“The last big event I can recall was the August Bank Holiday at Southend in 1979, where Skins, Mods, Suedeheads, Punks, Teds etc all seemed to fight with each other. The mob I was with were based around West Ham and were after the Teds and Skins, they looked a disgrace to us…. That night we went to the Paddocks on Canvey Island to watch Secret Affair”. From the4skins.tripod.com
Before changing its name to “SEX” sometime in 1974, Malcolm and Vivienne’s shop at 430 Kings Road Chelsea was called “Let It Rock” (72-73) followed by “Too Fast to Live too Young to Die”(1974). The shop dealt in a range of vintage style clothes, much of it comprising jackets and suits inspired by 1950s Teddy Boys. Long drape jackets, drainpipe trousers and brothel creeper shoes, that were soon to be appropriated by some of the early punks, including the Sex Pistols – quite possibly because Malcolm was supplying the outfits. Punk being punk, the outfits started to be accessorised with safety pins, chains, slogans, studs and badges, and it was this that the Teds really objected to. The Teds saw their long-established carefully groomed, coiffured, sharp and stylish look being picked apart and, in their eyes, somewhat ridiculed by these new youthful whipper snappers. And that it seems, is what started this whole legendary stand-off.
“The Teds were different from the Punks in that there was so many ages – there was the older lot, all the dads, along with younger kids. The Punk thing was very young. It was like going out and fighting old men, kind of ridiculous really”. John Lydon, No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, 1993
Apparently goaded by the press, who like nothing more than repetition because it makes the reporting of these things so much easier, Punks and Teds immediately became the media’s new Mods and Rockers. Hence from the summer of 1977, Teds and Punks would roam the Kings Road in Chelsea on a Saturday looking for the opportunity to settle once and for all, this new sticking point in their cross cultural relations. Legend has it that each side were even offered money by the press to get the job done, and so have the photographers and reporters safely back in the pub by lunchtime.
Consequently, the feedback loop of a well publicised skirmish, attracted yet more teenagers, and more violence the following week. Shocking youth behaviour sold newspapers.
“ I mean I know people who were actually offered money by photographers to throw bricks at the Teddy boys, but it was arranged with the Teddy boys too, of course, just for the press”. An anonymous Punk told Peter Everett, in “You’ll Never Be 16 Again” (1986).
On the 4th August 1977 the West London Observer reported under the headline “A Day of Violence” that “Vicious street fighting broke out for the third week-end running in the Kings Road area on Saturday afternoon. The clashes were between rival gangs of Teddy Boys and Punk Rockers…The main trouble erupted when police moved in to try and arrest some of the crowd of over 100 Punks assembled in Sloane Square…the whole road was blocked by fighting…At about 3.30 p.m., the mob moved off, but the fighting went on till early evening”.
Talking to Vice magazine in 2015, founder of the Edwardian Teddy Boys website, Nidge recalls “The Punks – that was different,” says Nidge. “We would fight regularly with them. We saw it as an affront. They were appropriating Ted gear and then messing it up. It was basically down to Vivienne Westwood, who had the shop “Let it Rock” and sold drapes that she’d then customise. It could get pretty bloody serious, actually – flick knives and knuckle dusters… all sorts. These days, it’s completely different. I was at a weekender recently and there was some punk guy there and nobody batted an eyelid.”
It’s also worth remembering that this brand of tribal street fighting was taking place under the backdrop of equally well publicised stand offs between Millwall and Chelsea fans, high youth unemployment, the media’s utter determination that all youth culture should be violent and Punk’s inbuilt attitude to not caring who or what they upset in their pursuit of something new. So maybe, it was only natural to reprise the Mod/Rocker themes and move the Kings Road to the seaside for Bank Holidays. But then again, we’re probably not the best people to ask….all this seems a bit like a boy thing…