Mods vs. Rockers

In short, why did they hate each other so much?

I can appreciate that they had different tastes in music, dress, mode of transportation, etc., and perhaps there was an urban-rural thing going on as well. But this by itself somehow doesn’t seem like enough to make people want to beat the shit out of one another (as in the '64 Brighton riots). I could understand it if they had been organized gangs like, say, the Hell’s Angels and the Rock Machine, where territory and financial interests are at stake and thus conceivably worth fighting over. I could also understand it better if they had “stood” for some cause or ideology - like the way hippie culture was in a sense aligned with the peace movement. But, at least according to one website I looked at (, the Mods merely “embraced an empty and superficial culture….”

I know that two groups of people do not necessarily need a “good” reason to hate one another. But was there something else - something deeper? – to the Mod/Rocker differences that fed their animosity? I feel like I must be missing an important part of the picture here.

Just a few WAGs until someone more knowledgeable comes in…

It seems to me like it was largely a class war sort of thing. I think that the mods were mostly white collar, and the rockers were destined to become the shipbuilders and garbagemen of England.

It might have also been something like what would happen if you had biker bars next to discos. These people probably shared the same entertainment districts, and the differences in their lifestyles were enough to cause some level of animosity. Think about how people in rock and roll felt about disco in the Seventies, or how punkers in the Eighties felt about… well,how we felt about everything, but New Wave disco might be a fitting example for this argument.

I think Corn is essentially correct. Class differences (or, perhaps, the PERCEPTION of class differences) had a lot to do with the conflict.

A blue-collar kid who wore short, greasy hair and a black leather jacket, drank beer, and listened to the Stones wasn’t likely to have much in common with a rich, long-haired Mod who wore a flowery shirt, smoked pot, and liked the psychedelic Small Faces.

The rockers looked upon the Mods as rich, snobby poofters, while the Mods looked at the rockers as poor white trash. The differences in musical taste were secondary. After all, the “rocking” Stones and “Mod” Who were on perfectly friendly terms. The “Mod” and “Rocker” bands didn’t take the distinctions as seriously as their fans did.

This is not really a very good description of a true Mod, but rather a former Mod embracing the psychadelia. The Mod scene was pretty dead by about 1965.

I am not British, and am certainly not old enough to remember the Mod days, but I do know a fair amount about the movement and think I can safely say that the current popular conception of Mods and Rockers is not very accurate.

For one thing, tension between Mods and Rockers was not as bad as you might think. The press highly exaggerated reports of the Mod/Rocker “beach wars”. Scenes such as those seen in the film version of the Who’s Quadrophenia were inspired by newspaper photos of the time, but many of those photos were staged.

For another thing, few Mods were wealthy or upper class. The typical Mod might work as a cashier or office boy. I’m not saying there were no real or perceived class distinctions between Mods and Rockers, but it was more a lower middle class/working class split than an upper class/lower class one. Mods also tended to cluster in southern urban areas, with Rockers being more prominant in northern industrial areas. Although this meant there were more differences between the two groups, it also meant that they did not come into contact with one another that often. There were also many young people of the era who did not identify as either Mods or Rockers, or who mixed and matched the two styles.

When it comes down to it, Mods thought that Rockers were stupid, dirty, and out of style, while the Rockers thought that the Mods were a bunch of prancing dandies. Some teenaged boys don’t need any better reason than that to get into fights with one another.

And then there was Ringo Starr. He was a Mocker.

I beg your pardon!

I never saw it as class war; all the Mods and Rockers seemed to be, what, middle to lower middle class (I am sure that offends someone’s sensibilities). I liked the Rockers initially, 'cause they were closer to what I identified with, but then along came psychedelia and the distinction between English haberdashery clerks and English machine shop workers soon ceased to be relevant.

Vespa, Picadilly Circus, Indian, leathers…, it didn’t matter but for a few brief years (what? 1962-65?).

Back about 1965, reporters asked the Rolling Stones whether they were Mods or Rockers.

The Stones answered: “Neither. We’re Rods and Mockers.”

And that’s just what they were!

Correct, and good summary. It’s easy to assume that, because of their style, the Mods were upper class. Some were, but most were working class kids, especially in the later part of the 60s mod era. Superficial? Yes, in some ways, but a lot of the fashions (bowling shoes, parkas, etc) were not necessarily expensive, and indeed part of the idea was to create a look that didn’t depend on a fat wallet.

Despite my user name, I’m not a mod, I just play one on the Internet (well, I used to think I was, back when there was a little scene going on in DC). For me it’s more about the music . And the overall concept of taste, which seems to be lacking nowadays. But I don’t look for anything deeper than that – I don’t need to define my values or political beliefs from being part of some silly group (whether its Mods, hippies, punks, etc).

Although we don’t recognize it as much as other youth subcultures (especially in the US), the mod period has had tremendous influence. You can see it today in graphic design and fashion – not to mention music. Just the other day I was at Nordstrom’s (of all places) and they were hawking Ben Sherman shirts with what resembeld Sta-Prest trousers. Their mannequins looked like something from Carnaby Street.

And of course there have been several mod “revivals” since the 60s…

By working class I just mean “not upper class.” Lower middle class (what Lamia said) is more accurate.

Wait…I’ve always thought of mods as guys in jackets and ties, bowler hats, dress shoes, riding on a scooter and listening to ska. I also thought they were from the 70’s and 80’s. But obviously no one would mistake any member of the Stones as one of these guys, so how wrong am I?

I’m not English, and was in the playpen when the Mod/Rocker wars were at their peak. So, I didn’t and DON’T pose as an authority here. I merely point out that I said the PERCEPTION of class war was important here.

And let’s face it, in 1965 or today, perceptions don’t necessarily have much to do with reality. The Who wore frilly, fruity mod clothes, but Roger Daltrey was a macho, blue-collar bloke who was always ready for a fight (especially with people who TOLD him his clothes looked fruity!). Meanwhile, self-styled rocker toughs embraced bands who were, essentially, art-school wimps (like the Stones).

To use Corn’s analogy regarding the disco haters of the 1970s… when I was a teen in New York, I knew lots of blue collar Italian guys EXACTLY like Tony Manero, who wore gaudy clothes and went to discos, where they did all the latest trendy dances. I also knew blue collar Italian guys who listened exclusively to heavy metal, went around chanting “disco sucks,” and looked down on the Tony Manero wannbes as “fags” (never mind that those “fags” were scoring with women a LOT more regularly than they were!).

Those two groups of Italian-American kids had MUCH in common. They were of the same ethnicity and the same socioeconomic class. But they PERCEIVED each other as being from different worlds. BOTH groups were, essentially, lower-class, blue collar goombahs. But the disco crowd looked down on the metal crowd, and the metal crowd perceived the disco-hoppers as elitist wimps.

You’re thinking of one of the Mod revivals. The original Mod scene was in Britian in the late '50s/early 60s. It had a heavy French and Italian influence, and was a reaction against the mainstream pop culture of the 1950s. You’re right about the jackets, ties, and scooters, though.

The Stones were not a Mod band, although plenty of Mods liked them. The Who was more Mod, although only in their very early days, and even then it was more of a marketing pose than anything else. A better example of a Mod band is probably the Small Faces, although I’ve never been a fan of them and don’t know much about them.

Anyone interested in Mod would do well to check out the aforementioned film version of the Who’s Quadrophenia; it has a number of innacuracies, but AFAIK is the only full-length motion picture ever to deal with the Mod scene. Richard Barnes also has a book called simply “Mods!” that has a good history of the scene with lots of period photos.

You might also be thinking of self-styled “rude boys.” The original rude boys were Jamaican immigrants who intruduced ska and rocksteady to the UK. It’s become common to mix and match the rude boy/mod styles. There’s a lot of overlap in any case. One of my best friends in high school wore a porkpie hat and a parka – he couldn’t decide which he wanted to be.

The king of the revivalists is the “modfather” himself – Paul Weller . Check out any of The Jam’s albums for an updated (by late 70s standards) mod sound. Even their album covers drew heavily from Small Faces/Who/Creation and pop-art visuals. The Beatles weren’t mods in a strict sense but could be considered “honorary mods” because their look and sound had enormous influence on “real” mods – much more so than the Stones.

Sixties movies such as The Knack and How to Get It and Blow Up give some flavor of the era, but aren’t really mod per se.

Actually, what you said was that the perception of class differences (not class war per se) had a lot to do with the conflict. And it’s a very good point – though I myself don’t know how true it really was.

The fact that many (?) Mods were employed in white-collar offices, even if they had little chance of promotion within them, could have fed such a perception of class difference: perhaps a perception (from the Rocker point of view) that the Mods had sold out, betrayed the lower-class roots, by taking on office jobs. But this is just a guess. I’d be curious to hear what you better informed posters think about this.

Thanks, Lamia, for the book reference. And thanks everyone for your reponses to the OP.

There is still a strong british subculture of dressing well and being prepared to fight another gang. It is footlball casual/hoolie culture.

Acquascutum and burberry are the prefered brands right now.

There are a good many parallels.