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Youths battling is nothing new; Dan O'Neill DOWN MEMORY LANE.


THEY were "vermin". They were "louts". They were symptoms of a moral breakdown in our society, "lacking all respect for law and order or for other people". And they needed taming. So the call went out: bring back national service; keep 'em off the streets with curfews; make prison mean hard labour.

What's that? You've had it up to here with the anarchy of August 2011? Not forgetting the anniversary memories of our own Ely riots.

Relax! All the above was spouted almost 50 years ago when mobs tore towns and even villages like Dinas Powys apart, when magistratres in Tenby had to introduce a "get tough" approach to what we'd now call feral youths invading their town. Without such toughness, trumpeted the magazine Police Review, "this lack of respect for law and order could cause violence to surge and flame like a forest fire".

Yes, a form of tribal violence came to South Wales in the shape of the Mods and Rockers of 1964, rampaging yobs who terrorised towns for no other reason, it seemed, than that they took exception to each other's clothes and taste in music.

Rockers wore leather and rode motorbikes, apprentice Hell's Angels dreaming of Harley-Davidsons. Mods favoured designer suits and popped along on Vespa or Lambretta scooters decorated with mirrors and mascots. For Rockers music meant Elvis and Gene Vincent. Mods listened to The Who and Small Faces. Mods had short haircuts. Rockers looked as though they dipped their hair in chip fat.

And they began settling their differences in May 1964, the first war zones along England's south coast with thousands battling in Brighton for two days. They smashed up shops and pubs and attacked the police, bringing those calls for heavy sentences.

Well, the jail terms were handed out along with fines but the battles went on through the summer and, naturally, South Wales didn't want to be left behind. Early morning strollers looking down on Barry Island beach on Easter Sunday 1964 were alarmed to see huge letters scrawled in the sand: "Rockers, Rockers, the Mods are coming."

Quick response from a van patrolling the promenade, painted on its sides: "We are Rockers, we hate Mods."

They met at about 6.30pm on Easter Monday, the beach, the fairground, the promenade erupting as hundreds of teenagers attacked each other. The police couldn't separate them so reinforcements were called in and soon the violence was spreading inland with pubs in Dinas Powys bolting their doors when an army of what one landlord called "long-haired youths in leather jackets" turned up.

They invaded a pretty decorous "twist and shake" session run for teenagers in the parish hall where The Apollos, a beat group as clean cut as The Beatles, were playing. They carried on as the newcomers took over, maybe hoping that their music would soothe the savage beasts. It didn't. End of session.

Meanwhile, Mods and Rockers battled all along the front in Porthcawl, with magistrates in Tenby fining troublemakers from out of town pounds 15 per head, the maximum penalty allowed.

What was really needed, said Patrick Cavanagh, Cardiff's assistant chief constable, was the discipline of a detention centre.

He sympathised with the average teenager displaying high spirits, didn't we all? But Mods and Rockers? No sympathy there, they were "wanton, vicious and malicious, terrorising innocent people".

Not when there were battles in Barry Island, warfare over the water in Weston-super-Mare and carnage in Caerphilly. In that town in the shadow of the mighty castle some 300 youths, egged on by screaming girls, fought, using chains and pickaxe handles. Police sealed off roads and used reinforcements from around the region before taking control.

The shockwaves spread. The Echo reported warnings of more trouble to come in Pontypridd and Pontypool, with the Caerphilly contingent, fresh from their hometown punch-up, promising to descend on Cardiff for "a major battle, an away fixture".

We're waiting, growled the Cardiff lads, 200 of them in Central Square outside the station. But this time the police were well prepared and swept in to clear the hopeful hardmen away. By this time you didn't need to be a Mod or a Rocker to fight and even the Pope joined the act.

What sadness, he said he felt, "when gazing at the faces of the Teddy Boys and Mods and Rockers". Faces, he mused, "full of pain, of mistrust, of vice, of evilness and delinquency". He might have said the same about the football hooliganism that followed or the Ely rioters or last month's looters. Not a lot has changed.


* Mods clash on the seafront at Brighton in the mid-1960s, in scenes replicated throughout the UK... even Dinas Powys
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 6, 2011
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