How Ken Russell's photos of Teddy Girls and Teddy Boys captured Britain's first teenage tribe

| 21 October 2016

Ken Russell's photographs of Teddy Girls and Teddy Boys capture the birth of the teenager in post war Britain

a black and white photo of two boys with greased rock and roll haircuts and drapes
Two unnamed Teddy Boys at a funfair January 1955© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Before finding fame as a director of films such as Women in Love, Tommy and The Devils, film director Ken Russell (1927 - 2011) worked as a freelance photographer. He began taking photographs in 1951, aged 23.

One of his first subjects were the teddy boys and teddy girls of post war London. Although these are among of the first photographs to capture fledgling youth culture in the capital, they remained unseen for 50 years, and were only rediscovered in an archive in 2005.

In February 2017, Oxford’s North Wall Arts Centre will be bringing together 50 of the photographs for the first time.

a group of three Teddy boys with an umbrella. One of them offers a light to a female ted standing by a stage door.
Josie Buchan at the stage door of the Walthamstow Palace Theatre January 1955© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
a photo of a two girls in Teddy girl gear next to the railings of a gate
Elsie Hendon (15) and Jean Rayner (14) outside the Seven Feathers Club, where they did the popular Ted dance, The Creep© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
a photo of a young woman om trousers and large collared jacket posing next to hung washing
Iris Thornton, aged 17, Plaistow January 1955© © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
a photo of a teenage girl in a suit holding a cigarette
14 year old Jean Rayner in the exploratory stage of Teddyism January 1955© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
The images, all taken in 1955, are exceptional as they feature mostly girls, often staring directly and defiantly at the camera.

As Russell said, "No one paid much attention to the teddy girls before I did them, though there was plenty on teddy boys. They were tough, these kids, they’d been born in the war years… they knew their worth. They just wore what they wore."

The teddy girls and boys are photographed on London streets, at funfairs, at stage doors, leaning on brick walls still bearing the traces of posters from the war, on derelict East End bombsites and outside the Seven Feathers Club where they did the popular Ted dance, The Creep.

Several of the images feature a strikingly contemporary looking 14 year old Jean Rayner - "she had attitude by the truckload", said Russell.

a photo of a girl wearing a flimsy hat and neckerchief in front of stand covered in comic books
Iris Thornton of Plaistow in front of a comic stall January 1955© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
a photo of a girl in a Teddy boy jacket surrounded by boys in similar garb
Rose Price and admirers. Matching polka dot clutch bag and gloves January 1955© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
a photo of four girls standing amidst the rubble of a building
Elsie and Rose Hendon with Mary Toovey and Jean Rayner on an East End bombsite January 1955© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
a photo of a girl next to a brick wall with the traces of an old wartime poster still visible on it
Vera Harrison, aged 19 January 1955© © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
A black and white photo of two Teddy Boys at a funfair next to a Waltzer
Unidentified Teddy Boys at the funfair, 1955.© Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Ken Russell's Teddy Girls and Boys is at the The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, February 1-18 2017.
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