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Right on target: the tale behind the mod roundel

As synonymous with the mod movement as the Lambretta or Vespa scooter or the Chelsea boot or the Harrington jacket or the Paul Weller haircut or The Jam t shirt, the red, white and blue target emblem is, well, basically the logo of the mod. An icon that’s impossible to separate from what the very essence of a mod and what being one is, its origins and history may, however, surprise you a little…

The target’s origins

You may be aware – or you may not – that the target can trace its roots back to the British military. Fitting in with the 1960s mod movement’s predilection for borrowing classic military iconography and refashioning these recognisable motifs for quite a different purpose, the target was originally – and, actually, within the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) remains – a roundel, as it’s referred to, that identifies that organisation’s aircraft.

The use of roundels as markers on aircraft began in the First World War, when the progenitors of national air forces emerged; specifically because the French aviation authority discovered their planes required identification as their troops were actually shooting them down. Thus, a roundel in the colours of the French Tricolore was swiftly introduced and added to sides and/ or wings of the aircraft. Following suit, the RAF soon added the Union Jack to their planes but (because, from a fair distance, this looked too much like the identification decals on opposing German planes) a similar roundel quickly replaced them; with blue and red hoops switched around from the Tricolore roundel.

Mods make the target their own

Exactly how and why the mod movement took the British target logo for itself, though, is very much up for debate. In truth, it could well have been a happy accident for which no one individual was fundamentally responsible, but a specific, plausible explanation goes that US artist Jasper Johns, who was at the forefront of the dynamic pop art movement in the early ’60s, liked to pepper his artworks with patriotic and/ or nationalistic symbols – not least the target/ roundel. As did the seminal British artist of the age, Peter Blake, who was famously responsible for designing album covers for the The Beatles, among others, and in decades to come for the Modfather himself, Paul Weller. With this arty influence in the air, it’s been said then that the mod rockers extraordinaire, The Who, were persuaded by their management to adopt the British RAF roundel as their emblem; immediately establishing and ensuring a connection between the symbol and their fans and all mods for all-times.

The target on t-shirts – and everything else

For decades then, the mod emblem that’s the target has been emblazoned on all manner of mod paraphernalia and merchandise; not least fashionable garments – everything from slim-fitting buttoned-up shirts to sleekly cool turtlenecks to, of course, the mod mainstay that’s the white t-shirt. And mod mainstay garb manufacturers like Ben Sherman and Art Gallery clothing show no signs of letting up their incorporation of the logo in their ever expanding, diverse and innovative garment designs.

Especially because, thanks to an official ruling 14 years ago, the UK’s Ministry of Defence is no longer capable of preventing firms from using ‘its’ worldwide-recognised red, white and blue RAF roundel. Specifically, it was the Trade Marks Registry that blocked the MoD’s control of the logo, ensuring companies could carry on printing the emblem on whatever they wanted to sell with it without having to pay the UK Government for the privilege.

The registry quite rightly declared that because the emblem had been used by all and sundry for decades already, it really couldn’t suddenly declare that it ‘belonged’ to any one body or entity. Reinforcing undoubtedly then that the target logo – just like the movement to which it belongs – is all about expressing freedom of expression, joy of living life and doing your own thing. Now that’s something we can all toast to!

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