Reaching through the archives, Clash uncovered a full feature on Quadrophenia - the album, film and phenomenon - featuring interviews with all the main players.
Presented online for the first time, you can dive in below.
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For three decades, Quadrophenia has stood as the essential document of mod culture - the incendiary movement of the early-’60s that revolved around music, fashion, drugs and scooters. Thirty years after its release, Clash dons its parka and delves into the making of a very British phenomenon.
Teenagers in the early-1960s were unrestricted in their access to emerging fashions. Due in part to the country’s post-war financial recover, most were employed with ready access to cash to cover the constant update of their bespoke wardrobe, their record collection, their scooter accessories, and the lifestyle that went with it. Mod was an extension of the 1950s beatnik culture, altogether more stylish, more affluent, and with a love for soul, R&B and blues.
By 1973, mod culture had effectively died out. The commercialization of this vital youth movement had led to its rapid decline, while the burgeoning Sixties began to offer its disciples new musical and social opportunities, where they evolved into hippies, skinheads and beyond. Pete Townshend of The Who, however, was using his own mod experience as the basis for his latest rock opera: the story of Jimmy, a teenage mod whose personal troubles and internal conflicts lead him to develop four personalities.
The Who’s subsequent album, ‘Quadrophenia’, found favour not only with their original fans, who’d followed them since their mod beginnings in West London, but their fan base in general, thus introducing the movement to an international audience. Jimmy’s four personalities were apparently each to be based on a member of The Who, though Townshend now refutes this.
“In a sense it was a sop to the band and their US fans to base Jimmy on the four members of The Who,” he tells Clash. “It helped us all get inside it. In reality I believe we in the band worked the other way round: each of us in The Who based ourselves on characters (sometimes groups of characters) we had observed in the early days of our audience.”
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Listen to ‘Quadrophenia’ now and you hear a riotous soundtrack that journeys through Jimmy’s life - the emergence of psychological problems, his realization of the transparency of rock ‘n’ roll worship, his disenchantment with the mod life, escaping to Brighton to recapture the highs of a recent mod/rocker clash, his self-destruction through drugs and alcohol, and his ultimate fate: stranded on a rock in the sea, discovering spiritual enlightenment in the storm raging around him.
The film adaptation of The Who’s 1969 album ‘Tommy’ and its huge success had pointed the band in a new direction. “I think about the time the Quadrophenia film was made The Who were pretty much finished as a performing band because of Keith Moon’s physical decline,” Pete admits - his drummer died two weeks before filming commenced, “so we had turned to film as a new business and bought a chunk of Shepperton Studios.” The Who’s manager, Bill Curbishley, and producer Roy Baird proceeded to field ‘Quadrophenia’ as a screenplay. They approached director Franc Roddam.
“We talked it through and they had a script that’d been written by a fan, but it wasn’t really a script,” remembers Franc. “It was a rambling, 220 pages of something, but it wasn’t a script. You just couldn’t make it into a film. They said the money was there; the record company was willing to pay for the film. This was in June and they wanted to start in September! In film, sometimes you wait seven years for finances and we had a film fully financed, ready to go, but with no script. It was quite exciting in a sense.”
Franc started drafting up a script with screenwriter David Humphries. While they were writing and creating the film’s characters, Franc started a long casting process to find his actors. “I believed that because these kids were young, they needed to be new and fresh,” he says, “therefore I needed to go and see thousands of young actors.” He explored fledgling talents across London, and at the National Youth Theatre found Mark Wingett.
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I wanted him to be a loser in some ways...
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“I went up to interview for this film; it seemed like great fun,” Mark recalls to Clash. “I went along with a few of the other [from the NYT]. We met Franc and he took pictures of us, we had a chat with him and did a bit of improvisation. I got called back the next day with a couple of the others. I did some improvisation with Phil [Daniels], and then Franc offered me the job on the spot, which was quite extraordinary.”
Mark was given the role of Dave, the best friend of Jimmy, to be played by Phil Daniels. Pete Townshend was thrilled at the choice of Daniels for Jimmy. “I suppose the actor needed to convince us he felt like an outsider while not looking like one,” he says. Frank concurs: “He didn’t have the normal heroic look to him; he wasn’t like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. I wanted him to be a loser in some ways.”
One unsuccessful contender for the lead role was John Lydon - known at the time, of course, as The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten. Franc remembers his trying out very well. “He did a very good audition. I was very tempted to use him, but the insurance company wouldn’t insure him. They didn’t think he would turn up, or he’d get pissed and just say, ‘Fuck off!’ after day three or something.”
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Once Franc had chosen his cast, he set about the method of indoctrinating this group of mostly young punks into the mod subculture - training them to ride scooters, giving them dance lessons, and kitting them out in authentic mod clothes. “They got the main cast - eight or nine of us - [Lambretta] 125s, so we were tearing around London on these 125s,” laughs Mark. “Then in the evenings, we’d just hang out with each other.”
With the cast bonding perfectly, work on the script continued, with Franc drawing from his own teenage predicaments. “The film is about somebody who’s 18 in 1964. I was 18 in 1964, so I just expressed my experiences,” he explains. “The experiences of young, working class men and girls is similar the country over. If you’re a working class kid there are certain expectations and there are certain things that are going to happen to you, like not getting into the middle class girl’s party, or getting in because you’re good looking, like one of the boys [in the film] did. Things like experimenting with drugs, living in a small house - there’s no space, everyone’s on your case - the ignorance of your parents, hating your boss, hating going to work… I just put all those ideas into the script."
"I think the film was very authentic because I’d experienced these things myself; I could tell what was fake and what was not fake. I was only 30 when I made the film - I remembered teenage angst; I knew what it was all about.” The story as told on the album was, as Townshend explains, deliberately vague, so as not to alienate The Who’s audience. “When they came to make the film I knew they would need more than this,” he admits. “I couldn’t give it to them. It wasn’t in the song lyrics.”
Franc had to expand on Townshend’s original plot, adding in Jimmy’s love interest with Steph, played by Leslie Ash, and a spell in court with the Ace Face, played by a pre-fame and peroxide Sting, before Jimmy’s ultimate psychological breakdown. Filming began with shooting on location in Brighton. The case and crew assembled along with 2000 extras - some dressed as mods, the others as rockers - for the beachfront clash of the tribes. From there, it was up to London, where filming centred around The Who’s old stomping ground of West London - Shepherds Bush Market, Goldhawk Road, Notting Hill, Queensway, Willesden, and Wembley.
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The experiences of young, working class men and girls is similar the country over.
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A key scene in the film, shot in Jimmy’s back garden in Willesden, sees Jimmy with old friend Kevin, played by a very youthful Ray Winstone, who, although a rocker - the sworn enemy of mods - shares with Jimmy the disillusionment of societal constraints. “I don’t give a monkey’s arsehole about mods and rockers,” Kevin sneers. “Underneath, we’re all the same, ain’t we?”
“Nah, Kev, that’s it,” Jimmy replies. “I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya? Or you might as well jump in the sea and drown.”
“That’s why I joined the army: to be different,” says Kevin. “To get away from all this. But wherever you go, there’s always some cunt in stars and stripes who wants to push you about.”
Jimmy’s desire for individuality sees him rejected by his friends, who push him further into his personal depression. Thus, Quadrophenia becomes a physical embodiment of the teenage struggle for identity and the testing of societal boundaries.
The final scene of the film was in fact one of the first shot in production. Jimmy - having found no redemption by returning to Brighton after the riots, trying to reclaim past glories, and becoming completely let down when he realizes Ace Face isn’t the iconic, infallible mod he seemed (he’s but a mere bell boy) - is careering along the edge of steep cliffs at full speed, oblivious to his own safety, trying to rid his demons in the wind. Finally, we see the scooter he’s riding hurtle fast off the cliff and crash fatally onto the rocks below. His fate is unclear - but pay attention to the very first scene of the film…
With filming completed, the gang went its separate ways, though for Mark Wingett, the thought of not seeing his co-stars again was not a worry. “That didn’t come into it,” he says. “I was close mates with Gary Shail (Spider) and Garry Cooper (Pete) and Phil [Daniels]. The extraordinary thing is we’ve still got a bond between us. We’re still all good mates and we see each other. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but that was an extraordinary thing about Quadrophenia: we’re still all friends.”
Franc took the finished film to the Cannes Film Festival, where they attempted to sell it to international distributors. It being a thoroughly British film, concerns were raised about its translating overseas, but the crew were adamant it remain unedited. “I remember Jeffrey Katzenberg, who used to be VP at Paramount - he’s now Steven Spielberg’s partner in his film company - he said, ‘I’ll buy the film but we have to have subtitles, or we re-voice it.’ I remember Bill Curbishley’s famous line - and I was rather shocked because Bill was very fierce. Bill turned to Katzenberg, who was a little man, and Bill, the typical rock ‘n’ roll manager, said to him: ‘Katzenberg, you’re jerking off. The trouble is, you’re using my cock. Now, fuck off!’” Franc laughs. “So, in other words, Bill protected the movie.”
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I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a mod, see?
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At two hours, Quadrophenia could only scratch the surface of the beguiling mod subculture, and the image of the mod preserved within - parka-wearing, rocker-bashing, drug-taking - is at odds with the complexities of the original music-obsessed mods. Pete Townshend admits his disappointment at the celebration of the more negative aspects. “This is the way life works, I’m afraid. We remember only what sticks out. The real beauty of the mod movement was its embrace of style, art, fashion and music of extremely high quality. There was no crap in the mod days. What we remember now is Austin Powers and Carnaby Street."
"The violence too has been immortalized. It’s a drag that one song from the rock opera (‘Dr. Jimmy’) in which Jimmy is fighting battles in his head, is made real in the film. The battles on the beaches were quite minor, blown up by provincial coppers who were rightly territorial, and the tabloids - who as always gave mod the poisonous oxygen of headlines that made it thenceforth uncool to be a mod.”
“After Brighton,” Pete continues, “mod never recovered. Jimmy’s scooter going over Beachy Head was never an image in my story, but it is perfectly symbolic of what most mods did after Brighton.”
The success of Quadrophenia, however, was widespread, and its effect immediate. For Franc Roddam, Hollywood came calling, where he lived and worked for the following few years. Time and Newsweek called Quadrophenia the best film to come out of Britain in 20 years. For Mark Wingett, it was the beginning of a new career: “Quadrophenia gave me my first break into the profession. It was my first job. I can’t wish for anything more.” He later became an original and long-serving member of The Bill.
Pete Townshend, who left his creation in the hands of others and watched it blossom and grow, recalls his reactions to the film: “I had experienced ‘success’ with the Tommy film and it wasn’t all that enjoyable. I remember just hoping the film would be a good one, and once it emerged I believed it was. I remember Roy Baird, one of the producers, saying to me that he thought it was a ‘good little British film’. I realized a few days later that he meant this as a massive compliment to the makers of the movie.”
In its wake, the mod revival, which had stirred in 1978, continued apace, endorsed by its main musical protagonists, The Jam, and evolved further through northern soul and 2-Tone ska. The romanticism of Quadrophenia inspired legions of smart Fred Perry-wearing boys and girls into the culture, and remains one of the main tourist draws to Brighton, where one can follow a walking tour of its main locations.
The unassailable power of Quadrophenia survives, with Townshend and Roger Daltrey recently presenting their stage adaptation, and the former confessing his desire to play the entire rock opera again. Clearly time has not withered Quadrophenia’s influence, or the endearment of Jimmy to millions of teenagers the world over. They may proudly mimic the film’s rallying cry of the troops, “We are the mods!” but, for Franc Roddam, its ongoing charm has always been more humble:
“I feel that 99.9% of people are losing 99.9% of the time, and yet all American films are about winning,” he reasons. “So I wanted to turn it around and make this not about getting it, not being confident, not being capable, not having sexual experience, not being a good fighter, not being good looking, not being the best dancer, not getting the girl. And I thought those were normal experiences, and I think that’s why the film has endured: because it let people off the hook; they don’t feel so bad about themselves.”
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Words: Simon Harper