'The Teds': An original teenage revolution

Published 19th September 2016
'The Teds': An original teenage revolution
Written by Jamie K. White, CNN
Contributors Video by Hazel Pfeifer
This video is part of Pixel, a series that turns the lens on some of the most inspiring photographers from around the world.
A culture of leather-clad, sweaty rock 'n' roll hounds, coiffed with Brylcreem or hairspray, sideburns down to the jaw. "We were both intrigued," photographer Chris Steele-Perkins said of his partner and writer Richard Smith.
Tied together with a bolo tie. A comb in hand. A cigarette hanging loosely from the lips. Reminiscent of what Americans know to be "The Fonz," Johnny Cash -- a subset of "Greased Lightning," with a little less hand jive, a little more rumble.
"The 'Teddy Boys' were the first manifestation of a teenage sub-culture," he said.
Also known as "The Teds" -- it was a movement ignited in the UK, documented between 1974-1976 by Magnum's Steele-Perkins. What started as a small assignment for a small magazine evolved into a two-year social project.
"Like most things as a photographer, you go with your gut feeling and keep at it," Steele-Perkins said.
"The Teds" found inspiration in the 1956 release of Bill Haley's American film "Rock Around the Clock." Young people around the UK began a riotous movement, lit a cigarette and began a revolution.
"They were exposed to American rock 'n' roll music and jive dancing, which they blended together with a magpie approach to fashion," he said. Rock 'n' roll bands named things like Crazy Cavan 'n' the Rhythm Rockers drew a heavy Teds audience -- the subjects of Steele-Perkins' photo series.
"Once I was in 'in' with them, they let me know what was happening," he said.
He became an embed, an accessory to the movement -- while keeping a healthy working distance."There were Teds I got on with better than others, but mostly they knew me and I knew them, but we were not close friends," he said.
Known as the "King of the Teds" -- Ron Staples, or "Sunglasses Ron" -- helped Steele-Perkins hang with the cool kids. "We got on well and (Staples) helped me get established," he said. "If someone was trying to pick a fight with me or have an issue, he would step in sometimes."
Photographer Chris Steele-Perkins
Photographer Chris Steele-Perkins Credit: Miyako Yamada
Steele-Perkins wasn't focused on becoming part of the gang, but was more of an "anthropologist."
"I was known as 'The Photographer,' and soon enough, they accepted me," he said.
Though the "Teds" movement eventually took hold in places like Japan, all of the photographs in Steele-Perkins' work were taken in cities across the UK -- in "pubs and events where they hung out," he said.
Pictured in photo No. 6 in the gallery above, a scarred Vince Taylor, frontman of the rock 'n' roll group Playboys -- said to be the inspiration for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust -- stares into the lens, his portrait true to Bowie's lyrics, "screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo."
Like stills from a movie, the characters in Steele-Perkins' photographs are out for a good time, as if to threaten: "We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'till broad daylight."
Similar to his passion for this series.
"With a personal project, you keep going until you think you are finished," he said. "And then a bit more."
Chris Steele-Perkins is a photographer based in London. He is represented by Magnum Photos. This video interview was conducted in 2016 to coincide with the release of a new version his book, "The Teds," originally published in 1979. The accompanying article was originally published in September 2016.