Pseudo Skins!

“Pulling on the boots and tightening up the laces
Shaving their heads and strapping on the braces
There you are a skinhead, looking for a fight
Skinhead, skinhead, running through the night

Skinhead, skinhead, running through the night
Making lots of trouble, starting lots of fights
Skinhead, skinhead, getting really pissed
Skinhead, skinhead, tatted on my wrist!”

An Oi song from the film Romper Stomper. A remarkably authentic one, in fact, despite the vocals being delivered in a kiwi twang rather than yer actual cockernee and the abhorrent racism in one of the verses. Many people would be surprised to know that the song wasn’t actually by a “real” Oi band, but was composed by John Clifford White and performed by “The Romper Stomper Orchestra” who also did the more atmospheric/classical musical elements of the film.

Both Romper Stomper and the similar American History X were hugely misunderstood by both the extreme right and the supposedly revolutionary left.

On the one hand, nazi boneheads bemoaned their portrayal in the films for various minor reasons, and berated hollywood for not having the “guts” to use real “white” “power” music in the films. (It needs to be restated that “white power” music is a completely retarded concept which I guess given its fanbase is only too fitting. First of all it should go without saying that the music’s roots are in rock ‘n’ roll which is hardly Wagner, is it? Secondly the whole concept of “white power” is redundant. The last time I checked, virtually every person who had any power over me, whether in my job, or in terms of world, national or local politics was white through and through.)

On the other hand, supposed revolutionary socialists (in the guise of the SWP front group the Anti-Nazi League mk 2) organised pickets of cinemas showing Romper Stomper on the grounds that it glamourised nazism.

Both films show boneheads as almost completely without redeeming features, doomed to utterly wretched lives and violent deaths. Only a total fantasist would see any of this as worth aspiring to, which probably says more than enough about both sets of critics.

Having said that, perhaps the “bogus” nature of the Romper Stomper soundtrack isn’t actually all that surprising. For a scene which is riddled with demands of supposedly “authentic” white working class culture, Oi (and its degenerate nazi offspring) has seen a fair few sta-prest magpies in its nest.

In terms of nazi boneheads, Stewart Home’s Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory and Punk Rock notes the privileged upbringing of Jonathan and Paul Bellany aka Burnley as the sons of a reknowned painter. But enough about those with stiff right arms, we have bigger and more interesting fish to fry here…

The Back on the Streets EP was compiled by Garry Bushell and released on Secret Records (with distribution by Virgin) in 1982. Unfortunately I haven’t got a copy, but that’s never stopped me spouting my mouth off before so I don’t see why this should be any different. It looks like your standard punk/oi various artist EP – DMs, a bit of pavement, superb band names like “Angela Rippon’s Bum” and classic track titles such as “Where’s Dock Green” and “The Way It’s Got to Be”.

Of particular interest is the group Skin Disease, whose track “I’m Thick” features lyrics consisting in their entirety of the title repeated 64 times. The group were based in Burnley and had been in correspondence with Bushell in his capacity as Oi-cheerleader at Sounds for some months. Bushell covered them in the paper and invited the northern oiks down to London to record the track – their first (and it turned out, only) outing on vinyl.

Some months later it turned out that “Skin Disease” were actually a spoof Oi band formed by Chumbawamba (before they had released any of their own material on vinyl):

“We used to write leters to Garry Bushell, we got a good dialogue going with him. We hated everything he stood for, the letters were full of bullshit saying things like ‘we’re a skinhead band, one of us is in hospital after breaking his leg against a policeman’s head and that kind of thing. It was just for the joke of seeing what Garry Bushell was into. He took it all in and wanted us on the next LP. “

“We were in a dilemma because we wanted to parody the whole Oï thing, and we had planned to go really over the top on the macho-violent theme , but some people may have taken it seriously, so it ended up as ‘I’m Thick’ repeated 64 times. “

(Interview in Maximum Rock’n’Roll #14)

For anarchists like Chumbawamba, parodying the reductive working class images portrayed by Oi makes perfect sense. For a multinational corporation to use skinheads in a postive way as part of their branding strategy in the early 80s makes no sense whatsoeover. But that is exactly what Weetabix did.

“Just one titchy bit of toast?
We gotta put them straight
We’re the weetabix (yeah!)
We don’t like breakfast fit for sparrows
Nothing to ‘em mate
We’re the weetabix!”

“The Weetabix” made their debut in TV adverts for the hugely successful breakfast cereal in 1982.

They were:

Dunk (the leader)
Crunch (the muscley one)
Brains (the, uh, brainy one – you can tell that because he wore glasses)
Bixie (the girl, clearly and unambiguously signified by her eyelashes and bow, because that is the essence of the female form, is it not?), and
Brian (who I think was the token “little kid” in the gang. His role was mainly to shout “OK!” in an annoying voice – presumably inspired by the bloke of out Madness who would shout “Oi!” and other stuff in the manner of JA deejays)

The gang were dedicated to the extermination of “titchy breakfasts” and there was a distinct hint of the old ultra-violence in their “If You Know What’s Good For You” catchphrase. In the early 80s the skinhead cult was huge, and associated with all sorts of yoof-culture moral panic in the tabloids. Which means this ad was either an astute way of winning the target audience’s hearts and minds, or some kind of bonkers coke-fuelled recuperative initiative aimed at clawing back sales lost to accursed rivals such as Quaker Oats and their Honey Monster.

The inevitable merchandise deluge followed shortly after, with badges, mugs, bowls etc. Whilst discussing this piece with my parents I was hugely excited to find that my Dad still has a “neet weet” t-shirt to do the gardening in.

The gang even appeared in their own computer game, although actually this isn’t saying very much as anyone with a hint of media presence had their own computer game in the 1980s. The Thompson Twins had a particularly shit one for the ZX Spectrum if I remember rightly.

Perhaps inevitably the Weetabix Crew’s righteous proletarian credentials could not withstand the glare of media attention. Maybe the Weetabix advertising agency got cold feet, or maybe the fame went to the Bix’s heads as with so many working class kids thrust into the spotlight before them. A set of badges produced after those shown above were notable for their lack of aggression – or braces:

As their fame grew, so did the budgets. The gang got to meet Harrison Ford in an “Indiana Jones” film tie-in, and later hooked up with Spielberg via ET. Towards the end of the decade, their style had evolved to take in breakdancing and electro, but it was clear that there was some rewriting of history going on at Weetabix which would eventually spell disaster…

In the depths of my brain is a memory of Steven Wells ringing up Weetabix as part of an NME feature on youth cults and being told firmly that the Weetabix Crew were not skinheads and had never been skinheads. It is this sort of revisionism that lead to this horrific book cover:

The crew, once proud street hardened youths used to “having a laugh and having a say” are now reduced to pantomime dames for the delectation of The Man and his sales figures. It is no surprise that, after their triumphant reign throughout the 80s, the Crew were replaced by another pantomime dame in the safe, traditional form of Robin Hood for Weetabix’s first ad campaign of the next decade.

Nowhere is the class basis of UK society more evident than in the subsequent trajectories of the crew. Weetabix had auditioned a plethora of aspiring actors for the roles, but all of these, with one exception, had failed to live up to the streetwise image the company was seeking. The majority of the gang were picked up by talent scouts fresh from the streets and schools of Crawley, a “new town” 30 miles south of London.

After his 15 minutes of fame, Crunch returned to working the doors of London clubs and pubs. He did some time for ABH during the 90s (he maintains to this day this arose from a case of self-defence), which gave him the opportunity to study for a degree with the Open University.

Brains set up his own business flogging mobile phones by mail order, but lost everything he earned through an ill-advised start up company in the early 00’s. He now works in retail, and has become a Jehovah’s Witness.

Bixie is now a mother of four, who still lives in Crawley. She sometimes appears as a “vox pop” in 80s nostalgia shows, and was nearly shortlised for last year’s “I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here”.

Dunk was always the odd one out of the gang. His father was a high ranking diplomat, which lead to Duncan growing up in Pakistan, Thailand and Hong Kong. He later studied at RADA and was quite successful as a bit part actor in west end theatres.

Duncan was placed to appear in a small speaking role in a prestigious production of “As You Like It” at the RSC when the Weetabix contract loomed. He is now the executive director of several highly successful media consultancies. His past clients include Glaxo-SmithKline and Sony. He is said to have worked for the office of Charles Kennedy during this year’s general election. He owns several houses in Gloucestershire, Barcelona and New York state .

Brian’s story is the saddest of all. As the youngest of the group he was the least well equipped to deal with the demands of fame and fortune. After the gang was disbanded, he went on to sign a lucrative modelling contract, but later went seriously off the rails – spending all of his royalties on drug binges and extravagent parties. His Mayfair flat was repossesed in the early 90s after some irregularities with his taxes.

After a spell in rehab, Brian tried to drum up interest in a number of doomed projects. His proposal for a kids’ tv show “Brian’s Neat Wheat Rumpus Room” never made it to the pilot stage. His solo recording contract with WEA floundered after a number of (often violent) disagreements with record producers. Brian was then reduced to singing for his supper (or rather, repeating his “OK!” catchphrase ad infiintum) at soul-sapping PA’s in students unions and mecca ballrooms.

After a particularly badly received appearance at Shades’ nighclub in Leighton Buzzard, Brian was seen wandering down the central isle of the A505, clothed only in his trademark football scarf and DMs. Despite clearly being in a state of distress, he was banged up for the night at Dunstable police station before being discharged the following morning. Two days later, the remains of Brian’s dead body were found in a cheap hotel in Hastings. He had committed suicide by drowning himself in a bowl of milk.

Since then skinheads have largely faded away, with the occasional Ben Sherman shirt and sideburns testament to a raucous youth. You’re much more likely to find boots and braces down Old Compton Street than anywhere else (or down Carnaby Street as euro-skins search desperately for times long gone).

Standing in Victoria Station yesterday, two twentysomething skinheads walked past with Cock Sparrer t-shirts, turn ups on their jeans and “England” tattoos on their heads. They couldn’t have looked more anachronistic if they’d been turned out as teddy boys…

No Comments

  1. KEK says:

    Fucking hell, John! You’re on fire right now!

    Another great post… totally forgot about the Weetabix Crew! Loved the bit about them going Electro…surely they must’ve done a Smurf style track on a StreetSounds comp.

    Being (mainly) gluten-free these days, the Quinoa Crew doesn’t have quite the same ring for me….sounds a bit limp, wet, white middle-class.

  2. PETER M says:

    quinoa cru…thats a reggaeton outfit aint it ;)))))

    as an aside russel crowe (note from NZ NOT Aust) had an early abortive pop career under the moniker “Russ Le Roq” ;)))))))))))))) d++khead.

  3. JOHN says:

    It’s true about them going electro – there’s a pic on the weetabix “time machine” site of them all in shellsuits, breakdancing! I reckon the weetabix might beat the quinoa crew if it came to a breakin’ “face off”, though… ;-)

  4. MARTIN says:

    Ah, Dunstable police station – yes, I vaguely remember seeing ‘COCO MONKEY IS A CUNT’ carved into the door.

  5. RIPLEY says:

    holy shit that weetabix thing is the funniest cultural moment I’ve ever seen.

    The only thing I can think of that might be related was in the US is when the 80s ska thing was big, Colgate toothpaste had a song to the lyrics of “Baggy Trousers.” But skinhead culture itself was never big enough to seep into commercials, as far as I know.

    Also, last week, in sunny, bourgie-hippie Berkeley California, I was on the bus with two skinheads comparing rocksteady CD compilations, neither a day over 18. talk about irrelevance.

  6. OWEN says:

    wow that was a terrific post…

    i saw romper stomper at a Militant tendency summer camp when I was 12 (this is totally true, and still exists- ‘sun, sea and socialism’ on mersea island in essex) and was physically dragged out by my mum, who was horrified that the comrades had let me watch it…

    there were a few actual nazi skins on the estate i grew up on in southampton in the 90s, and they were extremely scary

    also on the skin-breakfast crossover- my dad still insists on calling beans on toast ‘skinheads on a raft’

  7. MATT WOEBOT says:

    Weetabix stuff is genius Jon. Thx.

  8. CHRIS P. says:

    I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to know that the Spirit of 69 is alive and well here in Boston.
    Last week I went to the Ska/Reggae weekly at O’Brians in Alston, the whitest reggae night in the world. “Traditional” (Non-Racist… that’s their story and their stickin to it.) skins in Fred Perrys, Docs and braces, clunkily skankin their way into the underage hearts of chunky, spunky, skin-chicks with Chelsea dos and flight jackets. Turned out the DJ was none other than Paul Bearer, fromer Cookie Monster/lead-growler of Sheer Terror! I tried to shake his hand and tell him how “Just Can’t Hate Enough” had such a profound influence on my angst ridden teenage years, but his 7 foot tall Oi-Boyfriend gave me the stiff arm. Maybe he knew it was me who had let out a gutteral “Buuullldoooggg!!!” when I found out who was spinning. I asked random baldies if they were down with the Weetabix gang, but they all just sneered at me like I’d just pissed in their Guiness, the same reaction I got when I asked why there weren’t any even slightly brown people at a “reggae” night. Actually there was one guy with bushy sideburns growing out of his close-cropped fro, shiny boots, skinny braces and all. When I asked him if any other black people ever showed up to this night, he kind of giggled nervously and asked “What do you mean?” Nothing. Nothing at all.

  9. W&W says:

    i posted an excerpt from an analysis of skins’ image as gay style in london, wherein skins–despite their attempts at hyper-hetero/racist positioning–are interpellated as “batty men.” ah the ironies.
    http://wayneandwax.blogspot.com/2005/10/metroactive-payback.html

  10. MINDCRASH says:

    I must confess to having been rather taken with oi, the music rather than the scene itself, and more particularly, the Skunx scene that emerged for a while. Some amusing things I recall from that particular time (other than the ChumbaWamba thing) was Bushell trying to convince Crass to contribute their “Rival Tribal” track to one of the Oi compilations – the irony was not lost on mssrs. Rimbaud and Ignorant. Also remember having an interesting discussion with Roi Pearce of The Last Resort at a gig as he thought I had some kind of cock fetish as I was wearing 4-Skins, Throbbing Gristle and Rudimentary Peni badges on my jacket at the time :)

  11. CERAMIC SIMON says:

    What a wild post. I’d blocked the Weetabix skins from my memory, but it came flooding horribly back, along with Madness at the school disco…I was always more of an AntPerson.

    Angela Rippon’s Bum were kinda the house band of the fearsome Tilbury Skins, who acted as extras and caused chaos in Alan Parker/Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ film, portaying all-too-real nihilistic ‘hammer skins’. There are some interesting stories about this lot online…

    I recently picked up the not-bad ‘Made In Britain’ on DVD, which unlike ‘Romper Stomper’ featured real music, by The Exploited – perhaps this is what led to persistent rumours of the Exploited having right-wing affiliations (borne out by nothing at all in their magnificently dumb output). These rumours were possibly proven to have some basis, when Wattie made cameos in a couple of football hooligan memoirs as a rabid Hearts fan (& therefore, raving loyalist/Protestant…?) Not as interesting as Colin from Conflict’s appearances in true crime gangster I-knew-the-Krays books….

    Best skinhead film ever, and closest to reality, was Mike Leigh’s heartbreaking ‘Meantime’.

  12. ROCKETAMINE says:

    Spot on, remembering those times brings a tear to the eye, but why touch so briefly on the millionaire playboy posers the Bellanys?

  13. […] Whilst arsing about trying to find examples to disencourage Paul’s Technorati fetish, I stumbled across this little beauty – which seems to show a young Goldie graffing a mural of the Weetabix Skinheads. […]

  14. CATALONIA says:

    La verdad que no os entiendo, desde Catalunya, la cultura skinhead se vive con mucha intensidad y no nos dejamos influenciar por las demas modas, hay que ser firmes con nuestras ideas.
    Un saludo desde una futura Confederación Ibérica, y más concretamente, Catalunya.
    ¡Arriba el Comunismo!

  15. ANDY B says:

    I was a 17 year old rude boy in 1982 (well, I swore a bit), and hung about with Bixie (she weren’t “easy”, no matter wot yer fink) and der ladz on a regular basis. Lost touch, but I’m gutted to hear about Brian. Wot a way to go.

  16. STILL says:

    Told me please the name of band of song “Pulling on the boots”.

  17. SUBLIMESKANKIN says:

    Oi music isnt rasist in itself. I love Oi, Hardcore punk, and street punk. Most bands are anarchists or socialist and hate authority. Ska and Punk are the genres i like. All else suck.

  18. KOSTYL says:

    2 Still:
    “Masterrace” is author of “Pulling on the boots” song. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about this band and their work.

    2 SublimeSkankin:
    But Skrewdriver was one of the founders of Oi! Why people can’t understand that there is WP Oi! (right wing Oi!) and left wing Oi! ???

  19. CHELSEA says:

    oi is right!!!
    fuck ya!!
    cheers!!

  20. WHITERUSH says:

    im startin a nazi- skinhead organization myself in southeast texas i need some tips if anyone wants to give em my e-mail is wanker@yahoo.com

  21. JOHN says:

    I’ve edited your email address, but my tip to improve racial purity would be for you to encourage all your recruits to see who is the fittest by discovering who can survive the longest inhaling exhaust fumes.

  22. SWORDSMAN says:

    @ kostyl:
    Skrewdriver wasn’t originally WP, the lead singer went on to form a WP Skrewdriver after the original band broke up.

  23. WHYCANTWERIDTHEWORLDOFWHITETRASH says:

    Ok…U people are retarded and worthless. Instead of sitting on ur asses in middle America, hating people that u have probably have never even come into contact with in ur isolated and racist white towns, why dont u get an education and do something with ur lives? Most of u are white trash living in trailer parks anyway. If u spent half the time u do putting effort into other worthwhile things other than hating the jews, blacks and every other minority in a country in which the minorities make the majority, then u would most likely move up in this world and rid urselves of ur shithole existances. I dare one of u pussys to come up to NYC and meet my coalition of Jews, blacks and Latinos. We will put a dent in ur bald heads and u will be lying bloody on the sidewalk. Stop blaming others for ur pathetic lives and please do the world a favor by letting ur white trash mobile homes get blown away in a tornado with your racist families in them. WE OWN THIS COUNTRY AND WE ARE READY TO FIGHT U HATERS. Shalom bitches

  24. POKUSKIN says:

    i dont want 2 comment…please tell me yourvision and teach me how to be the real skinhead

  25. MARCUS says:

    @ whycantweridtheworldofwhitetrash:

    i think you need to read the post again mate.

  26. SHAGSPOT says:

    White trash hater: you single out an entire ehtnic group to hate? Who’s the Nazi? Anyway when I woz at school in Glasgow some class mates got Weetabix Skinz tattoos. You could get a pro IRA one in a Celtic Strip or a Loyalist Rangers one. How cool iz that? Sadly I didn’t get one becuase by that time I woz into The Beastie Boys.

  27. IAN says:

    The Romper Stomper song must have been ‘inspired’ by the Combat 84 song ‘Skinhead':

    We wear our boots with bright red laces
    Combat greens held up by braces
    We’ve got our hair in a nnumber one crop
    We’ll kick you in the head until you drop
    We’re on the streets looking for a fight
    We’re down the pub every night
    We hate the soulies, mods and teds
    All we like is kicking heads

    Skinheads, skinheads, rucking in the night
    Skinheads doing everyone in sight
    We’re all skinheads through and through
    We’re all skinheads who the fuck are you?

    The Union Jack is our flag
    And when we wear it, it makes us proud
    And when the commies slag us down
    We kick them all to the ground
    I said The Union Jack is our flag
    And when we wear it, it makes us proud
    And when the commies slag us down
    We kick them all to the ground

    Skinheads, skinheads, rucking in the night
    Skinheads doing everyone in sight
    We’re all skinheads through and through
    We’re all skinheads who the fuck are you?

    The Weetabix skinheads were a really popular series of adverts. I liked the one with the gruff voice: ‘If you know what’s good for you do’.

    Lots of skinheads took the advert to heart and ‘Weetabix Skins’ grafitti appeared round known skinhead haunts in London, such as the Electric Ballroom in Camden and Angel Islington tube station, which was handy for the Blue Coat Boy and Agricultural pubs. Some skinheads even had tattoos done featuring the Weetabix characters.

  28. RICHARD PUNK says:

    I think, that comparing Weetabix with the Oi! culture (that is in its purity not racist) is a bit stupid. This article did offend me, as i am into Oi! music. I also listen to traditional Ska music (performed by black people) and i dislike it when people talk strange things about Oi! music, the roots of oi! are NOT racist. Most old Oi! bands from the 70s are against racism. Some were not, like skrewdriver and No Remorse, but thats only a few bands. Its stupid to condemn a whole musical genre for the actions of some people.

    I reply to this article, in a honest and respectfull way, not to insult anybody (nor the writer of the article), but to make clear, that Oi! is NOT racist.

    Regards, Richard Punk (or should i call myselve Richard Oi! ?)

  29. MARTIN says:

    Somebody’s uploaded that Nicky Crane /gay skins Channel 4 documentary on YouTube, if anyone’s interested…just search for ‘Skinhead Out’ on the site.

  30. AXEL ULRIKH says:

    i am nazi and i am prou of that hei hitler sieg heil death to bastards

  31. AXEL ULRIKH says:

    i gonna kill…….kill all my enemies fffukkkk

  32. AXEL ULRIKH says:

    antifa is a fucking lousybuggers,motherfukkers. redskins-shiteaters-deadsuckers i ll kill them all

  33. JOHN says:

    That whole “keyboard warrior” meme is still going strong, then?

    I keep meaning to lock this comments thread but then it just carries on being confusing and entertaining.

  34. MARTIN says:

    Oh come on John. Surely you remember that Oi! classic, “Antifa Is A Fucking Lousybuggers”

  35. […] Icon. Nowhere near as awesome as the Weetabix Skinheads, but still loads better than the Honey Monster or those goody goody Rice Krispie […]

  36. STN says:

    I might call my album ‘Death to Bastards’

  37. THEODORE says:

    Teddy Boys out of date? Why, here’s a snapshot of me and me mates ‘avin a laugh before we bashed some niggers. And this all happened last Friday!

  38. MARIA says:

    Never heard of Oi! music, Richard Punk – and I lived through the 1960s, 70s, 80s and so on. Is it a new name, or a spot of history rewriting?