Better Ted than dead

Drainpipe trousers,DA, quiffs and a glint in the eye…50 years after their heyday,the worlds first teenagers still cut a dash.RAY GOSLING woz there.imagesRZWXAW4V


At the beginning I was a little teddy,ready for it,ready to rock and roll.I ran bands,put on dances in church halls.We were the first mass teenage movement from the lower orders wanting to party.And over the years I became even more of a teddy boy than then.So  it  was lovely when the BBC  said “Do you want to go back? “What” I said,”revisit my youth?” “No,not nostalgic pap,” they replied,”but a real going back to the soul of things.”

Did I dream how I felt in 1956 at the age of 17? Was I a freak alone? Not that loads didn’t follow the fashion — Edwardian length jackets and drainpipe trousers and longer hair than short back and sides — plenty of people did that,but I felt in my heart it was more than a fashion,it was a belief: teds to change the world. For me,anyway.

   I felt so strong that we were “it” – I know every young generation might feel that — and should feel that. Me,I’d wish for everyone to look back on their teenage years,that glow,that feeling of being fit and ready for it — best years of their lives: got to be,should be.

  But I just felt that mine — the Teddy Boy Era – was so  important: a great sea change, and I was more than just a particant but an organiser shaping it.When I got to be 20 I wrote a Fabian pamphlet and long articles explaining youth culture in New Left Review and New Society.Now as it all passes into history,my version is a part of what’s passed down.

  So Radio 4 coaxed me saying: “Surely you want to go back.You know,to see if your theories can be matched with with how others think.” It never cost much – £35 Moat House weekend rate – but they set me up with facilities and access to comb the archives – which turned out to be predominantly anti-ted.” The Teddy Boy”,intoned a smooth BBC voice,”the comic,horrific hero of early 1950s with his thick soled brothel creepers,drainpipe trousers,drape jacket,slim jim tie,greasy Tony Curtis quiff.There was the flick knife,the knuckle dusters,and bike chains.”

On Any Questions there were old buffers like Lord Boothby booming “Can you see me  jiving?” and old poshees like Jeremy Thorpe saying,”Mau Mau music”,and socialist stalwarts like Emanuel Shinwell saying “dancing in the street” as if dancing in the street was disgraceful.”Send them off to Cairo and let them teddy boy there,”quipped Boothby.

  There were documentaries about teenage trouble and clearly the  authorities were trembling,but when you combed through some of the stuff in the vast archive it was actually complimentary and quite interesting.If you looked under “Fashion”,there were upper-class fashion editor  ladies absolutely swooning at teds’ style breaking a century of the grey look for men – with colour.


  However,there was also the Windrush documentary making it clear that violence by the teds intensified  the race riots in Notting Hill.And tedswere implicated in the murder of Kelso Cochrane,though no trial took place,no one was caught,no actual persons were proven to be the killers.But  everyone said in the documentary that it was teds in an unprovoked attack on the innocent black youth walking home alone.Alas,not the first,nor the last time white youths have without provocation attacked a lone black.

It was interesting,the archive,but quite upsetting to hear about that teds,because I loved blacks and knew the music we collared was black: the colour we aspired to as a style of life was black. What we hated was white,straight and comformist – whether in the form of work or chapel or following in your father’s footsteps.

  The other race riot district of England at the time was Nottingham where I became the main man in the 1970s and got to know for certain that teds of the time were  implicated in chasing blacks and in the thick of the troubles,sometimes firebombing their homes and haunts.No excuse – disgraceful and so hurtful to me but I found in the archives comfirmation of what I knew: teddy boys came before rock’n’roll – it was a style,a look,a walk,a stance.I could,and still can,a ted walking down the street,even if he was a ted  50 years ago,just by the stride and the looking up and the defiancethat “This,my pal will be my world,my life: don’t push as I don’t push.”

  When rock’n’roll came,we found it much to our taste: we knew it came from the blacks – a marriage made by the Devil if you want,the ted look and the broken beat of the bass in rock’n’roll music.Yep.

  I had money (courtesy of the BBC) for a taxi up to a Saturday night at a teddy boy revival dance up Dallington Working Mens Club in Northampton,and there  I found him after 43 years my “hero”,John Facer,king of the teds.Armed with a microphone,I would ask him questions,take him outside and say ” they was some times John?”

  He didn’t remember me – he’d be 17 and me 14 – that sort of difference is quite a lot when you’re  a teenager and we were the first teenagers.I never spoke to him then – just looked – he was the King of the Teds – amazing stride and striking looking still.Here it was 2004 in a dance hall full of fit people in their sixties – teds don’t get flab.


  Remember teds came from nowhere – just a feeling among the young in the bottom drawers of society.Oh,you can explain it sociologically because of the end of the war and that there were freedom and jobs and money and what had the war been won for.But we did it ourselves – it wasn’t dictated from above by fashion gurus,it was from the bottom up – the greatest uprising in the hearts of the common people to my mind since the Protestant non-comformist revolution of the 17th century.With us it was a religion, a passion.I do evangelise,passing on the true old Rip It Up – Ready Teddy protest-party faith.

 A long time ago certainly; remember,before rock’n’roll there was the first teenager.The ted.We broke a world of regulation suits and work,and harmony and steps for dance,and replaced it with colour and wildness – and the look of sheer “I am.and I was.I WAS!

Last modified on May 14, 2014

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