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Universities Left Review 7 Autumn 1959,Absolute Beginnings. Stuart Hall,Reflections on The Secondary Modern Generation. To Sir With Love E R Braithwaite Bodley Head 13 6 It cannot be imposed by fear formality or the cane It is. Journey Into a Fog Margareta Berger Hamerschlag Ace the most difficult balance to achieve. Books 2 6 Mr Braithwaite s headmaster was singular not in the. Absolute Beginners Colin Maclnnes Macgibbon Kee fact that his relationship with his pupils was good it very. The Teenage Consumer Dr Mark Abrams for the Lon often is but in the fact that he cared what the relationship. don Press Exchange was between his pupils and the rest of his staff and that he. prized directness and outspokenness even if this appeared. READING the first two of these four books is like re as a form of rudeness at first So many headmasters. living the best and worst moments of teaching and pander to the priggish sense of self importance and prestige. working amongst the Secondary Modern generation They which is characteristic of the teaching profession The. are both well written sympathetic in their approach to teachers stand between the pupils and the head He is. young people and full of insights Mr Braithwaite is a often free to develop a close relationship with his students. West Indian who went to teach in a Secondary Modern which is not put to the test of the class room In these. school in the East End His chronicle is a record of how circumstances many headmasters have a way with the. he managed to win the confidence of his young pupils with boys and girls which is purely personal and which makes. some delicate sidelights timely in the year of Notting Hill little or no impact at all upon the relationships which. on the ins and out of racial prejudice Mrs Berger prevail through the rest of the school between staff and. Hamerschlag taught Art in a youth club in a London slum pupils. Her book first published with Gollancz in 1955 and re Mr Braithwaite was also particularly fortunate in his. issued with an appropriately sexy cover by Ace Books and teaching associates I do not mean to infer that there are. a blurb about this savage and sometimes shocking story no good dedicated teachers There are thousands But I. of teenagers in a London slum is not perhaps so sensa cannot get rid of the impression that by and large Secon. tional as it looks in its new format But it must have been dary Modern teachers today suffer an acute lack of morale. quite remarkable when it first appeared and even now it which has been consciously overlooked because teachers. has much to add by way of detail and perception are in such short supply They consider the Sec Mod to. One cannot help feeling that Mr Braithwaite was be inferior in status and they are acutely status conscious. extremely fortunate in his headmaster He emerges as a Often they despise the areas in which they teach and the. figure of extraordinary sympathy and gentleness with homes from which their students come They are anxious. intelligent ideas about his children and their background not to be involved with the personal and informal problems. about the attitude of staff to pupils and about the relation of young people Often they have placed a safe distance. ship between discipline and freedom in education between themselves and the school protected from the. realities of urban life by the green belt and the suburban. It is said that here we practice free discipline That s line It is most disturbing to count up the number of. wrong quite wrong It would be more correct to say that young teachers who would like their self respect and their. we are seeking as best we can to establish disciplined free status to be protected by the agile and relentless use of the. dom that state in which the child feels free to work play headmaster s cane In many cases Sec Mod teachers in. and express himself without fear of those whose job it is to vert their affronted sense of status into an attack upon the. direct and stimulate his efforts into constructive channels supply teachers How much of this is due to professional. To Sir p 32 jealousy how much to the fact that supply teachers are. I don t want to go into the intricacies of the debates often foreigners Australians West Indians Indians. about progressive education but my experience of young Pakistanis etc is difficult to judge But the thing is there. boys attitudes towards the school suggests that it is disci and fostered at national level too witness the disgusting. plined freedom rather than absolute liberty which most sentiments expressed at a recent conference of the School. youngsters want and expect from school They need of masters Association in spite of the fact that without the. course the opportunities for participation and making present numbers of supply teachers many Secondary. decisions which the present authoritarian pattern of Modern schools would fold up tomorrow This prejudice. Secondary Modern schools prevents But they are neither is merely one of many indications of a deep demoralisation. so self reliant nor so confident as to expect free disci among the shock troops in the front line of the class. pline They would not know what to do with it if they struggle in secondary education today They do not under. had it Complete absence of discipline suggests to most stand what the nature of that struggle is Many of them. Secondary Modern forms that the teacher has no sense of are products of the scholarship boy revolution in educa. direction no priorities and no targets They dislike this tion They feel all the stresses and tensions of the parvenu. drift even when they exploit it What does matter is the Caught themselves between generations between social. context within which discipline is practised the freedom allegiances they find it impossible to project or identify. from fear which Braithwaite s headmaster stressed the Mr Braithwaite s staff seemed on the whole both sym. sense of mutual give and take the respect which teachers pathetic and capable not beaten down by the irritations. have for the people they teach The only discipline worth of working with bad equipment in crowded classrooms. having is the discipline of purpose in the context of love not disgusted with having to explain about washing and. sanitary napkins to the girls not with one exception. protected from the immense problems and responsibilities. by a cheaply attained cynicism, But his success undoubtedly was with the boys and girls. in the top form Here he managed what few good teachers. in the best Secondary Modern schools seem able to accom. plish making the non G C E form of school leavers find. something worthwhile in school, This group of school leavers is really the alienated gener. ation Many people who do not view the problems of, young people today from the vantage point of the school.
see the crucial change in adolescent experience as falling. between school and work But I have little doubt that the. most important formative point lies between the junior. and adolescent phases roughly at the breaking point. between the second and third years of the Secondary. Modern career Work of course adds responsibilities new. skills a new environment a wider pattern of movement. from the home and its surroundings But basically work. modifies a pattern of feeling responses and attitudes. already established by the age of fourteen The next phase. begins with marriage, In spite of cramming for the 11 plus and the consequent. neglect of late starters the quality of entrants to the Sec. Mod from the Primary schools is good These children. have very little sense of how much their future is likely to. be affected by having failed at the first jump of the social. barrier They are keen enthusiastic childish in their inter. ests and their delights they possess a high reserve of. vitality and enthusiasm and they are immensely educable. But at the age of 13 14 they begin to pass out of the. direct influence of home and school and into the wider. world of their own groups the friendships and rivalries of. their local gangs the culture of the youth club and skiffle. group the heady atmosphere of the mass entertainments. However inadequate the home and school have until this. point provided some sort of a framework of reference. within which primary experiences are ordered and under. stood But in the local gang the pattern is tribal and self. imposed Its particular attraction lies in the fact that it. draws little upon and bears only a subterranean relation. ship with the adult world The youth club offers facilities lacks the deprivations which they experience at this point. for informal social contact which the school does not but in adolescence This is the point at which they begin to. unless it is an outstanding example of its kind it provides reflect upon their own sense of failure They feel their. little training even in the sense of training responses to second class status They are conscious of the lack of. new adolescent experiences The youth club is very much care and they identify this lack of sympathy and under. the clash of opposing worlds The pattern of activities standing with the school itself Their range of expectations. the rules the standards and codes of behaviour the tone close up They are being trained for the semi skilled posi. imposed from above the club drawing its particular vigour tions and for that limited end the school has done its job. and character from the subterranean emotional life of its by 13 and they are anxious to get out and get on with it. members from below Much of the aimless frenzy of their leisure life is a displace. ment of the energies and aspirations which have been. This is the point at which young people discover the trained or drained out of them by school and work They. relative irrelevance of the school And after that it is become in the end what many teachers have always believed. difficult to engage their real interests without the spur of they were unteachable unclubbable One of the most. academic achievement a try at G C E As Braithwaite disturbing experiences in a Secondary Modern school is. says the open callous manner in which many teachers accept. the fact that the lively vital fourth stream class in the. It was as if I were trying to reach the children through a First Year will become inevitably the blase disenchanted. thick pane of glass so remote and uninterested they seemed inattentive shower in the Fourth without asking how. on earth this transformation ever takes place, It s not that they long for the more proper ethos of Mr Braithwaite had to cope with all the external expres. the Grammar school That kind of aspiration is non sions of this state of cultural deprivation noise not occa. existent a reflection of how limited the appeal of the sional but wilful and deliberately indulged as a kind of. Ladder of Success is below a certain educational and social war of nerves inattention persistent clinical use of swear. threshold They consider the Grammar school too strict words a single track devotion to sex the irritable and. and too posh They prefer the informality which pre sudden explosions of violence towards authority and to. vails willy nilly in the Secondary Modern And this in wards each other These things bothered Mrs Berger. itself throws a certain light on the particular nature of the Hamerschlag as well She is continually reporting the. invasion of her Art class by groups of boys wandering he is on this track Mr Braithwaite s tone becomes smug. aimlessly about spilling paint and daubing the desks with and self important But it certainly turned the trick Mrs. a kind of intent impotent fury Berger Hamerschlag discovered that above all the kids. wanted to be taken seriously, Chris s gang appeared this evening They never walk in. these fifteen to sixteen year old crazies they rush in They are marvellous and respond easily when an. vehemently as if in a commando raid They are rebellious atmosphere of art college is being created It means to. because they miss a lot which they think they can never have them that they are taken seriously and that someone believes. and their natural longing for love and fun is being twisted in their ability the hobby idea is poison to them. through their being beaten rejected or badly used in other Journey p 63. ways Journey Info A Fog p 92 3,And more characteristically. There are really difficult distinctions to be made here. Working class children do not have the same respect or Why do they dish out these rotten things to us asked. value of studious silence that is common among Grammar Dave Why don t we get white paper Why don t we get. decent brushes These are brooms wicked I thought that. School children Frequently in a classroom of 40 the this was a proper art class Journey p 44. standard of work and application is high in spite of the. continuous undertones of voices and exchanges This can Perhaps we ought to put alongside that Mr Braithwaite s. be irritating particularly to those teachers who apply description of his East End children listening to music. Grammar School standards of dress and behaviour to. working class children But this is a different aspect of. their behaviour from the consciously created interruption They listened those rough looking untidy children every. one of them sat still unmoving and attentive until the very. which is really a form of inspired violence and relates last echo of the last clear note had died away Their silence. more closely to the aimless kicking of dustbins the scraps was not the result of boredom or apathy nor were they quiet. and giggles the bashing and doing including the because it was expected of them or through fear of the con. more organised doing of Irish or West Indians which is sequences but they were listening actively attentively. so much an integral part of working class adolescent listening to those records with the same raptness they had. activity I think the teenagers who explain all this in terms shown in their jiving To Sir p 53. of boredom and bottled up energy rather than consciously. thought out violence directed against any one group are. close to the truth Particular prejudices about niggers II. or paddies or yids are inspired they develop out of. a deeper level of social frustration against the society and We have very little understanding of the roots of cul. the adult world They are not in themselves the source tural deprivation and of its relation to the pattern of class. of violence culture and education in this country Where does it begin. When youngsters who have been on a giggle to Notting In the school In the family In the give and take or lack. Hill talk about it afterwards they are perfectly aware that of it between adolescent and adult generations and if. it is a pointless and degrading kind of self indulgence so why. But at the moment the urge to commit violence is quite Clearly the school itself is not wholly to blame though. clearly overpowering There s nothing to do see and what happens here is important for it develops social ten. you re tired of sitting around They don t want to argue dencies which may originate elsewhere In its own way. and if you start an argument they just start swearing to the Secondary Modern school its whole conception as a. shut you up And then along comes someone and there s second class educational stream the idea that any kind of. something about him you don t like see he s a coloured modern education can be given in the old school environ. man or an Irish or something and one of the boys gets a ment is a careful adjustment to Welfare State Britain. thing about him Let s rush him he says and before you The same double standards which apply elsewhere see for. know what s going on example Conviction can be seen at work in the Secondary. Mrs Berger Hamerschlag never managed to surmount Modern Even where the school is doing its best the. this problem with those who came only occasionally to her general impression is that in education there is one law. classes Those who were interested either in painting or in for some and another for the rest The Secondary Modern. the company of the painting class she found could generation are not only treated as if they are second rate. easily be involved in creative work though their staying they know they are being treated in this way The sense. power was naturally limited Mr Braithwaite managed of failure of rejection runs deep in the psychology of this. to sublimate their energy in the classroom and in work generation it influences both their attitudes towards the. in one case he was obliged to take on the most surly of his society and their evaluation of themselves. students in a boxing bout but I found this episode even Streaming takes place at an early stage in the Secondary. if true to life an unrepresentative and arbitrary solution Modern school and this is done according to the different. to a tough problem It is interesting that in their quite class evaluations of academic and vocational aptitudes. different situations both authors came to much the same and the differing rewards which these kinds of talents merit. conclusions and adopted the same variety of tactics in the labour market There are considerable academic. Braithwaite realised that by fourteen these youngsters talents going to waste in the Secondary Modern The top. were in many ways already adult They had adult inter streams receive a poor man s Grammar School education. ests and in many cases adult experiences His decision By the age of fourteen in their G C E class it is clear to. to treat them as such to honour their sense of importance everyone in the school that they would have been per. and seriousness transformed the relationship between him fectly capable of coping with a Grammar School curricu. self and them I am not sure that many Sec Mod boys lum The effect of the Secondary School upon the more. would have agreed to call their classmates Miss or even academically advanced is simply that they come to realise. that this kind of formality is advisable Occasionally when at the school leaving age what they have missed They. are Grammar School boys with the tell tale stigma of a it would not be successful outside the framework of the. Secondary Modern on their progress reports Comprehensive School. For the rest the level of educational challenge offered Secondary Modern education then is not a matter of. is abysmally low This does not mean that all children the extension of the range of experiences and skills beyond. deserve an academically biased education though in my the normal level It is much more a matter of making. experience the evaluation of their intellectual aptitudes is students familiar through education with the social and. pitched far below their capacities That is because most class barriers to education and culture which the society. subjects are taught as academic disciplines rather than as has already imposed The cultural frontiers of working. transmission of social skills It is possible for both history class boys and girls cannot in the normal way be expected. and geography to be taught as social studies to a level far to broaden out Whatever the economic position of work. in advance of those currently attained in the Sec Mod ing class teenagers today their cultural status is pretty. provided the subjects are approached within the context plain Here is a deep rooted dislocation in the society a. of the lives of the students rather than within the arbitrary social crisis in every way as sharp and as class bound as. framework of the G C E syllabus Very little work of this economic crises have been in the past It is ridiculous to. kind which is taking root in the Comprehensives is talk of economic prosperity working in the natural course. attempted in the Secondary Moderns of events to break down established barriers between social. Here again the social valuations established outside the classes Class distinctions based upon attitudes taste edu. school play a determining role within the school Thus cation and rooted in the educational system itself do not. certain subjects foreign languages literature science wither away any more quickly than the State Department. history are considered suitable for the academic A common culture does not just grow out of a socially. streams and not for the others This bears little or no re differentiated society any more than grass roots flourish in. lationship to the actual interests or capacities of the pupils stone. concerned I have yet to meet the average vocational The Secondary Modern pattern of education gives us the. or technical child who had no interest whatever in any most important clue we need for an explanation of the. of the so called academic subjects Every boy in my increasing gap between high and popular culture and. fifth stream First Year Class for example wanted to learn for the degeneration of popular culture into mass cul. French There is no doubt that dim witted as they are ture Mass culture of course is largely a creation by the. considered they are in fact lively and active and their commercial world for a literate society at an advanced. imaginative capacities to judge from their drawings and technological stage But the cultural gap between the. paintings and essays are quite equal to it Any one of these haves and the have nots of the education world pro. boys would have picked up French inside of six months vides the conditions within which the purveyors of mass. had he been living in the country culture operate Without this gap the exploitation and. But French is an academic discipline the special manipulation of tastes needs and interests by an educated. privilege of the top streams It is treated not as a linguistic elite would be impossible Or to put it differently a com. skill but rather as a kind of cultural status badge It mon culture available to all and modified by the. belongs to academic children preparing for a semi experiences of different social groups is the only guarantee. professional or white collar career I have heard teachers we possess of a genuinely democratic society Mass culture. threaten A stream classes that if they did not live up to is the culture of a mass democracy without democracy. their special position they would be deprived of their Needless to say young people are one of the most cultur. French classes This is only one example of the way in ally exposed groups to mass culture They expend their. which working class boys and girls are still adjusted generous emotional responses in an attachment to its com. through the school to their proper cultural and social modities whilst high culture is increasingly taken over. position What has been said of French could be equally by dilletantism preciosity and narrowness and marked by. applied to other subjects in spite of the fact that in every that thinness of response and lack of social relevance which. class it is clear that there is a tremendous range of characterises so much minority art. combinations of talents and skills But the Secondary Modern school is by and large so. well adjusted to the social norms of the society that it can. not afford to recognise the interpenetration of school and. The Secondary Modern school is in essence an adaptive leisure attitudes in young people or the playback of. social institution A level of culture a certain social status teenage interests in the school and classroom Needless to. is prescribed from above and the children are roughly say the School is wholly unequipped to deal critically or. attuned to it There is comparatively little or no break responsibly with the leisure world blotting the whole. ing through this cultural social barrier Therefore it is thing out like an unpleasant nightmare Teachers are to. not surprising to find that these boys and girls develop early be seen struggling with the symptoms of cynicism boredom. an hostility to intellectual pursuits They consider a serious and confusion in the classroom which cannot be explained. interest in art at which being uninhibited they are often without reference to the emotional and personal interests. very good indeed or drama or literature or biology not of young people in the really formative worlds which they. merely beyond their particular abilities but outside their inhabit For the same reason the leisure world of the. social stratosphere These distinctions moreover are social teenager assumes an importance unrivalled by school or. and cultural rather than educational The children are home an independence of the adult world and a freedom. said to be unequipped to deal with art or literature or from the constraints of maturity and conformity which con. biology yet they adore to paint or to read and perform stitutes in itself its major attraction In response to the. plays and they are fascinated by the world of nature and cultural exploitation which the school assists in many. the laboratory Clearly the natural aptitudes and interests teenagers erect cultural barriers themselves so that their. in the school are at sharp variance with the education pro leisure world absorbs and consumes all the emotional. vided why not adjust the education to the interests rather vitality and the fantasy and imaginative projections of. than squeeze the children into pre digested categories At adolescence and becomes a wholly self enclosed universe. least the experiment should be tried though in my view The school then is constantly competing with the leisure. world for the emotional attachments of young people have a way of ending up in rhapsodies like this. and losing the battle into the bargain Neither the family. nor the youth club in any sense adequately compensates Why wine has been grown in this island in Roman times. Left to themselves young people develop very much so why shouldn t we hope for a freer and happier youth. according to the lights and lessons of each other s carried into being on a wave of living art and religion. experiences a school of life both limited frustrating and neither imaginable without the other. self enclosed The gulf between themselves and adult life. becomes unbridgeable The quarrel between the genera In such passages as these Mrs Berger Hamerschlag. tions becomes a vast deadly silence of incomprehension seeks a romantic escape from the immense social pressures. It is only fair to say that neither Mr Braithwaite nor which are at work in the situation she is describing. Mrs Berger Hamerschlag come anywhere within striking. distance of this problem Their books are therefore inter What we have to do is to begin to disentangle what is. esting and humane which God knows is almost enough real and what is phony in the responses of young people. these days but somehow not compelling There are today What is real are the feelings and attitudes involved. really crucial connections to be made which never get the interests aroused what is phony are the ways the feel. made Mrs Hamerschlag for example finds that her girls ings are engaged the trivial and inconsequential directions. are interested in nothing but their own beauty but she in which the aroused interests are channelled The revolt. brings them fashion magazines She recognises the fan and iconoclasm of youth today arises because of the con. tasy element in the cinema Hollywood is fairyland tradictions between the true and the false elements in their. but she speaks as if she considers their addiction to the culture because the wave of post war prosperity has raised. cinema as if it were by definition a sign of wholesale them to cultural thresholds which offer rewards unequal to. waste After all a few pages later she makes some very the expectations aroused Instead therefore most young. perceptive remarks about her students passion for real people compensate for their frustrations by an escape into. ism in art I can t get any of them to do anything the womb world of mass entertainments by an aggressive. imaginative Perhaps it s not so strange after all They revolt against conformist adulthood by pioneering the. are at the age where they change from that introvert period frontiers of experience in search of the feel of living or by. of childhood into the adult stage of realism Precisely an aggressive affirmation of the self against the world. If that is the case then the passion for realism particu through violence This is no temporary diverting. larly in the cinema is a natural and healthy taste the only phenomenon It is a major social trauma generalised for. problem is what they are being shown what kind of real a whole generation. ism are they being fed Paragraphs of her book which The street or school gang for example which is so often. begin with the good sense of this one criticised because of its anti social tendencies must also. be understood as the search for a meaningful social group. Relationships usually fleeting and sensual can be for real face to face relations As one lad put it The gang. developed into humane ones in which warmth comradeship is always us and them England against the rest London. and mutual interests play their part against somewhere else your part of London against. another part your street against the next you and your. mate even against the others His use of the words us. and others represents a serious challenge to the general. quality of human relationships in our society It gives. voice to frustration arising from the apparent impossibility. to know other people from the anonymity of human, society and its institutions and from the lack of care And.
these are responses which if we are honest with ourselves. we know as well but which we have often consciously. shoved to the back of our mind because we have lost the. capacity to criticise and understand the working of society. on this human level or because we feel it is all somehow. inevitable in the age of mass technology The truth is. that we live in an age in which the very flow between. human beings a truly human and personal thing has, become distorted part of a total crisis which eats through. into the family life and personal relationships as well If. we are willing to accept this state of affairs for the sake. of a high rate of technical and industrial growth then we. are laying in store for our society deep social disturbances. of which racial riots floating juvenile delinquency and. petty crimes are merely unpleasant forerunners A break. down in the passage between youth and maturity repre. sents a general condition and cannot be explained without. reference to the social relationships between groups and. people in general What we find in the detail of teenage. attitudes today is the distorted moral response to a bureau. cratic age That is why the complex of feelings pin pointed. say in the James Dean portrayal of father son relationships. in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause achieves so. immediate a response in England and Western Europe in. Poland and the Soviet Union as well, It is therefore with something of a shock that one turns. to this paragraph in the Editorial introduction to Dr Mark. Abrams s recent L P E Pamphlet The Teenage Consumer. The teenager is newly enfranchised in an economic sense. This has given him the chance to be himself and show him. self and has misled a number of people especially some. elderly ones into the belief that the young of mid twentieth. century Britain are something new and perhaps ominous. We ourselves see no cause for alarm and not much for diag. nosing novelty except in the new levels of spending power. and their commercial effects There remains the ancient need. for the older to understand the younger and we now con. front a business necessity for this understanding as well as. the older moral and psychological imperatives p 3, The commercial effects of the teenage revolution are. of course staggering perhaps not quite in the sense that. the London Press Exchange Britain s largest Advertising. Agency use the words Every other fact recorded by Dr. Abrams in the pamphlet which is in its way an attrac. tively illustrated job is not merely new but startling in. both its business and social implications Dr Abrams. reckons that Britain s 5 000 000 unmarried teenagers up to. 25 have a total annual uncommitted spending power of. 900 000 000 a rise in real earnings over 1938 of 50. and in real discretionary spending of over 100 He, goes on to point out that this is a market clearly distin. guished in its tastes constantly renewing itself that it is. almost entirely working class and predominantly male. Nearly a quarter of teenagers uncommitted money goes. on clothing and footwear another 14 on drink and, tobacco and another 12 on sweets soft drinks and snacks.
in cafes and restaurants If we add together the teenage. expenditure on records record players books papers and. magazines recreational goods cinema admissions and. other entertainments we can estimate that the teenage. market for pop entertainments is about 125 000 000 or. about 14 of their total uncommitted spending power The. amount spent on clothes cosmetics etc is about,225 000 000. The pattern of consumption is of course extraordin. arily specialised Their spending on other goods and ser. vices which includes most adult and home consumer, goods is less than 3 of the total Moreover their ex. penditure on tobacco and alcohol is comparatively unim. portant The teenage population visits the cinema much. more frequently than do its elders it watches less televi. sion than does the rest of the population and it tends to. concentrate its reading on a few newspapers and magazines. with very large circulations The Mirror reaches over. two fifths of them and the News of the World and Sunday. Pictorial each reach approximately half all teenagers. In his summing up Mr Abrams makes three points of, wider interest that the teenage market depends very. heavily upon the one industrial country which has ex. perience of a prosperous working class adolescent market. the United States that teenagers are looking for goods and. commodities which are highly charged emotionally and. that with the rise of the teenage market as a distinctive age. group ideas values and experiences tend to become, superannuated at an earlier age The turn over in atti. tudes and values is just about as rapid as the multiple stores. or the advertisers manage on the Charing Cross Road or. the song writers in Tin Pan Alley, Prosperity is the backdrop to every other thing which.
we can say about the Secondary Modern generation today. And while the superficial changes of style and taste ring. out successively there are some important underlying pat. terns to observe In London at any rate we are witnessing. a quiet revolution within the teenage revolution itself. The outlines of the Secondary Modern generation in the. 1960 s are beginning to form The Teddy Boy era is play. ing itself out The L P Hi Fi generation is on the way in. The butcher boy jeans velvet lapel coats and three inch. crepes are considered coarse and tasteless They exist. but they no longer set the tone Teds are almost, square Here are the very smart sophisticated young men. and women of the metropolitan jazz clubs the Flamingo. Club devotees the other Marquee generation Suits are. dark sober and casual formal severely cut and narrow on. the Italian pattern Hair cuts are modern a brisk flat. topped French version of the now juvenile American crew. cut modestly called College style Shirts are either. white stiff or solid colour close knit wool in the Continental. manner Jeans are de rigeur less blue denim American. striped narrowly or black or khaki The girls are short. skirted sleekly groomed pin pointed on stiletto heels with. set hair and Paris boutique dead pan make up and mas. cara Italian pointed shoes are absolute and universal. A fast talking smooth running hustling generation with. an ad lib gift of the gab quick sensitivities and responses. and an acquired taste for the Modern Jazz Quartet They. are the prosperity boys not in the sense that they have. a fortune stashed away but in that they are familiar with. the in and out flow of money In the age of super, inflation money is a highly volatile thing They have the. spending habit and the sophisticated tastes to go along. with it They are city birds They know their way around. They are remarkably self possessed though often very in. experienced and eager beneath the eyes Their attitude. to adults is less resentful than scornful Adults are simply. square Mugs They are not with it They don t,know how the wind blows School has passed through. this generation like a dose of salts but they are by no. means intellectually backward They are in fact sharp. and self inclined Office boys even van boys by day. they are record sleeve boys by night They relish a spon. taneous giggle or a sudden midnight trip to Southend. they are capable of a certain cool violence The Teds. are their alter egos, They despise the masses the evening paper lot on the. tubes in the evening traditionals cops cowboys,peasants and bohemians But they know how to talk.
to journalists and TV merchants debs and holiday busi. nessmen Their experiences are primarily personal urban. and sensational sensational in the sense that the test of. beatitude is being able to get so close you feel you are. part of the act the scene They know that the teenage. market is a racket but they are subtly adjusted to it none. theless They seem culturally exploited rather than socially. deprived They stand at the end of the Teddy boy era of. the Welfare State They could be the first generation of. the Common Market, The hero of Colin MacInnes s Absolute Beginners comes. straight at us out of this changing panorama with a flow. and authenticity which marks the book as an excellent and. distinguished piece of social documentary The book asks. to be tested against life and this is no mean accomplish. ment His social observation is keen representative. detailed and engaged He is not afraid of handling the. material of teenage life within the framework of his own. clearly articulated values But he has managed without. too many nuances to embody his attitudes in his hero and. through him to figure out the contemporary attitudes of a. whole range of teenagers The novel has a backdrop of with ex debs on the make or sharp business men in the. little deals and rackets which is almost certain to make advertising money He covers one way or another most. some distinguished reviewer say Mr Maclnnes has over teenage attitudes without appearing to drag them in by. done it a little Surely there are too many crooks prosti design Hustling everybody who is not a square is in some. tutes perverts and spivs I refer to Mr MacInnes s kind of racket drinking either you drink a lot or else. judgment on this one this hustling quarter at least of you don t drink anything at all Sex it really matters. today s teenagers are second generation spivs That is one you can t say How s your sex life like you say How s. of the things which the War and the floating amoralism of the weather Jazz if anybody doesn t rave about it. the Welfare State have done for the young You have all you can feel for them is pity traditionals here was. to look at Ashes and Diamonds to see what a different kind this trad child alone among the teenagers in the days of. of War and a different harsher brand of amoralism have prosperity still living like a bum and a bohemian. done for the Poles Jews when the Jewish population have all made enough. Mr MacInnes deliberately takes us on a tour of loot to take off to America or Israel then I m leaving. modern attitudes The Teds and the bottle throwers too dancing your whole damn brain and sex and person. lurk in the background and at the end of the novel which ality have actually become that dance are i t ad men s. is set graphically in the Notting Hill riots they emerge to offices the joint was like a very expensive tomb. take their proper place in the roll call of urban violence Notting Hill Napoli was like a prison or a concentration. If Mr MacInnes concentrates on the modern advance camp inside blue murder outside buses and evening. guard I described above it is not because the cruder papers and hurrying home to sausages and mash and tea. simpler moral view of the Ted has ceased to function There are some very nice bits The dialogue all the way. In Notting Hill and elsewhere their writ runs I think it through is close to being right right at least in flow speed. is because Mr MacInnes would have found it impossible slickness cool enough to be off beat but still English and. to embody his very healthy and humane views about con cockney in rhythm and idiom It achieves a kind of mid. temporary life in the thwarted suffocated consciousness of Atlantic sophistication There is one very fine passage. the Teddy Boy His views need the light and freshness where the hero s queer friend the Fabulous Hoplite makes. also the sophistication and sensitivity of the more con a hit on a TV programme in which he and a retired. temporary article The Modern Jazz Quartet generation Admiral make splendid sense together and defeat the inter. may also be the generation that could lift its eyes above viewer an intrepid Aussie called Call Me Cobber on a. the slums of Paddington Its horizons may be carefully challenging TV series called suitably Junction The. manipulated by Fleet Street and A R TV they are some scene in the studio is memorable. how broader more comprehensive and basically more, humane Are they in any sense socially more respon The Hop was terrific boy If they don t line that cat up. sible No But they are socially more responsive They for a series they re no talent spotters He hogged the camera. have views which include people other than themselves in fact the damn thing had to keep chasing him about the. And now that the teenage thing is a constant source of studio and spoke up like he was King Henry V in a Shake. copy for both the Press and Television they are both self spearean performance He told us that what he believed in. conscious about it and beginning to think and articulate was the flowering of fhe human personality such as his own. about it Both things are good provided the discussion can and how could a personality flower in the boiler room of a. destroyer Absolute Beginners p 158, be made to broaden out and include other subjects besides. the inter generation struggle,Moreover MacInnes manages to achieve certain. MacInnes on tour is at first reading a little irritating moments of real feeling without strain the hero and his. and occasionally transparent But the second reading per father at a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan with his. suades He knows where he is going and he has managed coloured house mate Cool and on a trip up the river On. to impose a certain unity on the tale What is more he the river trip a scene different from the others because it. has done it with remarkable personal feeling and without involves emotional response rather than the portrayal of. straining or forcing the sequence of incidents The novel attitudes the hero becomes excited by the little row boats. could easily have degenerated into a series of isolated epi on the Thames. sodes In fact the incidents are related to each other. through the hero and the plot provides a kind of loose. moral pattern or at least the book achieves a unity in its A club it must have been of athletic juniors each in white. vest and pants and brown legs and arms and a red neck. moral tone and attitude towards the different types and it was cyclists they made me think of weaving their way at. points of view portrayed This makes Absolute Beginners speed through the city traffic and we of course had to slow. more than mere rapportage the hero in spite of his typi down almost to zero as they shot by both sides of us in their. cality in many respects has very strong moral views on dozens And I got up and cheered and even old Dad did. certain subjects coloured people for example and an Wonderful kiddies on that hot pot cracking day racing down. attitude to life and a love for London which is at once stream as if only the salt sea would stop them. sympathetic and at the same time humane and committed. In that sense he is more than a roving camera of the teen Neither so sensitive nor so lyrical as Salinger Absolute. age scene he brings to bear upon it a moral point of view Beginners is still the closest we have come to a British. This makes Absolute Beginners a novel rather than a piece Mr MacInnes is Australian Catcher In The Rye. of inspired journalism though of course it is a novel in If anything Mr MacInnes has made his hero both too. the social documentary genre sophisticated and too critical I do not mean that he is. Mr MacInnes catches the different kinds of hustling merely a vehicle for Mr MacInnes s values for we feel. and petty rackets of the teenagers very well One lad has him as an authentic character in his own right But he is. adventured into the call girl business but most of them unfortunately not as typical as we should like It is char. are making a fast line with the TV cats who have made a acteristic for example that he should combine a kind of. big investment in the teenage thing or with journalists generous amorality in his attitude to himself and his teen. who want to know what young people are thinking today age world with a more strenuous moral dislike of the fake. the phony the callous and the inhuman for example his tacts that is an unqualified gain It is the sophisticated. attitude to West Indians But he is altogether more know advance guard of the teenage revolution who are at uni. ing than is I think possible for such a teenage teenager versities and training colleges and art schools and in. to be apprenticeships the most articulate in their protest about. Perhaps on the other hand Mr MacInnes has done this social issues and who feel most strongly about South. generation more justice than others who have written Africa or the Bomb If the cool young men of today were. about the same subject I do not believe that humane atti to become the social conscience of tomorrow it would be. tudes to people and to social justice are bred only in con because they had seen sights in the Twentieth Century. ditions of want and deprivation If post war prosperity closed to many eyes before It would not be the first revo. have lifted this working class generation up out of poverty lution which came out of social deprivation nor the first. and raised their cultural experiences and their social con Utopia with absolute beginnings.

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