Skinheads Revisited.

Various factions have their own interpretation of skinhead and there are a few areas that could do well with being further illuminated, particularly the history of anti-fascist skins, the experience of gay skins and the way skins have been represented in various forms of media. The far-right association has been over reported and there have been plenty of Redskins, Sharp skins and punk-skins as well as skins in Red Action and Anti Fascist Action. All input gratefully received. Part of this was originally posted as a PS to the Gay Nazi article by Malatesta but it would be good to gather information for future reference. If people can post their experiences with skins, as a skin or anything else, please do.

Gay Skinheads

There is some interesting research to be done on the appropriation of the skinhead image in the 1990s gay scene. This has largely died out now but there are still 1 or 2 gay skins knocking about at various Pride parades. The skinhead look is obviously butch – the tight jeans, shiny boots, and muscles are obviously attractive. There is also the possibility that given the ‘effeminate’ image imposed on gay guys, the skinhead look reverses this and provides an aggressive counter-image. It is a powerful look: skinheads have earned a reputation for violence, justified or not, and it has consequently become a much feared image, particularly in the media. Wearing skinhead clothes and walking into a pub causes a few heads to turn. Perhaps gay skinheads stopped wearing the gear because they did not want to be misconstrued as Nazis, and Nazis stopped wearing it because they did not want to be construed as gay. Who knows? Given that the 1990s were a period of heavy irony perhaps the appropriation of the skinhead look by the gay community was simply a  massive ironic gesture.

Tighten Up! Skinheads & Class

Skinhead was a genuinely working class movement and the skinhead phenomenon was not appropriated by the middle classes, unlike punk and other youth cults. It started as a reaction to the awful hippies in the 60s and focussed around ska, football and ‘aggro.’ Beer not drugs, football not festivals and tight 3 minute reggae not extended guitar solos. It was also a prescribed look from the boots up and like all youth movements very fastidious about detail and unlike youth movements of the time, very attentive to branding: Levi’s, Ben Sherman’s, Fred Perry’s, DMs. If you turned up in Tesco jeans you would be laughed out of the disco. There are still skinheads who keep the tradition going by toning down the DMs and half-mast Levis and acknowledging that skins were originally ‘hard mods’ and apart from the boots, wore similar clothes, i.e., Sherman’s, Perry’s, tonic suits etc. However, mods were always more bespoke whereas skinhead was very label conscious.

Skinheads & Film

There have been several films featuring skinhead characters but few of them have got these details right. Romper Stomper is appalling as they are so scruffy and live like tramps. They look like tabloid versions of skinheads and their jeans are ragged, boots scuffed and Crombies tattered. Made In Britain again does not get the details right but gives over the charismatic and contradictory nature of skinheads. The scene where Tim Roth half naked runs through the Blackwall tunnel is very butch indeed! Meantime sees Gary Oldman as a mainly incoherent bully but his clothes are fairly accurate if a bit scruffy. American History X suffers from the same crap clothing as Romper Stomper and is not worth a look. The other fairly decent representation of skins is in Richard Jobson’s 16 Years Of Alcohol film (yes, he formerly of the Skids). They get the clothing right – the sta-pres, Crombies, Sherman’s and very tight Levis! – and a pleasant day in Edinburgh can be had finding the locations and bars where it was filmed.

This Is England got very close. The clothes are pretty exact and only the use of language lets them down: they say ‘man’ which skinheads would construe as hippy talk! Hopefully the TV series will continue to observe the sartorial demands of traditional skinhead.

Romper Stomper was based in Australia and the skinheads were either inaccurately depicted or if they were like genuine Aussie skins (I’ve never met any) then they need some serious sartorial guidance. Skinhead, like any other youth cult, has a strict set of codes that define the individual as a part of the movement. These codes are clothing, language, music, social conduct (i.e., skateboarding, lurking in graveyards), politics to an extent, and mutual interests (i.e., football, violence). There are often particular stimulants involved that enhance the desired behaviour patterns of the individual: speed to make you more alive; alcohol to make you bolder; marijuana to inhibit interesting conversation etc. If these codes are not observed then the individual is seen as a poor imitation, or in contemporary parlance, a ‘plastic’ and subject to mistrust. To say you are a skinhead and walk around in corduroy flares and a basin haircut is going to generate scorn.

Nazi Skins

The media connection with far right politics was the undoing for skinheads although there were always left wing skins and skins who just don’t care as it got in the way drinking, dancing and having a good time. Some skinheads were Nazis, some Nazis were skinheads, but most skinheads, like everyone else, quickly got bored with  meetings and marches. After all there are other things to do when Saturday comes …

 Indymedia Responses

 The above article was simultaneously posted on Indymedia and generated these responses. 

Forklift wrote:

Malatesta makes a very good point about the link between the Southall riot and Combat 18, because the debate about this still rumbles on, in the Asian community and in the skinhead scene, to this day. It is risible for Malatesta to describe Southall as a “mini” riot as an entire pub was burned to the ground, and the extreme right still feel this defeat keenly. David Copeland said if he’d not been arrested his next bomb would have been Southall – in other words a revenge attack for the defeats the NF suffered there, and last year the BNP placed a huge billboard poster directly opposite the rebuilt Hamborough Tavern, as a way of sending a “we’re still here” message to the Asian community. In the skinhead scene people are still bleating on about how “it wasn’t us really”, “we didn’t mean it”, “it was the Asians that started it” etc, but the fact is bussing hundreds of Nazi skinheads into Southall WAS a premeditated publicity stunt set-up by Garry Hitchcock to try and get national TV coverage for The 4 Skins and The Last Resort (and the “smoking gun” ideologically is the fact that Hitchcock went on to become a founder member of Combat 18). So well spotted for that one Mr. M (and incidentally, a number of EDL supporters are linking to Facebook pages for Last Resort spin-off band The Warriors).
Having said that I’m none too impressed by Malatesta’s research skills. Yes Nicky Crane did make gay porn, although I cant prove that now, but a quick Google search would have instantly taken Malatesta to Psychic TV’s “Unclean” video on You Tube, where Crane is clearly visible 52 seconds in to the video…
As for the more general issue of gay Nazis – Jorg Haider, Ernst Rohm, Pim Fortuyn, Martin Webster, and the BNP recently visited Japan to meet with followers of the gay Fascist Yukio Mishima. As for the band Combat 84 the similarity between this name and Combat 18 speaks for itself, C84 and C18 were all friends, and Chris Henderson of Combat 84 was seen in the semi-famous “Skinhead” TV documentary not only admitting that he and his dad went to Charterhouse private school, but also admitting that in Southall skinheads and police fought TOGETHER against Asians. One fact that Henderson has been less than frank about is the fact that Combat 84 were offered a deal by the NF’s “White Noise” record label, but then rejected by the NF (under the stewardship of Nick Griffin) because Combat 84 (in their hatred of the peace movement and CND) supported American bases and nuclear weapons, which (bizarrely) contradicted NF policy. Henderson claims he and his mates weren’t really racist (yawn), but page 135 of his stupid book describes them chucking 2 black street cleaners into the Seine in Paris to see if black people can swim, dismissing this near murder as a bit of a laugh rather than as a potentially fatal racist attack. The book also describes C18 / Chelsea Headhunter types punching a woman unconscious for refusing a dance in a nightclub, and one Headhunter taking a shit on the table of a Paris restaurant – hmmm… White Pride World Wide!! I’d like to stress I read Chris Henderson’s stupid fucking book for research purposes only and it’s worth every penny of the 10p I paid for it at a jumble sale.
As for M’s claim that “skinhead was a genuinely working class movement and the skinhead phenomenon was not appropriated by the middle classes” as I said Chris Henderson went to Charterhouse, and in the same documentary Combat’s Deptford John freely admits to being middle class and describes how angry he was at being refused service in the Army officer class and his disgust at being asked to enlist as an ordinary squaddie alongside (quote) “cannon-fodder”. Ditto Ian Stuart-Donaldson also went to private school. The idea that skinheads are all working class is literally a myth. Good in places, but please check your facts a bit more carefully before publishing Malatesta!

Malatesta Responded:

Skinhead was a working class phenomenon and just because there are a couple of exceptions does not make it less so. There were no skinhead students or trendy skinheads like there were punks or hippies or mods. Thanks for the info on Henderson and Charterhouse though – that’s hilarious! You mention the skinhead documentary do you mean the 1 with US, German and UK skins on it? And I think Charlie Sergeant speaking on it. The one that George Marshall had something to do with? Some good early footage on that. As for Henderson’s book, simple cross referencing with anti-fascist literature shows how disingenuous he is over his fascist connections. The other one is Steven Hickmott’s Armed For The Match on the Headhunters trial which denies any links with Combat 18 or the BNP. Best books that feature early skinheads though are Hoolifan by Martin Knight and Martin King (great on the clothes) and Want Some Aggro by Cass Pennant and Micky Smith especially p36-7 which illustrates the fastidiousness of the original skinheads.

 Forklift Responded:

The program was a BBC “40 Minutes” documentary called “Skinheads”, broadcast in 1982 and featuring footage of the “famous” fight at Benny’s Bar in Harlow that re-appears at the beginning of the film “This is England”. Basically the whole documentary was dedicated to following Combat 84 and I think gave these wankers the impression they could be big shots of some sort. In fact, speaking of that dreadfulness wherein Malatesta fears to tread (joke!) rather than being a rock star Chris Henderson ended-up running a bar in a dump called Pattaya, Thailand, that’s famous for sex tourism and ladyboys (wonder if having a Casuals United membership card gets you a discount?). As for the middle-class angle this aspect is not incidental because the likes of Chris Henderson and Ian Stuart were leaders of sorts and are still regarded as working-class heroes by gullible boneheads world-wide, with Ian Stuart in particular exercising (albeit in death) a strong influence on the racist scene. Yes you can still say the right-wing skin scene is working class but you could say the same about the Freikorps and SA in Nazi Germany – the point is that’s missing the point. The EDL for instance are desperate to cross-over hence their sucking up to middle-class students like Matthew Kaplan, and ex-students like their financier Alan Lake.

Malatesta Responded

Cheers Forklift. Just watched the Combat 84 doco on YouTube and they do not come across as  very bright. The music is pretty much devoid of melody, wit or imagination. As is much Blood & Honour stuff. Henderson got compensation after conspiracy charges against him were dropped over his involvement in organized hooliganism and he nicked off to Thailand. Hicky also ended up there after getting released from jail when the Headhunter’s charges were found to be dodgy. It was always a favoured destination for the Headhunter’s and the Deviants affiliated crew. 

Forklift Responded:

Fascists never tire of “accusing” their opponents of being middle class, but Paul Burnley (Nazi skinhead band No Remorse) and Jon Burnley (Nazi skinhead band Skrewdriver) reversed-out of the white power movement just in time to worm their way back into their dad’s afftections… and the inheritance is worth looking out for, as their dad’s multi-millionaire painter John Bellany (who despite making a fortune from picaresque depictions of brutal Scottish poverty) lives in a massive villa in Barga, Tuscany, as a neighbour of platinum selling singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini 😉 These 2 wankers – Photo: Paul “Burnley” Bellany with Ian Stuart-Donaldson – were bailed out by mummy and daddy after going on an armed racist rampage in Cottbus, Germany, I wonder of the family’s largesse extended to bailing-out any of the brothers’ working-class comrades?

About malatesta32

Malatesta aka M. Testa, undercover anti-fascist blogger, has analyzed the changing fortunes of the British far right for nearly a decade. He has given lectures on anti-fascism, published articles in Anarchist Studies and Freedom magazine and wrote Militant Anti-Fascism: 100 Years Of Resistance (AK Press 2015) which the Morning Star called a '‘Potent Primer On Europe’s Anti-Fascist Struggle … a useful source of information about the fight against fascism.’
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