Richard Weight

Author | Broadcaster | Historian

History

MOD COVER

Mod: A Very British Style

Richard’s latest book is a new history of British youth culture, Mod: A Very British Style, published by Bodley Head on 28 March 2013.

Buy Mod: A Very British Style from Amazon

It contains original interviews with Mary Quant, Sir Terence Conran, Nick Hornby, Don Letts, Sir Paul Smith Mike Pickering, Steve White, Eddie Piller and Griel Marcus among others. The cover artwork includes photos by filmmaker and photographer Dean Chalkley.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Welcome to the world of the sharp-suited ‘faces’. The Italianistas. The scooter-riding, all-night-dancing instigators of what became, from its myriad sources, a very British phenomenon.

Mod began life as the quintessential working-class movement of a newly affluent nation – a uniquely British amalgam of American music and European fashions that mixed modern jazz with modernist design in an attempt to escape the drab conformity, snobbery and prudery of life in 1950s Britain. But what started as a popular cult became a mainstream culture, and a style became a revolution.

In Mod, Richard Weight tells the story of Britain’s biggest and most influential youth cult. He charts the origins of Mod in the Soho jazz scene of the 1950s, set to the cool sounds of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. He explores Mod’s heyday in Swinging London in the mid-60s – to a new soundtrack courtesy of the Small Faces, the Who and the Kinks. He takes us to the Mod-Rocker riots at Margate and Brighton, and into the world of fashion and design dominated by Twiggy, Mary Quant and Terence Conran.

But Mod did not end in the 1960s. Richard Weight not only brings us up to the cult’s revival in the late 70s – played out against its own soundtrack of Quadrophenia and the Jam – but reveals Mod to be the DNA of British youth culture, leaving its mark on glam and Northern Soul, punk and Two Tone, Britpop and rave.

This is the story of Britain’s biggest and brassiest youth movement – and of its legacy. Music, film, fashion, art, architecture and design – nothing was untouched by the eclectic, frenetic, irresistible energy of Mod. This is a book for anyone who is, or ever has been, young and British.

 

Mod_CoverReviews

‘This is a highly entertaining and discursive mixture of social history and cultural theory. As an analysis of Britain’s youth tribes of the past 50 years, and how the young have defined themselves through the clothes they wear , the music they listen to and the attitudes they assume, Mod: A Very British Style is defnitive.’ Mick Brown, Daily Telegraph

‘Captivating and illuminating  … A serious and worthwhile insight into a fascinating aspect of youth identity … Mod becomes the focus for a history of 20th century modernism and its defining factors: optimism, materialism, social mobility and affluence.’ Will Hodgkinson, The Times

‘Richard Weight’s splendid new book is undeniably in tune with the spirit of our times. Despite the title this is closer to being a history of British popular culture in the years since 1960…it could almost be seen as a companion volume to Weight’s earlier book, the indespensible Patriots, which explored the development of national identities in Britain in the second half of the 20th century. Where that centred on political concerns, this fills in the pop-cultural detail. Mod shares all the strengths of that earlier work. The writing is witty, the judgements are pinpoint accurate. The research is formidable in its scope and detail.’ Alwyn Turner, New Statesman

‘Hugely enjoyable… less a forensic study of mod than an examination of British youth culture through the lens of the mod movement. And it hits the target. For anyone that wants an accessible, thorough and discursive audit of youth culture over the past 50 years, Mod will be immensely satisfying. ’ Metro

‘Well-written throughout, crackles with reflections on fashion, music and film.’ Ian Thomson, Observer

Mod is a weighty book. Its scope is almost as impressive as its Conran-esque endpapers [and] Weight is convincing where it counts. If not quite Mods, then we Brits see ourselves as ‘modern’ nowadays because of a handful of forward thinking jazz heads who, generation after generation, never quite grew out of skinny ties and pointy shoes. Glam, Northern Soul, Punk, Rave and Britpop, alongside fashion powerhouses like Sherman and Paul Smith, are all disciples of one, singularly higher power. Indeed, as this beautifully designed and reasonably priced commodity argues so well, In Mod We Trust’.  Independent

‘The book to get Sir Bradley Wiggins for his birthday’ Esquire

‘Weight sets himself the task of elevating a phenomenon rooted in the London of the Small Faces into a revolution whose echoes can still be heard today and – rather like a populaist version of the Enlightenment – will resonate with scholars for centuries to come. Mod is best understood as a history of popular culture in Britain since the Beatles went to number one with Please Please Me. What matters is that he has done his job well. As we age, we need to be reminded that our youth was special and that nostalgia is good for the soul.’  Spectator

‘This is a must-read for Weller wannabes.’ ES Magazine

‘Mod has long warranted a serious and intelligent study and this is one. Richard Weight should be commended for undertaking an ambitious project rather than taking the easy option in putting out another embarrassing ‘This Is A Lambretta, This Is A Fred Perry’ book we see knocking around, which only cements the perception of Mods as a bunch of immoveable cultural retards rather than the forward thinking individuals he believes they were, and should be’.  Mark Raison, modculture.co.uk 

‘Richard Weight’s comprehensive account of Mod effortlessly mixes the historical, social and the cultural to produce a style of writing that is both detailed in its coverage yet so sharply written never to lose its focus or argument’. Mark Perryman, Huffington Post

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“This is the book I’ve been waiting for for decades – four and a half to be precise – since, as a be-tweeeded and pipe-smoking undergraduate youth, I noticed very baffling things happening in the culture to which I was attached by age. I have never caught up with those changes. Now, thanks to the scholarship and empathy of Richard Weight I have at last a chance of doing so.” Professor Lord Peter Hennessy

 

Further reviews can be downloaded below:

Review of Mod: A Very British Style by The Telegraph Review of Mod: A Very British Style by New Statesman

 

Launch party for Mod: A Very British Style

The launch was held in Shoreditch, sponsored by Patron tequila, promoted by Alexis Publicity and covered by Tatler.  Pictures of the event can be found on my Events page

 

Patriots: National Identity in Britain 1940-2000

Richard’s first book, Patriots, was short-listed for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing in 2003. It has just been re-launched as an e-book, in the run up to the 2014 Scottish Referendum on the future of the UK. Click here to buy

patriots_cover

Publisher’s Synopsis

Who are the British today? For nearly three hundred years British national identity was a unifying force in times of glory and times of despair. Love of and loyalty to Britain welded together the four nations of the United Kingdom, their classes, sexes and races. It is now disappearing. Patriots explores the decline of Britishness and the rise of powerful new identities in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Key events of the twentieth century and the individuals who made them are placed clearly in context. Patriots takes us from the Battle of Britain to the Falklands War; the Coronation to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales; the end of Empire to membership of the European Union. Social trends are charted: the decline of Protestantism and imperialism; the rich and revolutionary changes wrought by black/Asian immigration and cheap foreign travel; the rise of football and pop music as new sources of patriotism.

The different national cultures of the UK, and the often tempestuous relationship between the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, are all analysed in detail. The blunders of Britain’s rulers and the skill with which nationalists exploited them are exposed. However, this is not a story of decline but of renewal. It is about four nations who in half a century rediscovered and remade themselves, and in doing so came to understand each other better and live together more amicably.

Patriots synthesises social, cultural, political and economic history to provide a succession of insights into a fascinating and pertinent subject. Based on a wealth of original research, it is scholarly in depth and scope and yet it has a thoroughly readable and entertaining style. It promises to set the agenda for discussions of national identity in Britain for years to come.

Reviews

Here are the themes of Orwell’s The Lion and the Unicorn stretched over the subsequent sixty years and widened to embrace the whole United Kingdom. Brimming with zest and feel, this is politico-cultural history at its best.
Professor Lord Peter Hennessy, University of London

A rich and entertaining race through postwar social history. He has a good eye for the symbolic detail and the good story; he is as interested in the trivial things which shape a nation’s sense of itself, like the Stone of Scone and Till Death Do Us Part, as in the founding of great institutions. The result is an entertaining and admirable book, written by someone who seems to know that national identity is not just a mirage, and yet it may be formed by the most ridiculous things.
Philip Hensher, Spectator

Wide-ranging, intelligent, sensible and important…I warm to Weight’s book, not least because I agree with so much of what he says.
Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph

A marvellously rich, ambitious and at times iconoclastic study by a young historian of how, in the broadest sense, national identity in Britain has changed in the last sixty or so years…A prodigious achievement.
David Kynaston, Financial Times

A major work: the fruit of long research, wide reading and hard thinking, engagingly written, bubbling with fresh ideas.
Stephen Howe, Independent

National identity is an elusive concept to pin down, but Richard Weight’s monumentally ambitious book pursues this ideological will-o’-the –wisp through six decades of dramatic social change…He marshals an astonishing array of material, from football and television sitcoms to Whitehall memoranda and newspaper editorialising, to present a cogent and entertaining portrait of what the British have been and where they are now.
Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

A lively and original exploration of the most important issue in Britain today.
Professor Norman Davies, Author of Europe and The Isles

Beautifully written, immensely stimulating and refreshingly optimistic.
Andrew Motion, Start The Week, BBC Radio Four

An easy read, a roller coaster ride through things you remember and things you remember because you’ve seen them in films or museums. Parts of it are infuriating, parts wonderful…a treasury of reminders of how it was, how it seemed and why our parents felt the way they did. I hope it goes on the Queen’s bedside table at Balmoral this Jubilee summer. It’ll stir a lot of memories.
Libby Purves, Daily Mail

In his fine and radical new book, Richard Weight dares to take on the collective amnesia which has gone into the making of our national identity since 1940 and the confusion we are in today.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Independent

It is unusual to read a modern mega-history that downplays the grand and famous in favour of the mass of the population…the structure of the book gives a more realistic sense of a constantly shifting, multi-faceted national character than volumes on the subject usually provide…As Weight’s argument closes in a neat circle, it is hard not to imagine him saying it to camera, and then turning dramatically on his heel.
Andy Becket, Guardian

A magisterial and entertaining analysis of a complex subject, the understanding of which is vital to our future as a nation. I’m sure it marks the arrival of a major historical talent.
Sir David Hare

Wide-ranging and imaginatively written…The bedrock of Weight’s argument is the new historical orthodoxy laid down by historians such as Linda Colley and Norman Davies. British identity was constructed out of Protestantism, the Industrial Revolution and the Empire in the late eighteenth century and collapsed with their decline two hundred years later. What Weight has added to this foundation is a delightful, intricate superstructure drawn from the detail of this country’s popular and political culture over the past sixty years.
Ian Jack, Daily Telegraph

Compendious and gripping…Far more than other historians, Weight emphasises the role that popular culture has played in constructing our national identity…It’s a wonderful book and I urge you to read it.
Lisa Apagnesi, Nightwaves, BBC Radio Three

Richard Weight has absorbed Orwell’s passionate belief that historians should write about everyday experience, in a dazzlingly inclusive exploration of British national identity since 1940. From T.S. Eliot to Irvine Welsh, the Suez Crisis to Match of the Day, it all seems to be here. And what Weight argues is that Britain has been unravelling because England has failed to establish its own unique sense of identity…While never losing its impressive scholarly moorings, it serves an important polemical purpose…A fine and engagingly personal book.
John Gardiner, BBC History Magazine

An enjoyable tour through the past sixty years…In Britons, Colley explained the successful fashioning of British nationalism. Weight examines its disintegration…[He] doesn’t lament [that process] being more interested in the shedding of old prejudices about class, race, gender and religion and the unsteady rise of individual nationalisms…Patriots is in this sense a narrative of redemption rather than decline.
Paul Laity, London Review of Books   

An absolutely fascinating book…erudite, entertaining, interesting and enlightening.
Nicky Campbell, BBC Radio Five Live

 

Modern British History: The Essential A-Z Guide

MBHAZ_CoverPublisher’s Synopsis

Modern British History is a comprehensive, entertaining and provocative survey of the events, people and themes that make us who we are, written by two of the country’s leading scholars of the subject. In 200 concise essays, covering topics as diverse as pornography and the poll tax, the Blitz and New Labour, the authors explore the interwoven culture, society, politics and economics of the recent past.

Bombarded by information as never before, we all need to appreciate the extent to which seemingly disparate events connect with each other. This essential A-Z guide offers a consistent line of argument with a refreshing disrespect for old orthodoxies. Read separately, its entries are a mine of useful information; taken together, they build a vivid, compelling and controversial picture of Britain at the start of the twenty-first century.

Reviews

200 snappy and stylish essays on the topics that dominated British life since 1900.
Boyd Tonkin, Independent, Books of the Year 2003

It is enormous fun and the author’s hearts are in the right places…This book more or less does what it says on the cover. There are about 200 substantial essays on various aspects of 20th century British political and social history here, and each one is readable and engaging, even the ones about Europe or economic policy.

And even when they’re wrong or contradictory, they are not damagingly so, and sometimes even illuminatingly…The idiosyncrasies focus one’s interest and the entry for the Queen Mum is such a deft hatchet-job – more of a stiletto-between-the-ribs-job, really – that I was moved to read out the especially good bits to anyone that would listen. This is what brought me down firmly on the side of the authors, and made me want many people to read them. They may be Thatcher’s children, but they’re not happy about it; and their scepticism extends to Tony Blair and the New Labour modernisers.

This is a ‘reference book with attitude’, as they boast; and that could have been a very unpleasant counterproductive beast. But how can you not admire a book which, in a passing mention of Coco Chanel, describes her as ‘the Nazi-sympathising French couturier’?
Nicholas Lezard, Guardian, Book Choice 2004

Richard and co-author Mark Garnett go through the final proofs of the A-Z Guide with their editor at the Random House headquarters in Vauxhall, London

Richard and co-author Mark Garnett go through the final proofs of the A-Z Guide with their editor at the Random House headquarters in Vauxhall, London

Coverage across the breadth and depth of British history since 1945 is unusually thorough. Mark Garnett and Richard Weight offer much more than the usual gallery of tired politicians and ‘landmark’ bills and deeds. Popular culture is one strength: Carry On, Catherine Cookson, DIY, drugs, fashion, folk music, gambling, miscegenation, Mods, pubs, porn, sitcoms and soaps are all nicely covered, with wider implications teased out.

Basically, they are social liberals who dislike sexism and racism, like the welfare state, but worry about crass materialism and hyper-individualism; they wish people would watch less television and read more, study the broadsheets rather than celebrities, and care for each other as well as their waistlines.

X, Y and Z are missing. Not much else is. As much of human life as two knowledgeable people can reasonably be expected to provide can be found here. Whatever their crotchets and biases, Mark Garnett and Richard Weight make highly entertaining and informative cicerones, and even readers already stuffed with data have plenty to learn from them. Those not so stuffed had better put down their remotes and get cracking.
Peter Mandler, Times Literary Supplement

 

View pdf extracts from this book:

Americanisation

Class

Death

Holidays