30th August 1958. ‘Teddy Boys’.
Post-War and for the first time in history, adults were frightened of the young: in 2010 Prime-Minister David Cameron said that ‘adults were treated like children and children treated like adults.’ What had happened?
After World War II, Britain with a thriving job market, saw the development of a ‘teenage’ subculture, with plenty of cash in its pocket, and one defined by a faux Edwardian-style dress and hair-style.
In some areas, especially in London this coalesced into rival ‘hooligan’ gangs, becoming known by the Press as ‘cosh-boys’, then as ‘Edwardian dressed’ gangs’, before the Daily Express in 1953, settled on ‘Teddy Boys’.(1)
The early 1950s witnessed many examples of disorderly behaviour, but the game changer was the death in 1953, of John Beckley, on Clapham Common, London as the result of gang-warfare.
This prompted the Daily Mirror headline: ‘flick-knives, dance-bands and Edwardian suits’.(2)
Sporadic trouble then appeared round the country for many years with many Local Authorities trying to ban admittance to places of entertainment for those in ‘Edwardian’ gear, thus linking criminality to a mode of dress.(3)
The great defining moment came in 1955 when the film The Blackboard Jungle and Bill Hailey’s ‘Rock-around the Clock’ hit the scene, causing wrecking of cinemas and violence: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ had arrived.
The resulting mayhem was inevitably blamed by the Press, on the ‘Teds’.
However the ‘Teddy-Boy’ decade ended more violently, when Today in 1958 it was reported: ‘five-hundred ‘Teds’ (Teddy Boys) clashed with police in Nottingham’, a violence to be repeated in Notting Hill, London: both were racially motivated.
Here again it was easy to identify one easily identifiable group for all the outrages: the ‘Teds’
The dress which caused so much consternation, had originally been developed by the Tailor and Cutter in 1948, for the affluent men about town, the Mayfair and Guardee (guards officer) set, which soon discarded their smart style when it went down market.
This plebeian version was characterized by tapered trousers, long jackets, string-tie, often waistcoats and chunky, crepe-soled, suede, ‘brothel creeper’ shoes.(4)
To complement this clothing fashion, new hairstyles arrived: the D.A. (duck’s backside), created by swept back greased hair at the sides, with a quiff at the front.
One term much used in connection with the ‘Teds’, was that of ‘Spiv’, but they went back to the war years, the flashy dressers, who could lay their hands on anything scarce; the Private Walker’s of Dads’ Army fame..
Actor Michael Caine remembers the ‘spivs’, Cockney back-slang for ‘vips’, who formed the trilby-hatted gangs of south London, ‘which one avoided without you had a company of ten’. Apart from being a fashion item, the hats were weapons, having razor blades in the crown.
(1) Daily Express 23.9.1953.
(2) 2nd July 1953.
(3) On May 6th 1954, the problem of the ‘Teds’ was discussed on BBC’s Any Questions, in the patronising way of the times, when the Home Secretary said the Teddy Boy problem was not serious.
(4) In the early 1950s the Ken Mackintosh Dance Band introduced the ‘Creep’ which involved shuffling about, so the large crepe-soled footwear worn, became known as ‘Creepers’.
Ref: bbc.co.uk. 21.5.2007, Linda Pressly.The Forgotten Race Riot ( looked at the Nottingham riot.)
Ref: teddyboyfederation.co.uk/Pics Ref/googleimages.
Ref: wickipedia, org/teddy_boys.