Exhibition Archive

MODS: Shaping a Generation

Mod culture originated in London during the late 1950s via a group of very stylish and wealthy young men who held a double passion for both fashion and Modern Jazz. By the mid-60s, Mods had become synonymous with fashion, music, individuality, transport, drug use and anti-social behaviour.

The Mods and their counterparts were the first post war generation to reach their teenage years without suffering the combined misery of national service or austerity, enjoying a social, financial and creative freedom that their peers had never seen.

Silver Street was at the heart of the Leicester Mod scene, boasting live music at the Il Rondo, off the peg clothing at The Irish, alcohol at The Globe and The Antelope and amphetamines galore at The Churchill. Along with Burtons and Austin Reed Tailors, Leicester had many other retail outlets, both High Street and independent, that would cater for the fashion hungry young Mod.

The Venues

The Cadena, The White Cat and the Kenco Coffee House were just three cafes that the Mods would frequent in Leicester, the unwritten caveat being that they had to have a decent juke box and plenty of space on the front to show off the scooters. The Green Bowler on Church Gate would see itself slowly turn into a hang-out for the town Mods whilst the Nite Owl on Newarke Street, the self-proclaimed home to the ‘Midlands best rave all-nighter scene’, was developing a reputation not just for dark corners but as the home of soul music and dancing.

The Outfits

The nightmare scenario for any Mod would be to see somebody else wearing the same clothes. Because of this, Mods from both genders weren’t averse to designing and making their own outfits, thus avoiding duplication of style. If you had the know-how, you could choose a pattern, buy the zips, material and buttons in the morning and have a new outfit ready for the evening.

Fashions were changing quickly and sourcing decent quality shoes was no exception. The East Midlands, particularly Leicester, was renowned for its boot and shoe industry.


‘Faces’ were the top Mods, the leaders that were looked up to by (generally) the younger Mods. It was these Mods, both male and female, that would initiate new looks and fashions, most of which would probably have emanated from the clubs and boutiques of London where they would spend a huge proportion of their time and money. Always trying to be ahead of the game, what the faces would be wearing one week, others would try to copy and wear the next. But by then, it would have been ‘so last week’ and these fashion aficionados would have moved onto something completely different. It could be a constant and expensive game of ‘catch up’ for those below in the pecking order.

John ‘Jelly’ Nixon, Jack English, Stephane Raynor, David Parkinson, John Knapp and Rod Read were some of the Leicester Mods who were regarded as faces. They were all creative and innovative people – Jelly was a musician; Jack English is a photographer, known for his work in the film and music industry; Stephane Raynor created the highly successful Boy London fashion label and David Parkinson went on to become a respected photographer, capturing the development of 1970’s street fashion. John Knapp and Rod Read, from the band Legay, designed and made their own clothes.

“Jack English, Jelly and Steph Raynor went to London more often than anyone else we knew. Although they were seen as Faces in Leicester, they weren’t in London, they were just a few guys from up north.”

John Spencer


“We didn’t really know Jelly, Jack and Steph personally, we’d just see them. We knew who they were, but we wouldn’t talk to them, we’d acknowledge them. We’d wait for them to talk to us first, we didn’t want them to think that they were more important than us. When they went to London, they would often come back with something simple such as a nice tie, cravat or a handkerchief for the top pocket, they were a bit classy in that respect.”

John Knapp

Mods and Rockers

The Mods, with their smart clothes and new-found disposable income, were seen by many as the acceptable face of British youth. This was all to change in March 1964 when two sets of bored teenagers, both miles apart in their outlook on life, set upon each other on Clacton sea front. The media picked up on it and the creation of two warring factions was born – the Mods and the Rockers.

The violence continued throughout the summer, most notably in Brighton and Margate. The Leicester and Nottingham Mods, not to be left out even if they lived within two of the most land locked counties in England, descended on the East Coast to skirmish with the Rocker ‘ton up boys’ and to cause a bit of chaos.

While the seaside riots placed both the Mods and the Rockers as the scourge of British society, the knock-on effect from the media coverage was that Mod became incredibly popular. For some, it became a bit too popular. The introduction of programmes such as Ready, Steady Go! contributed to bringing the movement to a new audience and led to a feeling among the original generation of Mods – the Modernists – that the scene had become commercialised and was now being controlled by the high street stores as opposed to those ‘on the street’ who were still either making, designing and altering their own clothes to suit their own style and preference.

The violence, and the fact that the whole Mod way of life, in particular with regards to music and fashion, had become more obtainable, disenfranchised many of the original Mods and some moved away from it. By 1967, Mod was in decline, becoming diluted by the arrival of Psychedelia, ‘Flower Power’ and commercialism, with many of the established so-called Mod bands, such as The Who and the Small Faces, swapping allegiance accordingly. The majority of the Mods evolved with them, as did the venues.

The 1970’s Mod revival was relatively short lived, but its legacy still lives on today. The revival, which was almost a carbon copy of the original 60’s movement in terms of style, clothes, music and presentation, was influenced by original Mod bands such as The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces as well as new bands such as The Jam, The Chords, Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Lambrettas. Ska bands such as The Specials, The Selector and Madness were also popular with the Mod revivalists. Fighting on the beaches of the south coast resorts between Mods, Rockers and Skinheads during the spring and summer bank holidays also made an unwelcome return.

Mod Revival

The most popular influence on the revival however was the release of the film, Quadrophenia, in 1979. The film, which was directed by Franc Roddam and starred Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Ray Winstone, Toyah, Mark Wingett, Philip Davis, Gary Shail and Sting, was loosely based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera of the same name. The film tells the story of Jimmy, a young London Mod in a dead-end job who spends the majority of his time dancing, partying, taking drugs, and fighting the Rockers. Many original Mods consider the film to be a pastiche of what actually happened during the 1960s.

The Mods; were they the most ground-breaking youth subculture to emerge from post war Britain - cool, trendy, confident and innovative - or were they, as described by Magistrate Dr George Simpson, just “Long haired, mentally unstable, petty little hoodlums… Sawdust Caesars, who can only find courage like rats hunting in packs.”

Certainly, a substantial number of original Mods seemed to abandon the cause once the sand and the surf started to fly at Clacton and Cathy McGowan became ‘the girl of the day’ on Ready Steady Go! After all, how can you be a true Mod if the whole thing has become so popular and accessible to all, there’s nothing cool, original and innovative to be found there.

Here, some of the original 60’s Mods look back at this incredible youth subculture that still influences fashion and music today, some 50 years after its inception.

Looking Back

“It was an exciting time in my life and I’m so glad that I was the age I was, we were all inside this lovely little bubble that was full of great times and experiences. I still think about those days a lot, I loved them, there was just something magic about that time, I don’t know what it was, just something quite unique. If you weren’t a Mod, you were a Rocker. If you were neither of those, you were nothing.”

Polly Gray


“Some people think the Mod thing was all about how you looked, like some immense army of people who all had the same look, but it wasn’t like that. There was always something which separated each individual if it was to be taken seriously. At least I looked at it that way.”

John ‘Jelly’ Nixon

Looking Back

“When any young kid is growing up, you just do what comes naturally and its only when you look back at it that you realise it was all a bit special. After all, what do you know about life aged 14? When the whole Mod thing started, you’d got the buzz and you were aware that it was something very different, it was very exciting, but you just took it in your stride.”

Chris Busby


“Anybody who was a Mod will probably say the same thing, that it had an incredible effect on us all and it has stayed with us throughout our lives. The music I listen to today is still the same as back then, mainly all the early Mod stuff and Modern Jazz. The whole thing was about style, style in what you do, what you read and what you wore.”

Terry Wilford


“The Mod scene was immensely exciting; I was hanging around with kids near enough the same age as me and having a great time. I was 15 and a half years old, going to all-nighters and meeting some incredibly interesting and exciting people. It wasn’t what most kids of 15 were doing, most of them were still buying a bag of sweets on a Friday night.”

Albert Mee

MODS: Shaping a Generation

The exhibition ‘MODS: Shaping a Generation’ was on display at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery during the summer of 2019.

The MODS: Shaping a Generation project was created and organised by Shaun Knapp (Author of Mods: Two City Connection), Joe Nixon (Co-founder, Arch Creative) and Soft Touch Arts.

The project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of their sponsors and all of their contributors, including the original Leicester and Nottingham Mods.

Supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.