In February, Oxford’s North Wall Arts Centre brings together for the first time 50 photographs of teddy girls and boys, taken by ground-breaking film director, Ken Russell. Before finding fame as a director of films such as Women in Love, Tommy and The Devils, Russell worked as a freelance photographer, and began taking photographs in 1951, aged 23.
Although these are among the first photographs to capture fledgling youth culture in London, they remained unseen for 50 years, and were only rediscovered in an archive in 2005. The exhibition, which also marks the 10th anniversary of The North Wall Arts Centre, runs from 1-18 February 2017. Admission is free.
Ken Russell has been described by film critic Mark Kermode as “someone who thought with his eyes”; Russell himself called his photographs his “still films”. 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 graffiti-covered brick walls, on derelict East End bomb sites 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.
Via Creative Boom submission | All images courtesy of North Wall Arts Centre
Main image: Elsie and Rose Hendon with Mary Toovey and Jean Rayner on an East End bombsite January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Vera Harrison, aged 19 January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
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
14 year old Jean Rayner in the exploratory stage of Teddyism January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Two unnamed Teddy Boys at a funfair January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Rose Price and admirers. Matching polka dot clutch bag and gloves January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Iris Thornton of Plaistow in front of a comic stall January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Iris Thornton, aged 17, Plaistow January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk
Josie Buchan at the stage door of the Walthamstow Palace Theatre January 1955 © Ken Russell / Topfoto.co.uk