When Greek Police Could Arrest Young Men for Being ‘Teddy Boys’

Greece’s post-war years were marked by poverty, political turmoil that led to the seven-year dictatorship, and the struggle of young Greeks to follow the trends of European and American youths. At the same time, authoritative laws did not allow Greek youths to adopt lifestyles of their western counterparts as presented in the movies or through rock and roll songs.

The behavior, dress codes, and hairstyles of American or English teenagers as portrayed in movies were admired by many young Greeks but derided by the conservative society of the time. Any type of delinquent behavior — or behavior that authorities could arbitrarily define as delinquent — was unacceptable and punishable. Rock and roll music was seen as corrupting by the Church and society.

At the end of the 1950s, some young Greeks tried to imitate American and English teenagers by wearing blue jeans with rolled cuffs, grow long hair and grease it back, or wear suits like England’s Teddy Boys of the time.

Law authorities — in lack of some other suitable term — labelled teenagers with longer than average hair and suits exhibiting provocative or offensive behavior as “Teddy Boys”. Judicial authorities — also in lack of a better term — passed Legislative Decree 4000/1959, widely known as Law 4000, or the Teddy Boy law.

The law was first introduced by the Konstantinos Karamanlis government in 1958. Teddy Boys were considered dangerous because of their behavior, which was characterized as provocative and offensive by the government of the time.

By law, those who committed disgraceful acts were punished. The police could arrest youngsters for offensive acts and put them in jail. But worse, they shaved part of the heads of the “offenders”, ripped the cuffs of their pants and then hung a placard around their neck and paraded them in the city center for the world to ridicule them. The placard usually said “I’m a Teddy Boy and I did… (name of offence)”.

At the time, the most common offensive act by Teddy Boys was to throw yoghurt cups or fruit at people they disliked. However, in the late 1950s and in the 1960s, a young man dressed unconventionally or “hanging out” at a place a policeman would deem that the “offender” did not belong to, was reason enough for the Teddy Boy to be dragged to the police station for questioning.

The law also said that the parents of the juvenile delinquents could be arrested as well.

Yet, hurling yoghurt at people you didn’t like became fashionable at the time and it was not only Teddy Boys who did it. Yoghurt throwing even became a game played in neighborhood streets or playgrounds. The phenomenon spread across Greece, especially in big cities, and it became common even in school grounds.

Deputy Interior Minister responsible for security, Evangelos Kalantzis, was the one who first implemented Law 4000, ordering police to start arresting Teddy Boys to make an example for youths who might think of straying from Christian and family values.

The first Greek youngster who was arrested under Law 4000 was Antonis Malandris. On August 31, 1958, Malandris and a friend were at Aello Cinema in Athens and they threw a yoghurt cup at a woman who had previously chided them for harassing her daughter. The press of the time described the two teenagers (15 and 16) as “audacious”.

The two youngsters were arrested and on September 3, 1958, they were taken to the Kypseli police station where they had part of their hair shaved under the supervision of Athens Police Chief Theodoros Rakintzis. Then, they had placards hung around their necks and the police paraded them on the streets of Athens for people to scoff at them.

During the dictatorship (1967 – 1974) police would arrest people with long hair and take them to jail to shave part of their heads. Yet, as Greece arrived in the time of the hippies, and long hair had become fashionable, Law 4000 found itself on the back-burner.

In 1983, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou abolished the anachronistic law that at the time, only existed in the books, not in practice.