In the immediate aftermath of the riots there is a media fascination with the terrifying "feral" youth and the gangs who were behind the looting and the violence.

But this fear and fascination with gangs is not new.

I want to put up a wonderful and odd film I have found in the BBC archives. It is a documentary made in 1969 in response to a growing panic about violent teenage gangs in England and it focusses on the Hells Angels and Skinheads.

The filmmakers went off to get in with a group of Hells Angels and with a gang of skinheads. Their aim was to find out who the scary psychopaths were that made up the gangs that were threatening society. But what they came back with is a weird and brilliant mini-drama about two groups of individuals who are not that different from us - but more bored.

It is also sometimes very funny - because the gangs have their own rules and structures that are absurd and distorted reflections of our own society.

The Hells Angels part is also as good - possibly even better - than the previous Hells Angels film I put up last year - about a group of Angels going on a weekend mini-break.

The media fear and fascination with gangs had begun in the mid-60s with mods and rockers. By 1969 the rockers had morphed into the apparently even more terrifying Hells Angels, while the mods had split - some becoming hippies, but others turned into aggressive skinheads who had started racial violence they called Paki-bashing.

First is a section from the Hells Angels part of the film. It is a brilliant piece of film-making (almost like a Fassbinder movie) that focusses on just two episodes - and holds them longer than any documentary would do today.

It begins with the Angels in a pub outside Birmingham. Then the chapter go off to attend a Hells Angel wedding ceremony where Sylvia is married to one of the other members of the chapter - who is called Hitler. This is Hitler.

And here is Sylvia. She is very knowledgeable about the complicated laws of Angel marriages - explaining that divorce can only happen if the man can tear up the Angels' "bible" (a BSA bike manual) in one go.

But they seem to get on well. When the interviewer asks Hitler what he would do if Sylvia misbehaved in their marriage, Hitler replies - "I'll slit her throat, or hang her."

The reporter asks Sylvia "What do you think of that?"

"I agree" says Sylvia

Then Hitler goes with Sylvia to meet his new in-laws. Sylvia hasn't told her parents that she's married a leading light in the Hells Angels - and she and Hitler sit down in her parent's front room to tell them.

The dialogue that ensues is just wonderful.

And I love the way the cameraman holds on Sylvia's face as dialogue about her goes on off camera.

The second bit is from the Skinheads section of the film.

It is about a group of skinheads in London. It starts with the the group posing and spouting horrible racist claims about how they go round beating up "pakis".

But then the film goes off in an odd direction. It focusses on one skinhead called Steve who turns out to be much more complicated and thoughtful than one would expect. Steve goes round to see his mum and dad and we discover that his dad had been a Ted.

Here is a frame grab of them sitting watching TV together - it's a lovely shot

Steve's dad listens sympathetically, like an old soldier reliving his past glories, as his son describes how being part of a thousand-strong group of skinheads marching through the Kursaal at Southend "brings tears to your eyes" - because, he says, you feel part of something, and people take notice of you.

"It makes you feel proud" says Steve - "It will last for a little while. Then something new will come along. But till then you've got us. It's just the way it goes".

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  • Comment number 24. Posted by NausikaDalazBlindaz

    on 8 Nov 2011 04:18

    I've come into this conversation late but I wonder if anyone who's still reading this article has come across the Kenneth Anger short film "Scorpio Rising"? I've seen the first and third parts of the film on Youtube but not the second. It's about a gang of gay bikers and the film is structured so as to resemble a religious ritual that culminates in a sacrifice. The gay bikers adopt Nazi symbolism into their uniforms and their leader desecrates the Christian Holy Communion ritual. What I've seen of it is fascinating and drives home the point that gangs have their own rituals and symbols and provide companionship and a direction, however misguided, for their followers.

    The rioting in the UK that occurred over summer had some characteristics of flash mobs which were abetted by people using social networks. I'm aware initially the riots were sparked by police violence against the Duggan family and their community for daring to demand reasons for Mark Duggan's death in police custody. In a sense the police were as much responsible for the outbreak of the riots: if they had been open about the cause of Duggan's death, if they had not reacted brutally when the initial protest by the Duggans was dispersing, the rioting might not have occurred the way it did. Not living in the UK, I have no idea whether the media there was also responsible for fanning the violence but it wouldn't surprise me if it did. In Sydney in 2005, we had a similar but smaller-scale phenomenon of mob riots, caused in part by conflicts between Anglo youth and youth of Middle Eastern origins, in Cronulla which is a beachside suburb. During those riots, talkback radio commentators often egged on the rioters and the general performance of the media in reporting what was happening was abysmal.

    I think society has moved in a more repressive direction that demonises young people and expects them to behave in narrow ways that increasingly are out of reach for them as firms offshore more jobs and governments close down more youth-oriented services. Police are assuming a more paramilitary function and society is becoming insular and fearful of what it refuses to understand.

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  • Comment number 23. Posted by Pye36

    on 8 Oct 2011 18:26

    Oops, I meant almost, not always, apologies!

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by Pye36

    on 8 Oct 2011 18:25

    Steve the skinhead and his parents were fascinating. Though I suspect we'd have got a different take on life from him if he'd been filmed amongst his mates at the Kurzel, what he said was I thought honest and compelling. Oh and I love how his Dad says the phrase "they're... sentimental boys..!" He always sings that line!

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Adrian Wilson

    on 9 Sept 2011 20:04

    I know it's over 40 years ago, but I really need to find out what happened to Steve the Skinhead. Thanks for posting this Adam - is it not feasible to revisit the people involved (mists of time I guess)?

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by podrescu

    on 9 Sept 2011 13:55

    Dear Mr. Curtis ( and BBC2), We are very interested to screen of some of your recent work at a very unique, collectively-run documentary festival in Germany (and invite you for a panel on the subject of Media Analysis, if you're available in Nov. ) How can we contact you ? Our contact info is here: https://www.globale-filmfestival.org/ ... And thx for your work !

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Smeashy

    on 9 Sept 2011 12:56

    http://warp.net/records/drc-music/kinshasa-one-two-oxfam

    You might be intersted in this Adam.

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by jacksdad

    on 25 Aug 2011 18:22

    Brilliant to watch, this is why I pay my fee, thank you.

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by onwhosplanet

    on 25 Aug 2011 09:14

    Thanks for posting the video Adam, like has been mentioned above, I'm not sure how representative of their various gang groups the individuals in the video are (much like the sad and largely pathetic members of the previous Hell's Angels), though they do sum up quite well the lost people attaching themselves to a rebellious group idea.

    A really interesting recent read on gangs in the Britain is John Heale's "One Blood: Inside Britain's New Gang Culture", it's insightful, very well written and discusses how society as a whole misunderstands and misinterprets our gangs http://bit.ly/oR3E48

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by avishalom

    on 24 Aug 2011 22:47

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 15. Posted by avishalom

    on 24 Aug 2011 22:38

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

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