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Ken Russell Teddy Girls and Boys
Vera Harrison, aged 19, January 1955Copyright Ken Russell /, Courtesy of The North Wall Arts Centre

The forgotten legacy of the teddy girl

Ken Russell’s photography captures the suits and slick-backs of the bygone subculture, focusing his lens on the overlooked women of the movement

Set against the backdrop of postwar Britain, the smiles of teddy boys hanging around funfairs, stage doors and derelict East End bomb sites in their lavish upper-class dress were immortalised by the late Ken Russell, whose photography forms part of a new exhibition titled Teddy Girls and Boys.

While the aesthetics of the trend hark back to the dandies of the Edwardian era (hence ‘teddy’), the social context was the antithesis of glamour. A mixture of anti-immigrant sentiment and clothes rationing helped amplify the youthful rebellion, which many consider to be the first youth subculture in Britain. 

The photographs, which will be on display at The North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford next year, depict the lives and loves of the stylish kids of the time. Playful photographs were taken outside the famous Seven Feathers Club – a legendary hangout where young teddy boys and girls would go to show off their signature dance, the ‘creep’, in their creeper shoes.

“No one paid much attention to the teddy girls before I did, though there was plenty on Teddy boys”, said Russell, the controversial director behind films like The Devils and Tommy, in a 2010 interview with The Guardian. Teddy boys and girls were born out of the war years and – according to Russell – they “knew their worth”, he explained.

“They just wore what they wore,” he added.

The free exhibition runs at The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, from February 1–18, 2017