When Mods and Rockers ruled the seafront

TRANSPORT DEPOT: Mods' scooters parked on the Golden Mile in 1965 or 1966.

TRANSPORT DEPOT: Mods' scooters parked on the Golden Mile in 1965 or 1966. - Credit: Archant

They are in their late 60s or early 70s now, probably doting grandparents fearful that their idolised grandchildren might be led astray by current temptations like alcohol and drugs.

Rockers on Great Yarmouth seafront pic taken easter monday 1965 n011

Rockers on Great Yarmouth seafront pic taken easter monday 1965 n011 - Credit: Archant

But I doubt that it ever occurs to them that their own parents were equally concerned when their teenage sons and daughters donned their regulation gear of parkas and anoraks, mounted their Lambretta and Vespa motor-scooters and rode off in their scores to create havoc at peak times in busy seaside resorts like Great Yarmouth.

Half a century ago, the teenage Mods and their pillion-riding girl-friends were unwelcome visitors wherever they went. Their presence among the holidaymakers and day-tripping crowds thronging resorts was bad enough, but the situation was exacerbated to flash-point pitch when their rival leather-clad Rockers motor-cycled in too.

They combined to form a new breed of unacceptable visitor who could damage resorts’ reputations and drive precious business away as they clashed, goading one another into volatile confrontation. Genuine visitors were fearful of becoming embroiled in a melee. National newspapers were blamed for publicising the teenage groups’ planned locations in advance.

The problems begun in August 1964 when incidents included stink bombs being tossed into catering premises. The overall illegal behaviour resulted in Yarmouth magistrates imposing heavy fines on teenage offenders, but the threat of punishment did little to deter the troublemakers.

The following year the regular invasions began early, and from Easter continued intermittently at weekends through the summer and persuading fearful visitors to seek trouble-free locations – which was not always possible.

The elderly and those with young families, perhaps Yarmouth’s core visitors, regretfully stayed away.

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That Easter influx of unruly teenagers on two-wheeled machines prompted a call from some influential members of the holiday industry that bank holidays should be banned. Local hotels and guest houses association chairman George Scott claimed advance publicity encouraged teenagers to come to Yarmouth to join in the shenanigans or at least to watch them - “They’re like children and act up if they think something is expected of them.”

Involved in that Easter Monday 1965 invasion of our famed Golden Mile was Yarmouth Mercury reporter Mike Farman – as an observer doing his job, of course, not as one of the tearaways. His eyewitness account revealed that he was caught up in the centre of the main clash of the Mods and Rockers midway between the Britannia and Wellington Piers.

“It was not a healthy sight,” he told Mercury readers in that Friday’s issue.

“Nearly 200 Mods and Rockers, with their police ‘shepherds’, were herding up and down the long stretch between the Pleasure Beach (where the Rockers had made their unofficial headquarters) and the Regent Road roundabout. A staff photographer (the late Les Gould) and I were slightly ahead of the throng of jostling Mods which stretched right across the promenade.

“Suddenly a cry went up, ‘Here they come!’

“We looked towards the Winter Gardens and saw a well-regulated line of black leather-jacketed youths striding towards us, chanting, ‘Rock-er, Rock-er’. An ugly clash seemed inevitable, but police were quick to spot the danger and bystanders scattered as a police car with blaring siren halted between the two groups. Extra men moved in front of the groups and waved the opposing factions back.

“Trouble, it appeared, had been averted, but the rearguard of both groups had other ideas and broke free and dashed across the car parks on to the nearly deserted beach. A whistle from a Rocker leader, and the youths picked up stones. On the Mod side there was hesitation in spite of an undoubted superiority of numbers.

“After a few tense minutes, a sergeant and a constable strode across in front of the groups and ordered them off the beach. The Mods resumed their aimless wanderings.

“I was struck by the scruffy, hangdog appearance of many of the group. It was obvious that many boys (and their teenage girl friends) had been sleeping rough throughout the weekend. Some looked desperately tired but refused to abandon the march – for fear, I presumed, of displaying some weakness in front of their friends.

“One Mod had many badges on his fur-collared khaki anorak – one with a black swastika on a red background. Others sported ‘ranks’ like lieutenant and sub-lieutenant.

“An irate mother pushed her way into the bunch of Mod girls, grabbed her two teenage daughters, and gave them a furious telling-off before ushering them across the road to father.

“And so they dragged away their afternoon and holiday…to the background of thin, piping transistor radios and sarcastic exchanges with passers-by.

“Ragged cheers broke out when a little clique of scooterists shot by, and there were boos as motor-cyclists roared defiantly past along the promenade. A scuffle broke out near the Marina, and a boy was left lying on the ground.

“At teatime they flopped on to the beach and rolled up their bedrolls for the journey home. As a cold blustery wind and a sharp hail shower put a fitting seal on this sad little Easter invasion, I wondered: ‘Why ever did they come?’”

When I returned to work in Yarmouth in the 1970s after being stationed in other parts of Norfolk, the weekend duty reporter in summer always had to keep alert for Mods and Rocker type incursions because sometimes they did lead to trouble, on a much smaller scale than in the Sixties and usually swiftly stifled by the police.

Whereas Mods and Rockers were bad news for Yarmouth, one very welcome visitor was favourite Irish singing personality Val Doonican who starred in his own show for two summer seasons – at the Wellington Pier Theatre in 1967, supported by pint-size comedian Arthur Askey, and at the Regal/ABC in 1973.

Val, who died last month at the age of 88, played to big audiences here, attracted by the popularity of his television series,

I believe he spent much of his leisure time on Gorleston golf course, close by his summer accommodation, and it was falsely rumoured that he was either buying a house, or having one built, in the links area.