When we created our Mods and Rockers themed escape room, Modrophenia, we did it knowing that the famous Mods and Rockers clash on Brighton seafront was an iconic moment in Brighton’s history. Obviously, it says something that it got what went on to be a very popular cult film, Quadrophenia, made about it but the newspaper articles at the time sensationalised it so much that it is now deeply engraved into Brighton’s identity. Everyone seems to know a bit about all this, mostly from watching Quadrophenia, but we thought we’d lay out the whole story with a bit of background so anyone coming to play Modrophenia knows all about it.
The backdrop to the mass brawl on the Bank Holiday weekend in 1964 was a rising youth culture when youth culture had never really been a thing before. Much of the moral outrage and panic in the papers was fuelled by the anxiety created by young people suddenly finding themselves with money and free time after WWII and breaking away from the older generation to find their own style and identity. Music played a big part in this with the emergence of rock and roll in the late 1950s alongside the, at the time, radical modern jazz. This created two separate youth cultures. People who listened to rock and roll, Rockers, and people who listened to modern jazz, Mods (this musical taste later morphed into a liking for ska and The Who). Clothing styles sprung up among these groups with Rockers going for the leather jackets, denim and Brylcreem-heavy hair styles while the male Mods went for the tailored suit looks popular on continental Europe with short neat haircuts and the women with bob haircuts, heavy eye make-up, short dresses and long boots. Rockers rode motorbikes and Mods rode Lambretta or Vespa scooters.
In the spring of 1964, lots of young people were heading for the coast. Mods were getting on their scooters and Rockers on their motorbikes to ride down to seaside resorts like Clacton, Bournemouth, Hastings, Margate and, of course, Brighton. Things got tribal quickly with the Rockers disliking the ‘foppish’ Mods and the Mods disliking the ‘out of touch’ Rockers. The two groups kicked off in spectacular style in all of these places but the Brighton clash became the most notorious for its sheer size and ferocity.
Exactly how it all started that Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend is up for debate but one Mod involved told the Mirror newspaper that there had been large groups of Mods and Rockers on the beach when a Mod had thrown a pebble at the Rockers. This started a deluge of pebbles flying on both sides until the fists, boots and weapons started flying too. It all got completely out of hand from that point onwards leading to the famous photos of the ‘battle of the deckchairs’ on top of the Aquarium where many a deckchair was picked up, thrown or used to smash people over the head. Later, there would be bonfires made of bits of deckchairs on the beach.
Caught by the Fuzz
Obviously, the local police didn’t just stand around and watch all this happen. They’d already had word this was likely to happen after a similar incident in Margate so they laid plans which involved taking all the police vehicles off the road and borrowing vans from the local waterworks department instead. This allowed them to take the young people by surprise as police officers all came charging out of waterworks vans and 75 arrests were made on one day. After a day of trouble, the Mods tried to sleep by Blackrock but the police kept hassling them so they didn’t get much sleep and were too tired the next day to get up to much. When it started to rain on the Monday, the young people tried to move off the beach but got corralled by the police and funnelled onto trains to London (even if they lived Brighton) where they were met by the Metropolitan police. Huge numbers of Mods and Rockers were arrested and fined with many spending a week in the cells.
This is a legendary bit of Brighton history, clearly, but creating our Modrophenia room was much more about the Mod aesthetic and the spirit of the era than about some young wallies throwing deckchairs. If you’re also a fan of the Mod look, you’ll love Modrophenia. For more information about it or to book tickets, call 01273 220388 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.