I always try to catch TV shows that speak to or about youth culture, so I was interested to see that the BBC show (in the UK) Melvyn Bragg on Class would deal with subculture in Britain. Melvyn (or, I think, his scriptwriter) made a half-decent stab at explaining the Teddy Boys, a rushed explanation of mod and an altogether poor attempt to tell us what skinheads are/were. He then added insult to injury, finishing the show by telling the viewer that skinheads did not have a voice, instead waiting eight years or so for punk to come along and give them one. A typical case of those in the middle class trying to take the voice away from those who have adopted an ethos that those outside are unable or unwilling to understand.
Now, this explanation is problematic on SO many levels. The show largely ignored that skinhead was a more working class/tough offshoot of mod. It also ignored the fact that these working class youths had made a choice to differentiate themselves from what was becoming a staid and played out youth cult. The skinheads had a voice when they appeared in numbers in seaside towns like Margate or on the football terraces. It said ‘watch out’.
From 1968 skinhead had various mutations (with the likes of the Skinhead series of novels bringing in numbers but, according to some, diluting the cult with those more interested in the violence than the clothes and music), including the late-1970s version that 2-Tone inspired. Yes, this was filtered through punk, but the voice was still a distinctive one. Punk was largely an individualist ‘fuck you’, whereas skinhead retained its desire to raise a collective middle finger to convention. By this time, and later, there were divisions between racist and non-racist skinheads, but it certainly did not take punk to take them to either point.
Photo: Iain Aitch, aged 12, Margate. © Iain Aitch.