may be about Bill Haley's musical influences, he can certainly be credited with unleashing Rock and Roll on the British record buyer.
American rock and roll acts such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Buddy Holly thereafter became major forces in the British charts.
A young Teddy Boy with a Drape jacket and high-waisted trousers dances with his girl at a local Dance Hall.
A group of Brierley Hill (Dudley) Worcestershire Teddy Boys mid 1950's
The initial response of the British music industry was to attempt to produce copies of American records, recorded with session musicians and often fronted by teen idols. More grassroots British rock and rollers soon began to appear, including Tommy Steele and Wee Willie Harris. During this period American Rock and Roll remained dominant; however, 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". The 2is Coffee Bar in Old Compton Street, Soho in London's West End became the home of and the birthplace of many of Britain's home-grown Rock 'n' Roll Stars.
An Edinburgh Teddy Boy in a two piece drape suit that is in need of a good pressing - mid 1950's.
At the same time in 1958, TV shows such as Six-Five Special and Oh Boy! Came about and promoted the careers of British rock and rollers like Marty Wilde and Adam Faith. Cliff Richard and his backing band, The Shadows, were the most successful home grown rock and roll based acts of the era. Other leading acts included Billy Fury, Joe Brown, and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, whose 1960 hit song "Shakin' All Over" became a rock and roll standard.
Brian Licorice Locking Roy Clark and Vince Eagers first appearance at the 2is Coffee Bar as the Vagabonds circa November 1957.
Teddy Boys are and were a totally British phenomenon as opposed to the other styles worn in countries such as the United States. Also don't forget that Teddy Boys were listening and dancing to mainly Big Band, Jazz and Skiffle type music prior to the advent of Rock 'n' Roll.
Alec Cruikshank, a clerk in a City of London shipping office walking towards the Mecca Dance Hall, Tottenham, Middlesex (North London) on 29th May 1954.
Criminality and Clothes.
When teenager John Beckley was murdered by a Teddy Boy gang known as the Plough Boys in July 1953 after a fight that started on Clapham Common, the Daily Mirror's headline 'Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits' linked criminality to clothes.
Teddy Boys became regarded by many as the urban, unskilled working class boys, looking for an identity through the clothes they wore. A number of Teddy Boys pursued gang warfare and vandalism in both the streets and the dance halls, carrying coshes, bicycle chains, razors and flick-knives beneath their fine Edwardian style clothes. This reputation then gave any youth who wore elements of the Teddy Boys dress as being tarred with the same brush.
However to many this was a style of dress and a fashion to be worn and of course not all Teddy Boys were as the popular press described. The 1950's was the first decade to produce teenage fashions, before this they were expected to dress similar to their parents. Following the war, when prosperity hit Britain, these working class teenagers could afford to buy their own clothes, although most shops only offered 'off the peg' conventional styles and many tailors refused to make up these 'new' fashions. The teenagers were now a marketing target that made 50's fashion a symbol of a whole new lifestyle.
Teddy Boys were the first real high profile teenagers in Britain, who flaunted their clothes and attitude like a badge. It comes as no surprise then that the media was quick to paint them as violent and a menace based on a single incident. However, many Teddy Boys formed gangs and gained notoriety following violent clashes with rival gangs which were often exaggerated by the popular press.
Many negative newspaper headlines then appeared in the popular press and here are some examples from various cities and towns in England during the mid fifties:
"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."
Daily Mail, 12th April 1954.
Edwardian spivs plan new swoop
GANGS MENACE RESORT
Police are Standing by
BRIGHTON, Saturday Night.
Britain's most famous holiday resort, packed with Easter visitors in it's Centenary year, is being terrorised by rival gangs of "Edwardian" thugs.
Gang fights between rival 'Edwardian thugs' from Southsea, Portsmouth and the East End of London came to a head in one of Britains most popular holiday resorts. In the month of March 1954 the youths, all dressed in the uniform of the of exaggerated Edwardian jackets and drainpipe trousers clashed with a local gang in a quarral over two girls. The visiting gang from Southsea got the worst of it. Two Policemen were called in to quell the disturbance.
The gang announced that they would return with reinforcements on Easter Sunday. Thus Brighton Police, many of them on special duty were standing by to cope with the threatened invasion by the teenage gangsters from the Southsea and Portsmouth area. The Police were determined to do everything possible to avoid a local incident like the Clapham Common youth gang killing, but admit that the 'Edwardians' had the upper hand.
Sunday Chronicle (Brighton), April 18th 1954.
SLASHED WITH RAZOR BY TEDDY BOY
Police appeal for witnesses.
A Slough man, razor-slashed in a fight outside the Public Library in William Street on Saturday night was so shocked when he saw his face in the mirror that he collapsed.
He was later taken to Upton Hospital and had twenty stitches inserted in to his face.
Slough Observer - Friday February 4th 1955
Alleged Razor Attack by Teddy Boy
STORY OF CHRISTMAS NIGHT BRAWL IN NOTTS.
A Razor, alleged to have been used by a Teddy Boy in slashing four youths in a Christmas night brawl, was shown to the jury at Notts Assizes. A 22 year old Yorkshire Railway Shunter, pleaded not guilty to four charges of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Mr T.R. Fitzwalter, prosecuting said "It is a deplrorable, indeed, that youths aged 18 to 20 can find no better way of celebrating a time of what we regard as peace and goodwill, by indulging in an unseemly brawl of the kind you will hear." Describing a Teddy Boy, Mr Fitzwalter said "The expression is used to describe youths who go about in gangs and clothes supposed to belong to the Edwardian era".
Nottingham Evening Post, February 28th 1955.
Here's a great clip of 1950's Teddy Boys from Burnt Oak, North London being interveiwed by a News Reporter about an attack on a Vicar.It seems Teddy Boys disappear in the Summer & all go Fishing!
Although many incidents of hooliganism, violence and rowdyism were reported at face value. The press coverage of a murder that took place in May 1955 provides an example of the role played by the mass media. A sixty year old Cypriot was killed by one of a group of four youths in a road in Camden Town. There was nothing about this unpleasant killing that indicated a 'typical' Teddy Boy crime, yet almost all the newspapers which appeared on the following morning referred to the killer as a 'Teddy Boy'.
"There were reports of Police Investigations of Teddy Boy activity in Camden Town, and a Detective Superintendent was widely quoted as sending out a message to his men to "Find every Teddy Boy, go into the pubs and dance halls and bring in the boys of that gang". A week later , a 21 year old was arrested and sent for trial, the same Detective Superintendent said at the preliminary hearing that the boy had an 'excellent' character and was not a Teddy Boy. There was no evidence that he had been a member of a gang."
London Evening News, May 21st 1955.
Press over-reaction was becoming common. The Daily Express report of the crime claimed:
"Four shallow-faced Teddy Boys lounging in the shadows of the corner Baker's shop".
Daily Express, May 22nd 1955.
The accuracy of this description is not an issue, although it would be interesting to know how the reporter learned of the boys complexions!
London Teddy Boys portraying the popular violent image in the 1959 UK film 'Sapphire'
More incidents were reported again in the May of 1955.
TEDDY GIRLS SPARK OFF BATTLE IN DANCE HALL
Two fair-haired Teddy Girls in black sweaters and tight skirts started clawing each other in the corner of the bath Pavilion. Rival Teddy Boys joined the fight and sixteen were arrested as Police routed rival razor gangs from Bath and Bristol. Witnesses said that bicycle chains and knuckledusters were used in the fight, but Police found no weapons. Mr. P. Bedford, Bath Pavilion Director said "The question of whether this type of youth should be banned from municipal dances should be considered."
Daily Express, May 30th 1955
Blackpool Tower Ballroom, Lancashire, 1954. The sign to the left of the stage reads NO BOP, NO JIVE!
A Blackpool Cinema Manager declared that "I'm the one who decides whether a youth is wearing Edwardian dress or not, my decision is final". The Police told of a new purge of Teddy Boy gangs following some of the weekend activities in the town, Inspector John Dunn Chief of Blackpool C.I.D. said "They seem unconscious of how ridiculous they look in their drainpipe trousers, light socks, long jackets with flattering padded shoulders and effeminate mops of hair".
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, May 15th 1954.
The town of Reading reported that a War on Edwardian hooligans was declared, alarmed by the increase of gangs roaming the street, the Police will combat very rigorously, attempts to create disturbances. "Dance hall owners may take unified action", said one owner, "The time has come to ban from all dance halls in the town any Edwardian youths and their girl friends", but the trouble is not so much in the Dance halls as in the Street.
Daily Herald, May 23rd 1954.
Local Dance in Peterborough 1955 with Roy Bradley (a Teddy Boy wearing a Drape Jacket) on the far right.
COMMENT - insert.
The Nottingham and Notting Hill Riots of 1958.
PHOTO: A Teddy Boy gets arrested by a Policeman during the 1958 Notting Hill Riots in which Teddy Boys were widely implicated, which in fact were orchestrated by Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists.
PHOTO: 2nd September 1958 Teddy Boys and Girls run through Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, during the race riots in West London.
The most notable disturbances involving Teddy Boys were the Nottingham - St. Anne's Well Riots and the London Notting Hill Riots, both which took place in August 1958. Teddy Boys were present in large numbers during these disturbances and were implicated in attacks on the newly arrived and settled black West Indian community. These disturbances however, were largely orchestrated by by Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists.
PHOTO: Teddy Boys at the Mecca Dance Hall, Tottenham, London 29 May 1954.
On Saturday 24th August 1958, extra Police were on guard as fierce fighting between White and Coloured people broke out in the St Ann's Well area of Nottingham, eight white people including a Policeman were run down by a coloured drivers car, and taken to Hospital. Dozens of people were injured were injured by bottles, knives razors and stakes. One had 37 stitches inserted in his throat, two others had more than a dozen stitches each in back stab wounds. Police, ambulancemen and firemen with hoses were sent to the scene and order was restored after several hours.