Mods and Rockers

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.

The 1964 clash between Mods and Rockers on Brighton Beach is legendary. It inspired the film ‘Quadrophenia’ and on Bank Holidays the seafront is still lined with scooters and motorbikes.

Lambretta Li 150
Lambretta Li 150

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.

Black leather jacket
Black leather jacket

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.

Palace Pier and Aquarium, Brighton
Palace Pier and Aquarium, Brighton

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.’

Palace Pier, Brighton
Palace Pier, Brighton

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

4 Responses

  1. Patricia Maggs (@ShabbyChicSx)

    I was just nearly 13 when that happened – I was there,2 years later I met my husband to be and we used to drive as a gang of Mods all over Sussex – my hubby had a Lambretta he bought from his brother.
    We just recently celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary.
    We came from Hove,but different schools.
    Later when I got a Saturday job before Churchill Square was built, I bought a little frock up Queens Road called Biba.

  2. Chris Martin

    This is not quite correct; the Mods derived their moniker from being ‘Modernist’ and following Italian fashion as in the early sixties they had much more disposable income to indulge their fashion.

    As Peter Meeden noted:

    ‘Modism is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances’.

    Quadrophenia is not really about Mods but about Youth, the first confrontation between Mods and Rockers was during the Easter Weekend at Clacton and was borne out of boredom. The press especially the Mirror jumped on this as the news was quiet and created the problems by fomenting ongoing battles between Mods and Rockers.
    Every year (6th) this year in September there is the Brighton Burn Up leaving the Ace Cafe in N. London to Madeira Drive. Last years was massive with many thousands of bikers and scooter riders descending on the Sea Front.
    Worth a look !

  3. John

    Hi my name is John and I had a Lambretta in 1965.

    We used to go to The Ace Cafe and never had any bother with the rockers ever.

    They were a good bunch of lads.

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