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The Youth Cult that Shocked Britain
In the mid-1950s, British society was gripped by a sudden terror: of its own youth. The murder of a 17-year-old Londoner in September 1953 marked the start of a strange and horrifying fad. As if from nowhere, gangs of young men, dressed in a remarkable new fashion, emerged to turn the streets, dance halls and fairgrounds into battlefields. The Teddy Boys had arrived.
Soon they were blamed for a rising tide of post-War crime. Successors to aggressive thugs known as Cosh Boys, the Teds combined English Edwardian dress with American zoot-suit style, with weapons an essential accessory. Accounts of their sorties with knives, chains and knuckledusters filled the newspapers, and from the seminal Battle of St Mary Cray, in 1954, to mass brawls in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester, few towns or cities were unaffected. Some of the worst affrays pitched them against National Service squaddies and American GIs based in the UK. Various fighters claimed the title King of the Teds, some of them hyped by the. Teddy Girls joined in enthusiastically. Then the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll and the movie Rock Around the Clock sparked a wave of cinema riots, further condemnation and a sharp police and judicial response.
Yet others saw the Teds as a positive sign of an independent generation unbound by the restrictive attitudes of their parents, and similar fashions were embraced by teenagers abroad, from the Blousons Noir of France to the Bodgies of Australia. The Ted movement inevitably declined as the originals grew up, got married and had children. But their legacy survives to this day.