North East End’s All Around – The Scotswood Aggro Boys

“If we could persuade the youngsters concerned that they’re doing themselves an injury, in the sense that if they have convictions like this as they grow older, they’re to be ostracised by society. Because whether they like it or not, society is as it is and whether they change it, it will still remain that somebody has got to walk about the streets safely.”

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Cherry red DMs with red socks: Scotswood Aggro Boys

It’s now just grainy footage found on YouTube a few years back, but the stern-voiced police chief makes clear his disdain for Tyneside’s skinheads and their weekend terrace antics at St James’ Park. The posting of 1971 documentary ‘All Dressed Up… and Going Nowhere’ on the video-sharing site was goaded into existence by discussion threads on a Newcastle United fan forum at the mention of a VHS tape of the legendary subcultural dissection, which went on to find approval the world over as a period piece rich window into an entirely lost world of skinheadism.

All Dressed Up…’ opens by announcing itself with the Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (which actually charted the same year), the cityscape of “the new Newcastle” of 1971 pans while Pete Townsend’s somewhat indulgent Indian spiritualist-infused pulsating synthesiser arrangements are saved only by Keith Moon’s lead drumming, as we’re then shown matchday violence interspersed with assorted hirsute bikers on chopper machines cruising through the city, growling police dogs and a hippy disco freakout.

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Skins, hairies, parents

An avuncular voiceover is lent authority by Mike Neville, the late veteran North East newscaster, who optimistically intones in his introduction that the city is being “reshaped, remodelled for the future”, with town planners giving “the young the flavour of a new life”. A typical matchday scene at the Newcastle ground then shows the crowds of bootboys marching in line as the camera zooms in on a ‘Say Yes to Europe’ billboard, before cutting to a group of croptops in tank tops and short-sleeve Ben Shermans stood around a police car.

Neville then warns viewers that while slum clearance and modernisation have given the young a “new social deal”, the flipside of this is a spike in “violence and terror in the streets”, leaving many unaware that beyond “occasional newspaper headlines” (violent crime having “soared by 17 per cent in the past year”) the “new way of life has bred a new wave of violence”. Helpfully, however, the documentary makers assemble a cast of characters, authority figures and experts to unpick why this is happening.

 

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Armstrong Road in Benwell/Scotswood, 1971

The Newcastle of 1971 is that of Michael Caine’s Get Carter, also released that year and squarely reliant on urban malevolence in its gritty depiction of Tyneside’s criminal underworld. This was the Newcastle, as the voiceover continues with its “polished face of office blocks and neat housing estates”, The Likely Lads meets T. Dan Smith, the former Revolutionary Communist Party shipyard agitator turned city boss with a sideline in public relations for new town developments which took him all the way to prison in a landmark corruption trial.

Thinly-veiled depictions followed in the nineties BBC hit drama Our Friends in the North, launching the career of Daniel Craig along the way (Alun Armstrong managed to star in both). For the purposes of the documentary and this piece, however, it’s the Newcastle of the Scotswood Aggro Boys skinheads and their ‘hairy’ antagonists the Throckley Mob, who provide a necessary level of set-piece youth violence rivalry to propel the producers’ desires.

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Face the aggression

After his own stern indictment of the apparent rise of “mob vandalism and street terrorism” on the streets of Tyneside, Neville introduces us first to the Scotswood Aggro Boys of Scotchy (as they refer to their own community) and their “uniformed style of checked shirts, big polished boots, Crombie overcoats and close-cropped hairstyles, grown slightly longer for the winter”, though he does appear to voice tacit approval for the skinheads’ “almost puritanical” disdain for the beads and drugs of their rivals, the hairies.

In contrast to the clean and tidy look noted by Neville, the waged hairies, on the other hand, belong to the conurbation’s “new young elite” and can afford to buy chopper motorbikes to rev at Saturday shoppers on the Westgate Road rather than hang about street corners of demolished slum housing. These are the so-called Throckley Mob, named after a more bucolic settlement on the edge of the city and who’ve left little subcultural record since, other than as city centre versions of Peter Cave’s biker cult characters.  Their name is perhaps the most interesting thing about them.

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Face the tache

Both “bitterly opposed” sides, as with every other subculture news clip of the era, are invited to reflect on the low blows of their opponents (especially the unsporting use of ad hoc weaponry such as milk bottles), usually inferring the odds are stacked against them by authority.  Authority lends itself to the film in the form of Tyneside’s neatly Brylcreemed Assistant Chief Constable Walter Baharie, who registers a number of disapproving slants against a “wave of violence and hooliganism” bedevilling all of England’s urban centres, “taking place for no apparent reason” other than as a “form of amusement or pleasure”.

The film features an array of talking heads invited on to weigh on why this could possibly be. Eminent sociologist Stanley Cohen, who made a name for himself at the LSE specialising in moral panics and juvenile delinquency (the National Deviancy Symposium), but was then at neighbouring Durham University, appears throughout to offer insights on living conditions which may give rise to the need to form a gang in identical clobber, spray ‘S.A.B’ on every available surface or yank bikers off their machines at a set of traffic lights, provided the numbers are favourable.

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Two kinds of crombie: Newcastle suedes in 1971

Just before the credits roll, every bit the nylon-suited 1970s lecturer, he addresses the camera directly, bemoaning that an unspecified “most people” will see him as “making excuses, letting people off the hook, letting them off moral blame” and that the film could be seen to “glorify violence”. He makes a plea for “people like us” meaning “not just people who have the luxury of sitting back looking at the problem from university lectureships, but people in the street, police, magistrates, members of the public”, to “listen to what the kids [are saying]”.

Swarthy crooner Frankie Vaughan, who retained fondness for his youth in boys’ clubs into his 40s at this juncture, is also wheeled out as ‘President of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs’ to counsel against the dangers of low levels of youth provision in “new towns” in a Transatlantic accent, albeit to no avail by his own admission.

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‘Grown slightly longer for the winter’, but never grown back: Scotswood Aggro Boys in 1972

Few viewers of the film would remember Scouse Vaughan, his charitable works or sociological theory on housing and education. S.A.B leader Geordie Potter is a different matter, his eponymous accent perhaps indecipherable outside of the region, who rationalises against all of Neville’s rhetorical questioning on the nature of recurrent battles. The filmmakers clearly chanced on one particular and quite pronounced skinhead gang which could be found in 1971 (readers from London will have their own views on that), but several others existed across the city, such as the Longbenton Aggro Boys (tellingly renamed the Longbenton Clockwork not long after), while Geordie reels off a list of off-limits areas thanks to the likes of Big Lamp and Newbiggin crews.

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Other gangs: Newcastle in 1970

The makers also manage to rope in Geordie’s parents to remonstrate against the rising tide of youth violence, with his father predictably calling for “violence met with violence” in the form of the birch (or as he says it, “the borch”) and a “good hiding” from a local bobby as more of a deterrent than any magistrate’s £5 fine (a middle-aged Potter and his elderly mother both appeared in the BBC regional news magazine feature in response to the film’s 2013 reemergence).

The film fades out with plaintive calls to reason by the assembled authority figures, while the Who soundtrack whirrs on with an equally mournful ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ underscoring what Neville decries as the “apparent inevitability of it all”, as kids race down the decayed slums of Scotswood’s hills on homemade go-karts, the camera panning to ‘Skinheads’ daubed on a wall. Roger Daltrey then suddenly belts out “I blame you!” as it erratically zooms in close on an unspecified window of Newcastle’s new modernist Civic Centre, though for what we may never know. Either way, Geordie and the S.A.B laid down their own firm foundations for the Sham Army in the city’s Eldon Square that followed, though sadly there were no film crews on hand to document this.

Text: Andrew Stevens

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