Teddy girls
Teddy girls
Teddy girls

Teddy girls

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  • 30 The Sunday Times Magazine March 5, 20O6 March 5, 2006 The Sunday Times Magazine 31


    The teddy girls were the first British femaleyouth tribe as a long-lost archive ofphotographs by the film director Ken Russellreveals. Report by Susannah Price

    Eileen, 16, from BethnalGreen, London, at an EastEnd bomb site. Top right:Jean Rayner, 14, who,according to Picture Post,where the image rstappeared on June 4, 1955,was still in the exploratorystages of Teddyism. Bottom:Ken Russell. These pictureswere taken in 1955, whenRussell was starting toexperiment with the camera


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  • our girls stand on the bomb-blasted rubble in drab, down-at-heel, post-warLondon and look fabulous. It is January 1955;food rationing has only just ended and the capitalis in ruins. These young women are teddy girls the rst British teenage girls to form their owntribe. Like their counterparts, the teddy boys,they are dressed up in clothes harking back to theEdwardian era (hence teddy). Yet few peoplewere ever aware of the teddy-girl phenomenon.

    Young working-class women, often from Irish immigrant families, they had settled in thepoorer districts of London Walthamstow,Poplar, North Kensington. Behind the camerawas Ken Russell, then just another photographystudent, who later went on to become one of

    March 5, 2006 The Sunday Times Magazine 33


    32 The Sunday Times Magazine March 5, 2006

    Rose Hendon (left) and MaryToovey pose with someteddy boys in SouthamStreet, North Kensington.Top right: Rose Price withfriends. Turban-styleheadscarves and umbrellaswere popular teddy-girlaccessories. Bottom right:Grace Living, 17, outside an East End cafe

    Britains most famous lm directors, making over80 lms, including Women in Love, and Tommy.

    Four years after this session, Russell gave upstill photography to concentrate on getting intothe lm industry. As soon as Id saved up enoughmoney, I made amateur movies, which is what Iwanted to do in the rst place. I showed them tothe BBC and got taken on at the arts programmeMonitor. That was the beginning of the end! Hispictures, which have only recently beenrediscovered, are the only known professionalphotographs of the teddy girls. Without theseimages, they might well have been forgotten.

    Russells work offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of feisty young women who were set on creating an identity of their own.


  • March 5, 2006 The Sunday Times Magazine 37

    photo shoot: He was just another photographer.He took photos of us and that was the last weknew of it. We didnt know he was going to doanything with them. We thought it was a laugh.We stood there with our hands on our hips. Wefelt proud: someone was taking a photo of us.Rose and her group of West End teddy girlswould meet at the Seven Feathers Club inEdenham Street, North Kensington, a youthclub popular with both the boys and the girls.There was a jukebox and dancing, she says.Just tea and cakes, because we didnt go to pubsthen. It wasnt until we were 20 that we might goto the pub. We werent bad, not like some of theboys. There was this song called Rip It UpWell, the boys, they used to go and rip the seats.

    Teddy girls from different parts of Londonrarely mingled. Grace Curtis (then Grace Living)was one of the girls Russell photographed in theEast End. We hung out down the DocklandsSettlement a club where there was space fordancing and boxing. We were East End. In thosedays you just stuck to your area. There was a littlesnack bar in the club where you could buydrinks and we just all got together and danced.

    Both women hoot with excitement when they remember dancing The Creep byKen Mackintosh a slow shuffle of a dance sopopular with teddy boys that it led to their other nickname of creepers. Its the best dance, says Curtis. You used to dance or jive

    with your girlfriends, but for The Creep youcould choose your partner. You could pick up a fella and go and dance with him.

    Girls in future generations took up the teddy-girl trend, even when most people thought it haddisappeared: there is a ted scene still in existence.Westacott, who became a teddy girl in 1978when she was 13, explains: It married two thingsI really liked the 1950s music and the style ofdress. It was exciting going out in tight skirts,looking elegant it was very stylish compared toares. My parents hoped it might be a passingphase but it lasted 25 years. She was determined

    for other people to see these amazing picturesand to correct a few common misconceptions:The public perception is that teddy girls allwore circle skirts and bobby socks and listenedto Rock around the Clock, and that kind of stuff.But these pictures predate it, and it proves thatthe cult wasnt really music-based at the start, thatwas something that came later. What the teddyboys and girls were listening to was big-bandstuff like Ted Heath and Ken Mackintosh.

    Teds from the past and present, fashionstudents, people who lived in the East End

    during the war years and the 1950s, photographyand Ken Russell fans, all came to see the long-lost photographs when Westacott and JoeCushley, a music journalist, put them on show atEast Londons Spitz gallery last year. Afteranother long search, Westacott managed to ndMary Toovey and Rose Shine, who feature inthe pictures, and invited them to the exhibition.Shine was keen to arrive wearing her wholeteddy-girl get-up: One of my friends wouldntdress up like me, but I said, Im not afraid to. Imstill proud! Russell and the teddy girls enjoyedmeeting each other again. They were as

    unrecognisable as I was, but we remembered thegood old days, says Russell. Westacott describesmeeting the original teddy girls as mind-blowing. They were pretty feisty,independent women at 16, and now theyrenearly 70 they are still very strong and very sureof their own identity. Its easy for us now tochoose different styles of dress and mix andmatch our clothes but at that time, 50 years ago,you were really seen as a complete outsider. s


    To purchase prints and postcards of Ken Russellsphotographs of the teddy girls, visit www.teddygirl.co.uk