Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Jack Giles 3 - The Rebel - 1962 to 1969


In September 2007 my wife and I took our fifteen year old granddaughter down to Brighton. It was a hot, sunny day and Madeira Drive was crowded. Lambrettas rubbed shoulders with Harley Davidsons and Vespas with Triumph Bonnevilles. Angels and Outlaws; old school rockers and mods mingled with families and holidaymakers.
So differant to that Bank Holiday in 1964.
In 1964 there were no happy families or holiday makers lazing away on that stretch of beach between Brighton's two piers. Back then the only people on the beach were a bunch of Rockers - some skimming stones out to sea while others talked or messed about - as we did. Up on the promenade the Mods were on the march. Suddenly, they were swarming down the slipways and down the steps and charged the Rockers on three sides pinning them against the sea. The chase and the Battle of Brighton had begun.
I always had a passion for motorbikes. This was born when my Uncle Peter used to give me a lift home, on the back of his Royal Enfield, from cubs. When I grew up I wanted my own bike but my parents were against the idea but they paid out for driving lessons. I took my first lesson on the 29th September 1962 and passed my test on the 17th October 1962 - much to the surprise of everybody including me.
There I was with a full licence to drive a car but amongst all the other categories I discovered that I had a licence to ride a motorbike.
Before I go any further - prior to 1963 young people who rode motorbikes were known as Leather Boys or Ton-Up Boys or Cafe Cowboys. Bikers we were not - that is a modern term and the term Rocker did not come into fashion until the arrival of the Mods.
The cowboy idiom came about because the early Cafe Cowboys wore denim jackets, Levi's and boots. The denim jacket was replaced by the black leather jacket but the white silk scarf was worn either across the lower face or knotted to one side. Brylcreamed hair combed into a quiff and sideburns finished the picture.
And they got into the saddle and flicked the handlebars around like reins.
My friend Tony - I had known him through school. We had met up one day while collecting wood for a bonfire for Firework night. A large branch had fallen through a hedge - I was on one side and Tony on the other. Neither of us was aware of the other until we started a tug of war which led to a punch up until we just sat down laughing wiping blood from our noses.
In 1962 Tony bought himself a bright blue BSA and I would ride pillion. Sometimes I would ride it myself but well away from home.
1962 started out pretty uneventful and we'd had a pretty good summer. During September I started Evening School and was ready to knuckle down and study for a couple more GCEs. That was until the Russians decided to send missiles to Cuba. John F Kennedy, the President of the USA said that that wasn't going to happen - and Nikita Krushchev of the USSR said oh yes it was. And so it went on and all the time the Russian ships were closing in on Cuba and the USA were sending ships to intercept or sink them.
A group of us were walking up to the school and, being young, we were cracking jokes. But one of our group wasn't laughing. Quite suddenly, he stopped and yelled: "What's the matter with you lot? Don't you care that we could all be dead tomorrow?"
" Then what the hell are you doing here?" I asked. "If I knew for certain that I'd be dead - then I wouldn't be here. I'd be down town looking to do something that I'd miss out on."
Besides, who would have been stupid enough to press the button.
In the end Kennedy didn't have missiles in his backyard and Krushchev got rid of the missiles in his frontyard.
The confrontation, though, made me angry to think that a bunch of politicians could play with the lives of millions like that.
Also there was a hostile reaction to teenagers by older people who made being teenage like a disease. Rock 'n' Roll had come and gone - but the beat went on. We were criticised for what we wore and the 'culture' that we followed.
Into this mix came a rock 'n' roll band who had wowed the audience in Hamburg, Germany. They had worn leather jackets and jeans - but, by the time, they hit the big time they had ditched the gear for suits and mop tops. With The Beatles came the Mods.
And I donned a leather and rode a Triumph 250 - and, because my parents disapproved, I kept the bike and gear at Tony's house.
We used to meet up at Div's (Divitos) in Orpington High Street. If we weren't there then it was Johnsons up near Brands Hatch, or The 'Gale (The Nightingale) or the Salt Box over at Biggin Hill. After a while we could be found on Chelsea Bridge on our way to or from The Ace Cafe.
It was a time of burn ups and general fun to do with bikes and, like all groups, there were those that caused a few problems.
Whichever way you look at it the Leather Boys were trouble.
When I did the ton I was riding a friend's Bonnie and I was taking it home from for him from Johnsons Cafe. I just opened the throttle and away I went - straight down Death Hill without a care in the world. Well, you only get one life so live it to the full before some idiot pressed the button that would end it all.
There had been so many accidents and fatalities on Death Hill that it seemed as though an ambulance had been permanently stationed at the bottom.
I did that ton and it was the only time that I did it. I never saw the point in doing the ton again because the rush wouldn't be the same.
As I have said with The Beatles came the Mods with their nice suits and clean looks. The newspapers with nothing to report now that Missile Crisis was over made a big deal about both The Beatles and the Mods.
In simple terms: Mods were middle class and office workers - Rockers (a newspaper term) were lower class, factory workers and slackers, dirty and greasy. Not sure where I fit in, then, I worked in an office - another of the regulars worked in an estate agents and another in the accounts dept of the local council.
Mods rode scooters that they embelished with fox tails, mirrors and headlights.
No mention of how the 'Rocker' worked on his bike and because some parts were expensive made their own parts. Or that it was the ordinary 'Rocker' who had taken a Norton frame and combined the best bits of a Triumph on it. Then added a larger, squared fuel tank to create the first of the Tritons. Later, the Triton was manufactured.
The Norton Dominator was a great road holder while the Triumph Bonneville had a great burst of speed. The Triton was the best of both worlds.
That's newspapers for you. They hyped the Mod and put down the Rocker so when there was a clash at Clacton in 1964 it looked as though the poor Mods had been set upon by the apelike Rockers.
The scene was set for The Battle Of Brighton - and, I still believe, that it was the press and television that engineered the whole thing. For once the fight was over and the newspapers got the quotes like 'teddy boys with their flick knives' and the famous ' sawdust caesers' they lost interest in the Mods and Rockers. We all got lumped together as out of control teenagers.
By 1966 the Mods had disappeared and the moral victory went to the Rockers who carried on riding their bikes.
In 1966 I wrote my first ever novel called 'The Rebel'. As can be imagined it was the story of a Rocker and stretched from the Cuba Crisis to just after the Battle of Brighton. The story was accurate and true. I collected a number of rejection slips - so I re-read and re-wrote it but still collected rejection slips. The best of these were the comment that the book was not realistic and did not conform to the facts.
Oh! Well! At least I had tried and decided that I was not destined to be a writer.
I swapped my bike for a white Mini - and, out of boredom, joined the Young Conservatives. They wanted someone to do a weekly piece for the local newspaper and I, reluctantly, volunteered. These little pieces were my first in print but that was all the writing that I did.
One good thing to come out of the Young Conservatives - I met the girl who became my wife.
A good thing - considering my next recollections.

4 comments:

ARCHAVIST said...

Again an excellent post, full of humour - what are you rebelling against? What have you got?

Ray said...

Oh, yes, I was a real wild one

Steve M said...

Enjoyed reading this Ray, and the previous post. Really like how you've ended them...leaving us eager for more.

David Cranmer said...

Ray, These are great posts! Keep 'em coming.