From Mod to Bootboy: Scootering in the Seventies

It’s fair to say that scooters were one of the few staples of mod culture to survive intact as the subculture gave way to skinheads and bootboys. Many a self-respecting bootboy was pictured above their two-stroke brand of choice in the early seventies, and the presence of the mod revival later in the decade could give the impression that the scooterboy culture was all the rage throughout. But as Ashley Lenton (Classic Scooterist, Vespa News) writes here, scooterists were actually a dying force in the seventies and it was only thanks to a dedicated band that we can document it now.

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You won’t find much reference to seventies scootering magazines anywhere. There aren’t many, they barely survived – if at all – and they have an amateurish feel about them. Yet, in their own way, they tell as valuable a story as the more elaborate publications of earlier and later times. In their pages are the only records of disparate groups of enthusiasts trying to sustain the structures that had made club scootering such a force in previous times, and keeping the fires burning in the hope that one day things would get better. For the seventies were truly the Dark Ages for scootering in the UK.

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At the beginning of the decade there was still Scooter World. The sole survivor of a cache of rival publications that had once included Power and Pedal, Scooter Weekly and Scooter and Three Wheeler, it initially remained under control of founder Jon Stevens. While maintaining its fifties menu of travel tales, readers’ letters, technical tips and general news, the new reality of club scootering having been effectively replaced by a small-but-enthusiastic competition lobby was impacting upon the content. By the end of 1970 Jon Stevens had thrown in the towel and sold out to a group of enthusiasts who further pushed the sporting side.

Reading copies of Scooter World from the early seventies now, one is struck how stoicism appeared to verge on outright denial. For example, nowhere is there an actual news item stating that Innocenti had ceased production! In the end, no amount of enthusiasm could prove to be a match for an absence of the number of actual readers needed to sustain a professional publication, and Scooter World disappeared forever in the summer of 1973.

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It seemed that there would be no national publication at all, but fortunately Norrie Kerr stepped in with Scooter and Scooterist. What this magazine lacked in professional layout (it was really no more than typed sheets stapled together by the Kerr family in their house) was more than compensated for by it’s vitality and passion. Though Norrie will be remembered by many for his competition achievements and subsequent business dealings, his main contribution to scootering in the UK was surely to have largely kept it going in the seventies through his magazine. Though a dyed-in-the wool Vespa man himself, he was scrupulously fair in giving the Lambretta contingent a voice (the LCGB and, along with it, Jet Set was AWOL for most of the seventies) and through its pages the –often agonising –story of seventies scootering unfolds. You can read about the often dire quality problems with the first Indian-built GPs, the anguish felt by Mike Karslake when his lovingly nurtured Southend rallies were trashed by ludicrous fighting between Northern and Southern Mods, and the excitement of a trip to Pontedera to get a first sighting of the Vespa PX.

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Every competition regulation issue was endlessly debated, and the pages were full of Sales and Wants. Speaking to Norrie now, he will tell you that he slightly regrets that Scooter and Scooterist did not survive into the age of cheap digital printing in order to take advantage of the quality– especially photographic – that is available now. On the other hand he did have a captive audience. From 1973–1985, there were no other UK magazines of any substance, and no Internet nor social networking sites for people to buy things or express views on either. Scooter and Scooterist was all there was.

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Well, almost all. Vespa News (and, of course, the VCB itself) kept going throughout. Slightly (but only slightly) better produced than Scooter and Scooterist; the rather reduced appearance of the magazine directly reflected the reduced amount of money that Douglas was able to put into it. Which, of course, reflected in turn the reduction in scooter sales. The days of permanent staff for the club and magazine were long gone by the seventies, but curiously, the structure designed to accommodate seven thousand plus members continued apparently intact during a period when there were only three or four hundred. Thus Vespa News regularly reported on dinner dances, raffles, national rallies with only a handful of attendees and profiles of branches that had only five members. All the activity was centred on an enthusiastic hard-core of competition enthusiasts, and this was naturally reflected in the magazine.

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These magazines, despite being apparently no more than fading and yellowing bits of paper with smudgy print, are important. Not only are they the only remaining written record of scootering in the UK during an entire decade, they also demonstrate the will of a small number of volunteers to keep a hobby they loved going. Can we say for sure that scootering will never need such people again?

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2 thoughts on “From Mod to Bootboy: Scootering in the Seventies

  1. Does anyone have anymore pictures of the Green SS180 with the copper plated sidepanels and mudguard. I think it used to be owned by a mate of mine. Anyone know the reg number.

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