Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Buttons – The Making of a President by Jamie Mandelkau

The origins of the first UK Hells Angels Chapter.

As a small boy in the mid 70’s, I remember a local pub at St. Georges Circus called The Duke of Clarence at the top of London Road leading down to the Elephant & Castle. It wasn’t that I was regular in there, there may have been underage drinking but I was at least 10 years under age at that time. No, the shop next door was the only one in the area that opened late at the time, so armed with enough pennies to buy a short measured quarter of Cola Cubes, I’d regularly pass the pub which sat on the corner with the junction of Borough Road. One Saturday evening as I approached the shop, a deafening roar greeted me as a gang of Hells Angels pulled up outside the pub alongside the other bikes that were already there. I’d heard of Hell’s Angels, there were often scare stories in the papers on a regular basis about them and the 8 year old me wasn’t sticking around to have his Cola Cubes swiped. No doubt, you may be wondering what this has to do with a president called Buttons, well the answer is that Buttons was the first man outside the USA to earn the right to wear the Death Head and Hells Angel patches. This curious little book was published in 1971 by Sphere, and follows Buttons from his beginings as a rocker in Dalston through to establishing the first Chapter oustside America. Christened Peter Welsh, he was originally called the Mad Hatter as he used to wear a different one depending on his mood. After seeing a film about Cockneys he decided he was going to have a jacket covered in buttons and spent 4 months sewing 1300 onto a soft pvc jacket. At this point he was also fighting with the local Mods led by Beardie Pegley, on a weekly basis, which culminated with him getting shot in the upper chest, a story that has gone down in Mod folklore. When two Californian Angels came to England, namely Sweet William and Frisco Pete, two of Buttons fiends met them and brought them round to his flat where they bonded. Upon their return to the US, Buttons wrote to Sweet William to ask permission to start a UK chapter. This resulted in an invite to San Francisco and a process of acceptance which in turn allowed him to operate a UK chapter. The book ends with Buttons declaring war on other bike gangs who display fake death heads and Hells Angels England patches, the patches always remain the property of the Hells Angels and as such are ripped from the backs of unofficial members. The book itself is quite rare though it does turn up from time to time, expect to pay between £30 - £60 for a copy. It’s an interesting document that goes back to Mods v Rockers wars and will only increase in value over time. As an aside to the rough and tough image portrayed in the book, here’s a BBC documentary about the Hells Angels from 1973, that makes them seem more like the Anthill mob. There appears to be no sign of Buttons but it's his official Chapter, all 32 official Hells Angels.

Originally published on 7th October 2012.


  1. read the book in the 70's, as a school kid. years later a friend mentioned it in passing. after that many a night was passed with us imagining/ laughing what buttons did next.......a paper shop on hayling island, which he ran with joe Hawkins....peace at last

  2. I read the book in the early 80's and saw a copy for sale in a charity shop a few years ago.I thought it would be cool to re-read it. It was actually signed. To Shelley, love Buttons, A.F.F.A. and the date in 1971.

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  4. Hawkwind called in to a record shop in Preston, to ask for help as their van had broken down. The band asked us shop staff if we knew anyone cool with a transit to help transport the equipment to the gig. We called a rock mad regular customer and he agreed to help. Hawkwind duly invited us to the concert which we all really enjoyed! The band also said come down to london for a weekend and they would host us. This was agreed and suitcases were packed with best outfits (suade trousers, expensive at the time!) On arrival in Notting hill Gate (powis square?)into a huge multi floor regency style building, imagine our surprise (shock!) We found ourselves being introduced to buttons and the london chapter of the hells angels!!!! It was the most frightening time of our lives, without reason. We were treated really well, provided with a very interesting curry for supper and given a room with sleeping bags and a mattress each. Being well behaved 17 year olds (very green round the gills!) When it was time for bed we folded our clothes up and put on our nightwear and went to sleep. The following morning we quickly realized our bags had been rifled, clothes had gone missing including my suade trousers! Buttons was informed and he showed only genuine anger that someone had been into the house and stolen from guests of him and Hawkwind! We were asked to follow buttons through Notting hill to a couple of flats, people known to have been at the house the previous night. Doors were duly THUMPED and when answered, searched! Did not find our missing items but glad nobody injured! Our first visit to London but not our last, we survived the experience. Thanks boys for the hospitality, Annie, Lynda and Elaine.