South of London Mods

Li 150(by David B)


I was born in Paddington but we moved south of London when I was still a small lad. I was involved in the Mod scene around Guildford starting in the summer of 1964. Since I lived alongside the A3 (the main road south out of London) that's where I first saw what subsequently became known as Mods in 1962 and 63. They were on very smart scooters - not the "mum and dad" type with a windshield, but very smart; with accessories but not overdone. The riders wore parkas and trilby hats. I was gob-smacked and knew that was what I wanted to look like - problem was I was fourteen and making ten bob a week on a paper route...

I bought my scooter - a Lambretta Li150 - in the spring of 1964, just after leaving school. I painted it in two tone red and white but ran it in 'skeleton' form, minus front mudguard and side panels, quite a bit. It made it easier to nick chrome side panels when the opportunity arose. I fitted a two tone red and black striped seat (from Pride and Clarke's?) plus lights, mirrors, carriers and a fly screen. I fitted one of those silencers with the megaphone on the end that sounded wonderful until the whole thing plugged up! I took it off and soaked it in acid but couldn't clean it out so I took a big hammer and a chisel to it and punched a hole in the front - best thing I ever did! It restored the performance but made the Lambretta sound like a Vespa GS! Instead of the putt, putt, putt of the Lambretta there was this turbine like howl of a Vespa - very cool!

I didn't have much money - I only made four pound ten a week initially, so buying clothes was a creative affair. We had a small 'boutique' tailors in Guildford at the time - I forget the name but they were next to the Ricky Tick club (as the main ballroom was named). I had my first suit made there and they took a lot of trouble over it. When I subsequently worked at Austin Reads the tailors there were very impressed with the cut and hang of this suit. Otherwise we wore what was 'the latest thing' for the London guys - striped jackets, button down collars, Levis (of course - although getting the Levis was a major operation), desert boots and parkas. The parkas were a fashion thing but they were bloody useless for stopping the cold and rain - especially the rain! I think that must be the reason we all fitted 'fly screens' to the scooters - to give us some protection, in addition to looking cool. I started out with a skinny white fur roll on the hood of my parka but when I acquiredMods on the move a really good brown roll I used the white fur on the epaulets - I never saw anyone else do that and it looked really good, even if I do say so myself. There had been a fashion for the 'Barrow Boy' look in about 1963 and I still had the flat 'at but I found that by undoing the clasp between the peak and the body of the hat it would stay on and also looked good - I saw others do this but I can honestly say that I arrived at this idea on my own. We stole the mirrors off Honda 50s so that we could 'accessorize' our scooters in addition to front and rear carriers, fly screens, lights and crash bars. Nobody considered the weight all this accumulated stuff was having on performance. I was one of the few people who knew how to work on an engine and I managed to make my scooter go quite well.

I became involved with the local band of Mods - all were older than me and made more money (I made four pounds,ten shillings and eleven pence a week as an apprentice compositor). I want to make a point of the age thing. The Baby Boom Generation is generally considered as those born between 1946 and 1964 (US Census info) - I was born in 1948. My mates were all generally born four or five years before me. I contend, M'Lud, that this gave them a distinct advantage - with jobs, opportunities (birds) and with 'creating' styles. There were also far fewer of them, thanks to Adolf. Think of the ages of the Beatles, Stones, The Who and I suggest, M'Lud, the early Mods. (please don't bring up Mark Feld/Bolan he was a freak of nature!). Those of us in the Baby Boom generation had to follow them - we had no bleedin' choice! M'Lud. Mod rant off.

I would say that from the summer of '64 until summer '65 Mods in Brighton me and my mates put in 20,000 miles on our scooters. Which speaks volumes for the quality of those abused machines. We would go to Brighton or Bognor (bugger Bognor!) frequently. The scene in "Quadrophenia" where they are sleeping under the bandstand I can recall well since I did it too. My favourite memory is of a time at Hastings in 1964, the police rounded all the Mods up and told us to head out of town. I was about fifty yards back from the lead scooter as we left Hastings - two abreast and probably a thousand scooters when the lead scooter simply turned around and headed back into Hastings - we all followed and the police were completely unprepared - we took over!

I recall one trip to Brighton, we had left it a bit late and it was very dark crossing the "Sarf Dans" so we started looking for somewhere to stop overnight. Somebody spotted a hay barn so we pulled down a bit of fencing and rode the scooters over the field to this barn. We all had sleeping bags of course and we just kipped down in the hay. Just as we were dropping asleep there is a commotion and it transpires that we are sharing the barn with about two dozen pigs (The four legged variety)! Not much sleep was had that night - bloody pigs didn't like us being there and let us know it.

Another trip we were going through a pea soup fog somewhere on the main Brighton road. You couldn't see more than ten feet and we were almost certainly going too fast when I see two pairs of legs standing beside the road - the bodies were lost in the mist. As I ride by I hear "DAVE!" yelled in desperation. I managed to turn around and it was two friends whose scooter had broken down and were hitching - this was about midnight! They had recognised the unique sound of my scooter - if it had been somebody else they might have got their heads kicked in.

ViolenceThe Wooden Bridge was a major part of the Mod scene, no getting away from it. The group that I hung out with were all in the building trade and were a pretty tough bunch, but it was usually a matter of six or more on one. One night at the Wooden Bridge Club there was a confrontation between us and the Guildford Mods. After this they were all gathered in a group discussing tactics and didn't notice me standing on the edge of the group listening in - I would have got my head kicked in if they had seen me. Anyway, they planned to invade our area and 'sort us out' at 7.30 the following Tuesday - as they inadvertently told me! I went back to my group, told them what I had heard and by Tuesday we had reinforcements in and were lining both sides of the street as the Guildford boys rode into town. They saw the situation and didn't stop but we exchanged some insults except for me - being the youngest, and possibly the mouthiest - I stepped forward as one of them rode by - he swung his leg, I swung mine and we both had badly bruised shins for our troubles. That was the only time I ever exchanged a blow with another Mod. I was mouthy but I was no fighter.

We made up with the Guildford boys after that. A few weeks later we went to a dance at a local village and it turned out to be a Rocker hangout. We were way outnumbered and some of our guys got roughed up quite badly. This would not do so a call was put in to the Guildford boys - would they come and help us out? They were delighted! The ensuing melee' made the front page of the Evening Standard or News, I forget which. The headline read: "More than sixty Mods on their scooters, together with Minicar loads of their girlfriends [actually the Guildford boys] invade village!" General disgust all round. If any of you computer geniuses can find that from late 64 I would love to have a copy. We saw very few Rockers generally and they stopped going to the resort towns after 1964 - they were out numbered.

We would go to Ricky Tick flyerdances at the Wooden Bridge Pub in Guildford (the Stones played there), the dances at the main dance ballroom in Guildford (they named it the Ricky Tick Club but it was Mickey Mouse...), the Crawdaddy Club, Eel Pie Island on occasion and the Harvest Moon Club in Guildford - anybody remember that? It was across the road from the Ricky Tick and was the cause of it's closing. We would see Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, Long John Baldry, Spencer Davies and of course, John Mayall. We (my buddy Alan Taylor and I) would also go to the 'Disc' on Wardour street or rarely, 'The Scene". The Scene could be pretty intimidating since you never knew if you were going to get rolled! I remember picking up a girl there and dancing for a long time with her until somebody I didn't know whispered in my ear "She is the girlfriend of the leader of the Mile End Boys"! Exit one wannabe boyfriend...

I sold my scooter in late 1965 -the whole Mod scene just seemed to be finished. Between the press and tv they had made being Mod seem passe' - if that is the right term. I would love to find my old scooter (it was either RPA215 or 215RPA - I had one number on the front and the other on the back). When I decided to sell it I only had to let it be known and it was sold - I suppose it had a bit of a reputation by then. With the money I financed a trade in 'mothers little helpers' that we got by the thousand from a club called "The Ace of *****" up near Charing Cross tube station and a friend and I sold them at the Harvest Moon Club. (sorry to those who got nineteen in a packet intended to hold twenty...). I worked the door at the Harvest Moon on Sunday nights and one night I actually bounced somebody! Since I weighed nine stone dripping wet that was as surprising to me as it was to him!

My parents emigrated to Toronto in 1966 and I announced, the week before the ship was due to sail that I was perfectly happy to stay in England with my mates. It was seven years before I saw my parents again.

In 1968 I finally decided that it was time to see the world and went up to the P&O Shipping offices right at the entrance to Petticoat Lane in the East End and signed up to work on liners for a few years. After seeing the world I realised that I preferred the look of Vancouver so moved here in 1973 - no regrets. My wifes closest friend (who emigrated to Vancouver with her) used to go on holiday with the Kray family! They had caravans together in Burnham on Sea and would spend weeks together. Charlie, the oldest Kray brother went to school with her father.

Quadrophenia is unquestionably the best movie of the era. I still remember walking down theatre row in Vancouver (never having heard of this movie) looking at the still photos that were posted outside all the movie theatres. Suddenly I was looking at scenes that I recalled like they were yesterday. It was as if I recognised the people and the scenes. It was Quadrophenia and nobody in Vancouver knew what the hell it was about. Another movie that captures the end of the sixties very well is "Withnail & I". That is how I remember it - long overcoats, always pissing with rain. He seems to be a bit more educated than anybody I knew then of course.

The Mod scene was of the time and the generation (I hope I don't offend anybody with that opinion). Nobody had any money - my father used to borrow (borrow?!) my bicycle to go to the pub since he couldn't afford a car. We all lived in Council houses - I didn't know anybody who owned their own house. None of us passed the eleven plus. There is a reason for that - we were not expected to! The eleven plus was written initially as a class based method of keeping us in our place. It was changed around 1960 to become an IQ based exam but prior to that it was not. If you look at the photos of Mods of the sixties you notice one thing - they are all skinny! We couldn't afford to eat well - there were no 'fast food' places. We were lucky to get peas with our fish fingers!

Enough drivel for now.David B

David B

This work is the copyright of David B. The views expressed are purely those of the author and are not attributable to any other person or institution.

I know David would love to hear any feedback on this article. You can discuss it with him in the forum here or I will pass on any messages to him using the contact address.