‘All-singing, all-fighting man’
Elvis Presley as a rock ’n’ roll rebel
in Screening the Hollywood rebels in 1950s Britain
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Reconstructing the discursive surround of his early film appearances, Chapter 5 demonstrates that Elvis Presley was promoted in Britain as ‘the rock and roll rebel of the screen’ and as Marlon Brando’s and James Dean’s logical successor. Focusing on the films, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, the chapter illustrates that Presley was reformulated as the archetypal juvenile delinquent imbued with the popular currency of rock ’n’ roll music. Ensuing public censure of Presley’s music and sexualised performance style invigorated the discourses of Americanisation. In contrast to the amiable Bill Haley, who had recently made a nationwide tour of Britain, film (and music) critics disliked Presley and reported concern over his anticipated (and dreaded) live performances. The chapter demonstrates that Presley’s British fame was developed and sustained by the purchasing ‘power’ of his young fans in spite of (and because of) the widespread criticism and apathy of an older generation. As such, the chapter considers Presley’s stardom as the glorification of a humble American working-class ‘Teddy boy’ adulated by ordinary teenage consumers. In addition, the chapter argues that the blueprint of his fame (and his enormously successful branding) was used by entrepreneurial producer-managers to nurture and develop a new stable of British talent. Adam Faith and Billy Fury, among others, became popular for their proletarian qualities. Regional or cockney accents no longer hindered careers in the performing arts but, rather, recommended emerging stars to those teenage consumers with surplus income, eager to worship home-grown heroes.


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