THE TEDDY BOY ERA

by

Another great tale by Eric Sanderson

These tales from Old East Leeds have ranged over a huge range of reminiscences from characters, schools, iconic buildings, football teams, cinemas, pubs, and many other topics. However, the “Teddy Boy” era seems to have been bypassed so here’s one or two recollections that might spark off a few memories.

“Teddy Boys” were by no means exclusive to East Leeds but it did have it’s fair share of dedicated followers of the fashion. So this is not a solely East Leeds yarn but even so, Teddy Boy activities were readily to be found in the district and many will have their own reminiscences of that brief period and who knows, maybe even have participated
During the Teddy Boy era of the 1950’s , the most noticeable and visible aspect was the extreme form of dress which had somehow come to be associated with the Edwardian finery of the 20‘s/30‘s.
In reality, the Teddy Boy styles of those days only vaguely resembled true Edwardian finery which were resplendent and characterised by their bell bottomed trousers and wide lapelled, double breasted jackets made from loud check patterned cloths such as Prince of Wales checks and shiny shoes . The Windsor necktie knot was a creature of that period, invented, if grubby rumour is to have any houseroom, by the then Prince of Wales & later Edward the 8th.

The Teddy Boy fashions probably owed more to Victorian & even Regency extravagance in their choice of colour, materials and adornment and although it certainly wasn’t confined to , or even predominantly an East Leeds practice, there were sufficient exponents of the art to make it memorable. But there was also an implicit darker side to the practice in that, rightly or wrongly, a widely held belief was that such dress heralded an association with the more unsociable side of behaviour, such as gang membership, violence, a much broader & anarchic freedom of activity & expression as well as a dissociation with the general courtesies and values of the day . In fact there were many establishments which barred entry to those wearing the Teddy Boy outfit, presumably because of the associated, real or not, notoriety. These included cinemas, many dance halls as well as many pubs.
The fashion didn’t seem to cross the boundary to girls though they did evolve a generally more racy style.

Be that as it may , it brought a new meaning to style and fashion, as well as a major boost to the textile industry, as well as some colourful characters who appeared to have no inhibitions in disporting their new, and expensive attire.

Close to where I lived, one fellow possessed several suits, all of a similar pattern but in a variety of lurid colours. Pea green, bright red are two colours I particularly remember and all had jacket lengths down to the knees fashioned in what I think was called “full drape“. Strange and funny to many eyes but this character had a somewhat fearsome reputation and it didn’t pay to be anything but complimentary to him. The obligatory black velvet collar, pocket trim and sleeve cuffs set this off ( although that was often marred by a dusting of dandruff on the collar) and required at least double the material to that of an ordinary jacket to make, hence an old friend in the trade telling of the boost this fashion gave to the textile industry and regret at it’s passing.
On the other hand, the trousers were often skin tight from the knee downwards and must have been troublesome to get into (and out of). The trousers were often held up by a belt fashioned from studs or the like and with a huge buckle,( often said to double up as a knuckle duster).What made the trousers seem even skinnier were the huge, aircraft carrier sized and invariably suede, thick soled shoes known widely as “brothel creepers” (wherever did that name come from?).
An uncle of mine once possessed a truly awesome pair of these shoes with crepe soles about 1½ inches thick and on one occasion, unknown to him, my Grandfather thought they might look a bit natty and decided to borrow them. Dressed in his very traditional 3 piece worsted suit, off he trotted in his borrowed brothel creepers to his local but just couldn’t understand why he was such a figure of fun among his contemporaries.
Also, around that time, one or two of the schoolmasters used to wear them. But we always believed there was a practical reason for this, so that they could creep up, unsuspected, to clip you around the ear. So that at least is one explanation for “creepers”. The other part is still a mystery.
The whole was rounded off by a frilly white shirt and a bootlace or slim jim tie , a narrow, usually black ,strip of material , secured by a fancy toggle type fastener.
The hair was an important part of the appearance with a well oiled Tony Curtis quiff, brushed up at the side into a “ducks arse” at the back being the most popular. The Boston, was brushed straight back with a straight line clean cut termination across and above a shaved neck.

Another local revelled in his powder blue version, blue suede brothel creepers and brocade waistcoat. This character was however an easy going soul who didn’t mind a little bit of ribbing over his outlandish choice of wardrobe and who now occasionally attends the Edmund House reunions.

There were quite a few similar fashionista’s in the district and many more who sported less elaborate versions of the style but there’s little doubt that such flamboyance was a game changer in men’s fashion from which men became more adventurous , never to look back to the plain, tight fitting three piece bum freezer suits. No longer was fashion the exclusive province of the ladies, but such freedom also has it’s downside. The license to dress as casually as you like has lead to a higher level of scruffiness from some who think that neglecting your appearance is the same thing. It isn’t.

It became a comic sight though, when the fancy suit was downgraded from best to working clothes and the local coalman turned up humping sacks of coal dressed in a vivid purple, velvet trimmed jacket, stained with coal dust and the knees ripped out of his skin tight drainpipes .

Nor was everyone impressed by the fashion. A friend, who was far from the full blown “Ted” approached a girl at a popular dance hall. He nonetheless affected what he thought was the laid back , cool, Fonze style mannerisms when asking if she fancied a dance with him. After eyeing him critically for what seemed like an age, he received a crushing rebuff & his coolness was badly damaged when the girl said “get lost, you sickly looking t**t !!.
It took some time for him to regain his composure & confidence. Nor did it do his reputation much good either, and he was occasionally reminded of this episode when he became a little cocky.
This lad also occasionally attends the reunions.

Although gang violence was a rarity within East Leeds, on occasion but fortunately quite rarely, groups of lads from outside, notably Hunslet, would foray into the district and stories of gang fights and occasional stabbings weren’t unknown, usually at dances or the York Road fair.

These styles lasted only a fleeting time , to be superceded by the “Italian Look” (I think) but many will remember it vividly and be able to recall other memorable or outlandish examples of this fashion genre and opinions as to it’s association with groups or behaviour

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A Great tale to brighten up February for us, Erc.

Last month’s picture was of course the residue of the Star Cinema York Road

of fond memories

This month’s you may find a little more difficult but I bet all East Leedsers will have been in there at some time or another.St James Infirmary

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7 Responses to “THE TEDDY BOY ERA”

  1. peterwwood Says:

    What a great era, Eric. I remember Bill Haley coming ‘rocking and rolling over the ocean’ waves and us dancing in the aisles. Teddy boys got a lot of bad press but it made your heart soar as high as Blackpool Tower to hit the town in a rig like Eric describes. It did have its down sides though – I remember queueing for the Tower Cinema in the centre of Leeds. Yes you did have to queue for cinemas in the 50s. After an age we got to the front of the queue where the commissionaire was letting the last few in with the cry, ‘Two singles in the one and nines,’ etc. When I opend my raincoat to get out my money to pay for the cinema seat he spied my ‘half moon pockets’ on my jacket and threw me out of the queue and I never did get to see the film.

  2. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    The teddy boy era always makes me smile Eric. My eldest brother had THE SUIT. He was 5’2″ and the jacket was in his words finger tip length. Made him look even smaller. Why did most of the guys who wore those outfits walk around with the heads stuck forward like a turtle? Wanted to look different I suppose. They sure did. I loved reading about them, put a smile on my face all day.

  3. Douglas Says:

    I missed the Teddy Boy era Eric – I was in Australia by that time – but thanks to your description I can imagine the style very well. I seem to recall that some of the characters in the film Clockwork Orange were dressed in Teddy Boy style. Over here in Oz in the 1950’s we had the Bodgies and Widgies (female bodgies) who had similar disreputable reputations and were characterised by way out hairstyles and untidy dress. Thanks again Eric.

  4. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Hi Audrey
    Glad you enjoyed the tale, I was hoping it would spark off a few memories for some. You’re right about the turtle heads, I’d forgotten that. It was probably to keep the heavily brylcreemed thick hair away from their precious velvet collars. Or it may have been to keep their balance, to stop them falling over backwards due to the weight of their knee length/finger tip jackets!.

  5. aussiepom Says:

    Pete you certainly choose some difficult photos. I have no idea what or where the building is in your recent one.

  6. Sue cotton kyle Says:

    Hi it as made me smile I hug around with the teds in Leeds in the very early 70s I used to play records at the methyl disco and 1week some teds came and I was amazed at ther clothes I was all reddy a rocker and adored rock and roll I hade a bell collection of records . I went out with 1 of the tends e was big jerry for a few months and I loved the time I spent with the crowd,it as been brill looking at all the photos .i am still in love with rock and roll and will always be. My hubby of 40 years loved it to.looking at the resent photos I downt see any with big jerry on as he passed away .thank you for making me smile

  7. THE TEDDY BOY ERA | East Leeds Memories Says:

    Twanna Rolland

    Another great tale by Eric Sanderson These tales from Old East Leeds have ranged over a huge range of reminiscences from characters, schools, iconic buildings, football teams, cinemas, pubs, and many other topics. However, the “Teddy Boy” era seems to…

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