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The mods and rockers were two conflicting British youth subcultures of the early to mid-1960s. Media coverage of mods and rockers fighting in 1964 sparked a moral panic about British youths, and the two groups became labelled as folk devils.
The rocker subculture was centred on motorcycling, and their appearance reflected that. Rockers generally wore protective clothing such as black leather jackets and motorcycle boots (although they sometimes wore brothel creeper shoes). The common rocker hairstyle was a pompadour, which was associated with 1950s rock and roll — the rockers' music genre of choice. The mod subculture was centred on fashion and music, and many mods rode scooters. Mods wore suits and other cleancut outfits, and preferred 1960s music genres such as soul, rhythm and blues, ska and beat music.
In the United Kingdom, rockers engaged in brawls with mods. BBC News stories from May 1964 stated that mods and rockers were jailed after riots in seaside resort towns in Southern England, such as Margate, Brighton, Bournemouth and Clacton. Mods sometimes sewed fish hooks or razor blades into the backs of their lapels to shred the fingers of assailants; the same thing was done by Teddy Boys in the 1950s. Weapons were often in evidence; coshes, bike chains and flick knives being favoured.
The mods and rockers conflict led sociologist Stanley Cohen to develop the term moral panic in his study Folk Devils and Moral Panics, which examined media coverage of the mod and rocker riots in the 1960s. Although Cohen admits that mods and rockers had some fights in the mid-1960s, he argues that they were no different to the evening brawls that occurred between youths throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, both at seaside resorts and after football games. He claims that the UK media turned the mod subculture into a negative symbol of delinquent and deviant status.
The conflict came to a head at Clacton during the Easter weekend of 1964. Round two took place on the south coast of England, where Londoners headed for seaside resorts on Bank Holidays. Over the Whitsun weekend (18 and 19 May 1964), thousands of mods descended upon Margate, Broadstairs and Brighton to find that an inordinately large number of rockers had made the same holiday plans. Within a short time, marauding gangs of mods and rockers were openly fighting, often using pieces of deckchairs. The worst violence was at Brighton, where fights lasted two days and moved along the coast to Hastings and back; hence the Second Battle of Hastings tag. A small number of rockers were isolated on Brighton beach where they – despite being protected by police – were overwhelmed and assaulted by mods. Eventually calm was restored and a judge levied heavy fines, describing those arrested as sawdust Caesars.
Newspapers described the mod and rocker clashes as being of "disastrous proportions", and labelled mods and rockers as "sawdust Caesars", "vermin" and "louts". Newspaper editorials fanned the flames of hysteria, such as a Birmingham Post editorial in May 1964, which warned that mods and rockers were "internal enemies" in the UK who would "bring about disintegration of a nation's character". The magazine Police Review argued that the mods and rockers' purported lack of respect for law and order could cause violence to "surge and flame like a forest fire".
Cohen argues that as media hysteria about knife-wielding, violent mods increased, the image of a fur-collared anorak and scooter would "stimulate hostile and punitive reactions". As a result of this media coverage, two British Members of Parliament travelled to the seaside areas to survey the damage, and MP Harold Gurden called for a resolution for intensified measures to control hooliganism. One of the prosecutors in the trial of some of the Clacton brawlers argued that mods and rockers were youths with no serious views, who lacked respect for law and order. Cohen says the media used possibly faked interviews with supposed rockers such as "Mick the Wild One". As well, the media would try to get mileage from accidents that were unrelated to mod-rocker violence, such as an accidental drowning of a youth, which resulted in the headline "Mod Dead in Sea"
Eventually, when the media ran out of real fights to report, they would publish deceptive headlines, such as using a subheading "Violence", even when the article reported that there was no violence at all. Newspaper writers also began to associate mods and rockers with various social issues, such as teen pregnancy, contraceptives, amphetamines, and violence.