May 18, 1964: Mods and Rockers Arrested After Whitsun Weekend Fights
The early sixties in Britain saw an explosion of gang-like affiliations within the youth culture. It was on this day in British history, May 18, 1964, that large numbers of Mods and Rockers were arrested following violent clashes at a number of seaside resorts on the South coast of England.
The two conflicting groups, Mods and Rockers, viewed each other hatefully. While the Rockers glorified the “rock-and-roll” culture of the fifties by wearing leather jackets, boots, and riding loud motorcycles, the Mods glorified fashion and modern music, while dressing stylishly and riding Vespas. The two groups had conflicted to a small degree throughout the early sixties, but the conflict boiled over on the Whitsun weekend of 1964.
It was commonplace for large amounts of Londoners to descend on the resort towns of the South coast during Bank Holidays. Over the Whitsun weekend, hundreds of Mods made their way to towns such as Margate and Brighton, only to discover that hundreds of Rockers had chosen the same holiday destinations. As would be expected, fights broke out all over the South coast with police powerless to stop them. Several of the fights took place directly on public beaches where normal families were attempting to enjoy their holidays.
Estimates indicated that over 1,000 youths had taken part in the Whitsun Weekend fights, using everything from deckchairs, to bottles and knives in their conflict with the opposing group. Extensive coverage by the news media of the time certainly helped create a public furor over the rise in youth violence. The prominence of the public concern even led sociologist Stanley Cohen to coin the term “moral panic” and to write a book examining the media coverage of the events.
While Stanley Cohen saw the conflict as his chance to write a book, British rock band, The Who, saw it as a chance to pay homage to the group that had made them famous. The Who were viewed as pioneers of the “new music” during the early sixties and were idolized by the Mods, much as the Rockers idolized classic rock-and-roll icon, Elvis Presley. The Who used the Mods and Rockers conflict as a main subject of their 1973 album, Quadrophenia.