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Tragic Mod kept alive via pull of iconic pic
ALMOST half a century after his tragic death at the age of just 17, teenager Raymond Kelley lives on as a national icon. He has come to enshrine an era and its style.
Raymond died on May 1, 1965, at the height of the Mod era. He spent a large proportion of the final months of his life on his Lambretta, part of a convoy of 20 or 30 scooter-riding mates, coursing down to Brighton or Margate. With his blunt-line hair style, tailored suit and Parka coat he was every inch the Mod .
At some unknown time during that period an unidentified photographer snapped Raymond, in full Mod mode, in an uncertain location.
That single photo has become the image of choice to symbolise the Mods and all they stood for. It has been used in a Royal Liverpool Insurance TV ad featuring Cilla Black, on the cover of the New Musical Express magazine, in ads for Ben Sherman and Lee Cooper, and in ranges of mugs and T-shirts, to name just a few of its star appearances.
Although the picture is scarcely different from scores of other shots taken in the mid Sixties, the one of this young man has taken a mysterious hold.
Raymond’s older sister Sandra Bartlett, of Abbey Road, Hullbridge, is moved – but baffled.
“Why does it appears every time a newspaper or magazine needs a photo to illustrate the Mod era?” she asks.
Sandra has dug hard to get to the bottom of this mystery. She is also keen to find out about the photographer and the circumstances under which the picture was taken.
“I would really love to have a copy of the original, not just copies from magazines and books,” she says.
Some of the picture’s appeal, perhaps subconscious, may stem from its ephemeral air. Slightly out of focus, Raymond appears to be fading in front of our eyes.
The swashbuckling young men of the Sixties are in their own sixties now, as is Sandra. For Raymond, youth was an even briefer adventure. The man in the photograph doesn’t have long to live. Sandra says he may have been aware of the fact.
She says: “The story I’ve heard is he went to the hospital for an examination. He had a kidney condition and he was told he only had a year to live. He didn’t tell the family, but he told his friends, ‘If I’ve only got a year to live, I’m going to do everything I’ve got to do in my life’.
“He set out to live life to the full, and the way he did so was by plunging himself into the Mod lifestyle. He was out at all hours of the day and night. You never knew where he’d been and when he got back. But you always knew he’d had a good time.”
Some time during that heady period, Raymond was with a group of his friends when a photographer took a casual picture. The set-up was typical. A group of Mods with their beloved scooters, mustered on a street corner. They’ve just made the long journey to the seaside – and back in the Sixties it was a much longer journey – now they are looking for action.
Easter 1965 arrived, and once again the Mod legions flooded the seaside towns for the duration of the bank holiday. Raymond, though, was not among them. He went into hospital that weekend.
On May 1, the family sat down to breakfast. A call had just been made to the hospital and they were assured Raymond had spent a good night, and was quite comfortable.
Then, Sandra recalls: “Ten minutes later, the phone rang. It was the hospital. They told us, ‘We’re very sorry, but Raymond has just died’. ”
Raymond had numerous friends. So many Mods turned up to the funeral that the hearse needed a police escort.
“There were hundreds of them there, on their scooters,” says Sandra.
But then the years went by, and the era of the Mods faded. So, inevitably, did memories of Raymond, at least for those beyond his immediate family circle.
For his parents and siblings, who grew up around Essex, including his twin brother Terry, the recollections remained just as powerful as ever.
But there was no reason to predict the outside world would one day rediscover Raymond Kelley.
Then, about seven years ago, Terry’s son Dean was walking past Mod Art, the art gallery in Rectory Grove, Leigh. There was a collage of Mod images in the window, and he thought he recognised one of the figures as his dad.
Of course, it wasn’t Terry in the image, but his near identical twin Raymond. The image had been extracted from that mystery photo, taken around 1965.
“There are so many others they could have chosen from that shot. Why did they home in on him?” speculates Sandra. “There is something about him that draws people.”
Not that Sandra has any objections.
“It has brought him back in a way we could never have anticipated,” she says.
She has just one regret: “I wish my dad had lived to see all this. He died in 2009, just before the images of Raymond started to reappear everywhere. Until the end of his life, he always kept a memento of Raymond, hanging in his garage. It was Raymond’s Parka.”
l Memories would be grateful for any information that can throw light on the iconic photograph. Please e-mail email@example.com
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