You might have heard of the term Teddy Boys, which was coined in the 1950s to describe a dissident youth subculture in Britain characterised by an unlikely style of dress inspired by Edwardian dandies fused with American rock ‘n’ roll. They formed gangs from East London to North Kensington and became high profile rebels in the media.
‘TEDS’ IN PETTICOAT LANE, LONDON, 1956 ©MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY/ROGER MAYNE.
These kids emerged in Britain as post-war austerity was coming to an end. Food rationing stopped in 1954, and working class teenagers were starting to be able to afford good clothes. The "Teds," as they called themselves, adopted the Saville Row revival of Edwardian fashion, which was readily available secondhand. They wore long drape jackets, velvet collars and slim ties paired with thick rubber-soled creeper shoes.
ELVIS PRESLEY PERFORMING IN THE 1950S. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN.
American rock ‘n’ roll hit Britain like a thunderbolt in 1955, and this music was quickly adopted by the Teds. From that point onwards style and music became inseparable and the ducktail hairstyles of their American idols, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, became a quintessential part of the Teds look. They attended cinemas, dances and concerts, collected rock ’n’ roll records and magazines and essentially cultivated the first market for teenage leisure in Britain.
Despite their overall gentlemanly style of dress, the Teds were a teenage youth culture out to shock their parents’ generation, and quickly became associated with trouble in the media. While most dedicated Teds were at worst involved in petty crimes such as bootlegging and vandalism, there were notably a few gangs that chose a darker and more violent path.
LYNN CHADWICK, TEDDY BOY AND GIRL, 1955 (SECOND VERSION 1974), MODERN & POST-WAR
BRITISH ART AUCTION, 9 JUNE 2015, LOT 19, £500,000-700,000.
Lynn Chadwick chose to depict a Teddy boy and girl in his iconic monumental bronze sculpture of 1955. Indeed, if the sculpture of the Post-War era was trying to capture the new spirit of the time, why not look towards those who had only really known this Brave New World? His figures stand facing each other – their bodies reduced to angular forms with claw-like arms raised to the heavens. This stance seems joyful yet menacing. Chadwick takes the long, draped jackets of the Teds and emphasised their pleats and folds creating a shattered surface. In doing so, these pleats form what feels like and exoskeleton – the brittle carapace of the teenagers seeking identity and a sense of belonging by running with a gang.
Sotheby’s is delighted to be offering Lynn Chadwick’s monumental sculpture Teddy Boy and Girl in the Modern & Post War British Art Evening sale on 9th June.