Julie Burchill
Damaged Gods

Mods turned neatness into an art form. The phantom totems of their style—an extra inch on the vents of their jackets, the label of their shirt—meant they could be Mods in the banks, insurance companies and shipping offices where they worked. The demands on their time of these same jobs meant that—despite Tiles, the noonday underground—the weekend was a time for Total Mod around the clock. No cult before or since has placed such emphasis on days off—Bank Holidays, the weekend. The calling card of 'Ready, Steady Go'—The Weekend Starts Here—was more than just happenstance. Mod's mind's eye was always calendar-watching.

Mod made its debut in Town magazine in 1962, with interviews with and photographs of some young faces from Stamford Hill. 'Bilgorri of Bishopsgate. He's a great tailor. All the faces go to Bilgorri. And John Stephens. He's very good on trousers.'

Young working-class males had never talked like this before. Young Mark Feld, fifteen, who grew up to be young Marc Bolan, told Town of some shirts in C&A. 'Some faces won't look at them because they're only 14/6. That's just ridiculous.' Warming to his theme, he recalled a gingham shirt he had spied in Woolworth's that very morning. 'Only ten bob. A few alterations and it would look as good as a four guinea job from John Michael.'

The bespoke stylists who would serve the Mods so well had served a long apprenticeship. Vince of Newburgh Street had been selling flamboyant clothes to homosexuals and showbusiness types since 1954. John Stephen had worked there as an assistant and then struck out on his own with £300 capital and a shop in Beak Street. After all the stock was destroyed in a fire he started up again around the corner where the rent was only £10 a week, and he invented Carnaby Street. Mod derived from Modernist, as in Modern jazz—it was sharp, clean, modern, everything they aspired to be. Charlie Mingus and Dave Brubeck, not Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, Mod not Trad, dad. There were to be no goatee beards and sandals for these boys. Like the Teds, their music was American. Unlike the Teds, it was music made by American blacks- In Generation X, Hamblett and Deverson's Domesday Book of early Sixties' youth, a sixteen-year-old Mod says, 'At the moment we're hero-worshipping the spades—they can dance and sing...we do the Shake and the Hitch-Hiker to fast numbers but we're going back to dancing close because the spades do it.'

In 1962 some trailblazing Mods took up the traditional City Gent look—for a while a few of them even wore bowler hats and carried umbrellas. 'It didn't last long.' Johnny Moke said, 'but it's where the waisted suits came from.' From 1962 Mod suits were Anglo rather than Italian—a vote of confidence that would eventually lead to England Swinging and all that.

More casual clothes flowed into mainstream Mod, like the sportswear from Lonsdale in Beak Street (one Mod temple still extant). The Parka, worn for practical reasons by prototype Modernists, the scooter boys of 1959-60, evolved into part of Mod style as more faces got mobile.

It was frantic, fastidious, ever-changing stuff. One Mod who had been out of the country for a while said he dared not wear any of his suits until he discovered if the jacket's side vents should be five or six inches long. The amphetamine they consumed gave the Mods not only energy but also encouraged acute narcissism and bad complexions. Mods had it bad for themselves.

By now they were going to the Flamingo (called the Allnighter after the sun went down), the Scene and La Discotheque. The attraction of the Flamingo were the black American GIs who hung out there, from whom the Mods bought soul records unavailable in this country. Indigenous whiteys like the Beatles and the Stones, who coveted black American Mod favourites while still attempting to master the art of songwriting, were considered unspeakably non-U by the purists of facedom. The compulsive consumerism of the Mods, so subtle that for a year or two it was submerged below the horizon of the grown-up world, finally got the treatment in 1963 when that august periodical Hairdresser's Journal told upwardly mobile barbers everywhere that, fee-fi-fo-fum, they smelled the cash of young Englishmen. 'Modernists, or Mods for short, account for about 35 per cent of Britain's male teenage population. Their fashions are the furthest out, the most up-to-the-second of any and the male Mod probably devotes between a quarter and a third of his weekly income to his appearance. As such, they represent a valuable clientele to the men's hairdresser who is prepared to give them the sleek, carefully-groomed styles they are looking for.'

Style was the Mod's antidote to the creeping paralysis of working-class life but, being working-class themselves, the Mods savoured a ritual outing to the seaside on a Bank Holiday as much as any old wrinklie in cloth cap and clogs. The early Mods abhorred violence—spending a small fortune on clothes each and every week is the greatest antidote to yobbism known to man—but the mass of newer, less cerebral Mods (and it was a mass movement by now—five 'Mod' magazines started in early 1964 and all sold between 250,000 to 500,000 copies per issue) were not so fastidious. Easter Sunday, 1964, at not-so-sunny Clacton was the coldest Easter day since 1884. There was little business for the shops and they closed early, A few local leather lads scuffled with visiting Mods. Some Easter eggs were pilfered by Mods with a sweet tooth. A few stones were thrown and a small pack of playful Mods went onto the pier without paying. Then everyone went home to Mum.

The next day every paper but The Times gave the modest exploits of the Mods in Clacton the front page. The Daily Mirror's 'WILD ONES INVADE SEASIDE TOWN—SCOOTER GANGS BEAT UP CLACTON' was typical. The Home Secretary himself said. 'There was nothing like a riot or gang warfare. Clacton was not sacked.' But it would be—the reports were a self-fulfilling prophecy and on the next Bank Holiday Clacton, along with Margate, Hastings, Bournemouth, all played host to real riots

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.