Peter Darrell’s Mods and Rockers Ballet 1963 on ZANI

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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In 1963, Mods, the then newest British youth culture, and their predecessors the Rockers, were making the news. The first British youth culture Teddy Boys, from the fifties, had faded away, until their revival in the seventies. The media not only notified the British public of the Mods and Rockers’ different taste in terms of fashion, music and transport, the press started to generate panic,
as they did with the Teddy Boys in the fifties, by sensationalising their early fights between these two factions on Bank Holiday weekends at British seaside resorts. The media coverage of the 1963 Mods and Rockers’ battles were intensified by the BBC, the following year, therefore creating new folk devils and moral panics for that decade, nothing new then from the beeb.

Yet fighting on Bank Holiday weekends between the British working class wasn’t anything new, however, what made this different, is that the conflict was based on tribalism not territorial differences. Yes, many of the Mods and Rockers would have come from the same area, however, I extremely doubt that an East London Mod would have stood shoulder to shoulder with an East London Rocker in a seaside brawl.

Furthermore, in that year, The Beatles were gaining momentum in the world of music and beyond. A ‘yoof’ explosion was sweeping across old Blighty, with no end in sight. The youth embraced it, the middle-aged were inquisitive about it, whilst the elder generation feared it. Of course, there would have been exceptions to the rules, but the generation gap was widening.

Ballet dancer, choreographer, and later the founder of the Scottish Ballet, Peter Darrell, (16th September 1929 – 2nd December 1987), who was in his early 30’s, when Beatlemania and the conflicts between Mods and Rockers were occurring. In 1962, Darrell was working on a concept to make the ballet more appealing to a modern audience, by creating a piece that was relative to the then times. Darrell was no stranger to youth culture, as he was one of the choreographers for Cool for Cats, December 1956 to February 1961, one of the first television shows aimed at the British teenage market. Therefore, Darrell understood teenagers, current then music trends, fashion, attitude and dance, as having worked in that field.

So, on 18th December 1963, the Western Theatre Ballet debuted Mods and Rockers, at the Prince Charles Theatre, 7 Leicester Place, London WC2. The ballet is more or less a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, as it tells the story via the music of the Beatles, of a young Mod girl falling in love with the arch-enemy, a male rocker in a dance hall. Darrell even stated that Mods and Rockers was Britain’s first 'beat' ballet, and made it a one-act piece, believing the duration, the storyline, the setting and the music would support his vision and ideology. Alas, for Darrell and the Western Theatre Ballet, Mods and Rockers didn’t whet the appetite of the British Public, and to the best of my knowledge, after their run at the theatre, there were no other performances by Darrell and Western Theatre Ballet of this piece. The last known performance of Mods and Rockers was in 1996 by Sarasota Ballet in Florida, which is twenty-two years ago.

Maybe if The Beatles had endorsed Mods and Rockers, things, may have been different. Yet Darrell would have been pressed to gain the support of Paul McCartney, who said to playwright Joe Orton, in 1967, when Orton was writing the screenplay for The Beatles’ film Up Against It, ‘The only thing I get from the theatre is a sore arse’, I am confident that McCartney felt the same about the ballet in 1963. Moreover, the collaboration between The Beatles and Orton never materialised, as Brian Epstein rejected the screenplay.

In hindsight, it would be easy to be critical, in saying that The Beatles were not a Mod band nor a Rockers’ band, to quote Ringo from the film, A Hard Day’s Night, ‘A Mocker’. Yet Mods and Rockers is not just a piece about tribalism, even though that is paramount to the story, it is a story of what was relevant and exhilarating to the young people of 1963, and The Beatles were certainly that.

After Mods and Rockers, Darrell’s career grew from strength to strength, spanning three decades and was rightly so awarded a CBE in 1984 for his contribution to ballet. Darrell’s final performance under his direction, was The Scottish Ballet’s Carmen, on 21st October 1987, he was to pass away six weeks later. With ballet, Mods, Rockers and The Beatles still going strong fifty-five years later, I do believe that the time is right for a revival of Darrell’s forgotten ballet Mods and Rockers, as I think it would be a success and highly entertaining, keeping Darrell’s vision of contemporary ballet very much alive.

Check out Matteo Sedazzari's Novel Here - A Crafty Cigarette - Tales of a Teenage Mod - Foreword by John Cooper Clarke 

Read 5417 times Last modified on Tuesday, 13 March 2018 17:54
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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