ken russell's teddy girls and boys

A new exhibition brings together the famed director's historic images of the subculture in its prime.

by Georgie Wright
17 February 2017, 3:15pm

Shoe polishing, suit straightening, and the art of handkerchief tying sound more like classes at the finishing school your parents wish you went to than the traits of a rebellious youth gang. But for the Teddy girls and boys of the 50s, spinning Elvis and taking style cues from Oscar Wilde was the ultimate middle finger to the austerity permeating Britain during that decade.

While the country was sifting through post-WWII rubble and families were scraping together meals from measly rations, the Teds were riding - and wearing - the coattails of the Edwardian dandies that inspired their name.

A 23-year-old Ken Russell was there to capture it all. Better known as the Oscar-winning director of films including Women in Love and The Devils, he cut his teeth snapping the sharp suits of the Teds he grew up around. The resulting images are now being exhibited in Oxford after 50 years tucked at the bottom of an archive - an excellent reminder for us to all clean out our closets lest precious documentation of one of London's original style tribes lurks in there.

The collection of what Russell referred to as "still films" encapsulates the juxtaposition that defined the Teddies. Bow-tied boys lounge in their finest regalia against funfair rides; grinning girls stand tall in pristine pantsuits and derelict bombsites. And always giving zero fucks. Because "they were tough, these kids, they'd been born in the war years... they knew their worth. They just wore what they wore." Which goes to show that because the political climate's bleak, it doesn't mean your outfit has to be. 

Ken Russell's Teddy Girls and Boys runs until Saturday, February 18. More information here.


Text Georgie Wright

teddy boys
Ken Russell
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