The Brighton Modernist & 60s Weekender takes place during the 26-28th this month. In honour of this, we take a look at the events of 1964.
Mods dressed sharply. They rode scooters and cared about their appearance. Their name was based on ‘Modern Jazz’. Rockers (who also cared about their appearance), wore leather jackets, liked 1950s Rock and Roll and rode motorbikes.
Before the Whitsun bank holiday, police heard rumours that Mods and Rockers were planning to visit Brighton over the weekend. All police leave was cancelled and police local to Brighton were standing by to help. AA and RAC patrols were set up to warn police of large numbers of scooters or motor bikes making for Brighton.
Saturday passed peaceably. Only small groups of the rivals had arrived and were well behaved. Sunday, however, was different. Temperatures soared. Large numbers of visitors arrived in Brighton. The AA reported that 2,250 vehicles per hour were heading for Brighton via the A23. The beaches were packed.
Clashes began on the Sunday evening. Mods and Rockers threw stones at each other on the sea front. The window of the ABC cinema was broken. Sporadic fighting continued. A crowd of Mods tried to drag two Rockers off their motorbikes as they rode off. By midnight, however, the police had managed to clear the streets. Hundreds slept on the beach or under boats for the night.
Fighting began early on Monday morning. Stones, deck chairs and waste bins were thrown during clashes at the Aquarium. Later, Rockers were again cornered at the Aquarium. They escaped by jumping twenty feet into the arms of the police. Until mid-afternoon, the two groups were kept apart. Then, they again threw stones at each other by the Palace (now Brighton) Pier.
As the sun set, police reinforcements arrived. They began moving groups to the railway station, barred all the exits at the station and searched people for weapons. Mods and Rockers began to ride out of town. The AA reported that at 8.30pm, the line of Mods trying to hitch hike, stretched from Brighton to Bolney.
Some people say that the media whipped up the conflict between Mods and Rockers. Wild newspaper reports attracted people who were looking for a fight. ‘They were just gangs of kids…,’ one Mod claimed. ‘No real Mod wanted to roll about in the dirt.’
Brighton has continued to remain a favourite location for Bikers, Rockers, Mods and Scooter boys to visit over bank holiday weekends. Indeed, far from continuing to foster their violent reputations from the 1960s, the show of bikes and scooters along the seafront has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
Richard Mark Le Saux Senior Keeper, Keeper of Local History & Archaeology