“Margate during a bank holiday, 1981.”
I can’t look at these poignant pictures of skinheads and punks in the U.K. around 1981 and not start humming “No Thugs in Our House” by XTC, which, as it happens, was recorded in late 1981.
You might imagine that the photographer, Derek Ridgers, was a compatriot of these young rebels, but that’s not the case. Ridgers had studied at the Ealing School of Art around 1970 (one of his fellow students there was one Farrokh Bulsara, a.k.a. Freddy Mercury), and in the 1970s Ridgers worked in advertising. In 1981 Ridgers turned 29 years old.
Says Ridgers of his becoming one of the first serious documenters of the skinhead scene: “It was pure beginner’s luck, helped by the photos being timely and available. And because of my advertising background, I had chutzpah and was fairly shameless in touting them around.”
In early ‘79 I was already engaged in what eventually turned out to be a lengthy photographic study of the New Romantics (though back then they were not known as such). I’d been documenting this nascent scene in the Soho nightclub ’Billy’s’ and, one evening, a group of about half-a-dozen skinheads turned up. They saw me taking photographs and one of them, a guy called Wally, asked me if I’d like to take some photos of them too. They seemed pretty friendly and not at all camera shy. I took a few snaps, we got talking and Wally suggested I go with the whole gang on one of their Bank Holiday jaunts to the seaside. That was what led, eventually, to five years of photographing skinheads. In those five years I got to know some of the skinheads quite well and liked many of them.
Interestingly, Ridgers was so not one of them that he almost entirely misjudged the identity of his subjects. “I must have been pretty daft. At first I assumed that Wally and his friends were just dressing up as skinheads. I thought that they’d probably all come from art schools or fashion colleges and they were benign, skinhead revivalists. … I proved to be seriously misinformed.”
Ridgers’ new book Skinheads was released in September. The captions are Ridgers’ own and come from this gallery at the Guardian website.
“I entitled this photograph ‘Smiler’ since he’s got it written on his jacket. His real name was Wayne and his street name was Wally. In an email he informed me that he was 16 when I took this photograph in 1984.”
“Kevin, photographed next to The Last Resort shop in Goulston Street, 1981. “
“Two skinhead girls photographed on a bank holiday in Brighton (this is the image later used by Morrissey on the Your Arsenal tour).”
“Kate, left, and Lesley, Shoreditch, 1979. “
“Skinheads hanging around outside The Last Resort shop in Goulston Street, 1981.”
“This is John and Dave (gleaned simply from looking at their tattoos) in Chelsea in 1981.”
“Photographed in Billys, at 69 Dean Street, Soho 1979. This was my first encounter with any skinheads since the early 70s and Wally, the guy waving a fist, was the guy that persuaded me to hang out with them and take more photos.”
“Chelsea, March 1982.”
“Donna, Leicester Square, 1981.”
“Dawn, left, and Becky, photographed in Putney Railway Station, 1980.”
“Leicester Square, 1981.”
“Young skinhead photographed close to Carnaby Street in 1980.”