Documentary, Exhibitions

Chris Steele-Perkins’ Teds gets new release for first time in 40 years

All images from the series Teds © Chris Steele-Perkins, courtesy Magnum

Teds, a series of photographs by Chris Steele-Perkins, will be exhibited in the UK for the first time in nearly 40 years at Magnum Print Room, London. Steele-Perkins’ series documenting the uniquely British youth culture of the Teds will be shown alongside eight previously unseen photographs from his archive, and a platinum print of the cover image from his landmark book, The Teds. The exhibition will coincide with the launch of a new, re-designed version of this book by Dewi Lewis, first published in 1979.

Between 1976 and 1979 Steele-Perkins, working with the writer Richard Smith, documented the phenomenon of Ted culture across the UK in a series of striking black and white photographs.

Steele-Perkins went beyond simply capturing the distinctive fashion of the movement by documenting the Teds interacting in the environs of the dance hall, the pub, the suburban home, car parks and seaside promenades. The series quickly became a classic of British social documentary photography.

Sixty years ago, 1956, was a watershed year for Teds, when the Bill Haley film Rock Around the Clock arrived in the UK and was screened at some three hundred cinemas across the country.

It wasn’t long before the riots started – at London’s Elephant and Castle Trocadero seats were slashed, and when the police attempted to disperse a throng of jiving, singing teenagers, bottles and fireworks were thrown; four shop windows were smashed, and there was further trouble in many other cities including Manchester and London whilst in Birmingham, Blackpool, and Belfast the film was banned.

‘Their style was exotic, alien, menacing: Brylcreem elephant trunks, drapes, drainpipe trousers, luminous socks, beetle-crushers. Out on the streets, you could still find the fights. Down at the municipal baths, there was the penny-in-the-slot Brylcreem dispenser. A quick white greasy squirt after a tone-up swim, the Ted could style his quiff, flicking and stroking with his plastic comb.

Then out back with the gang up the bus-shelter, someone might have got his head kicked in by baseball boots, boppers, or cowboy boots with spurs. The Teds had found their identities in the gangs. They had moved from the back-streets to the housing estates and headlines. And they did it to the back-beat of Rock ’n’ Roll.’

In the 1960s a new generation adopted Ted culture and in the mid-Seventies, yet a third generation adopted the Ted style – fashionable Seventies teenagers, spurred on by nostalgic radio, TV, and the cinema. This new set of 1970s Teds were known as ‘the plastics’ and were documented from 1976 – 1979, alongside the ‘veterans’ of the 1950s, by Steele-Perkins.

For Pop, the Fifties struck a chord more resonantly than any other period. It was the beginning; the lost innocence lies there. Fifties nostalgia provided Teds with an affirmation.

They are remarkably durable. Unlike other teenage sub-cultures, they have persisted as a coherent movement but, in the process, they have changed with the passing of the years.’ Richard Smith.

Chris Steele-Perkins joined Magnum Photos in 1979. Alongside extensive work in the developing world he has continued to document Britain, with his 40 year overview, England, my England, being published in 2009 and A Place in the Country, his tenth book in 2014.

Steele-Perkins work has been displayed in nearly 30 solo exhibitions, in numerous group international exhibitions and is held in collections at Tate, National Media Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Fnac (Paris), Corcoran Gallery (Washington DC), Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Arts Council amongst others.

Documenting Style and Subculture is on from 22 September 2016 at Barbican, London.