Don Letts

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Don Letts
Letts during his tenure with Big Audio Dynamite, San Francisco, 1987
Letts during his tenure with Big Audio Dynamite, San Francisco, 1987
Background information
Birth nameDonovan Letts
Born (1956-01-10) 10 January 1956 (age 67)
London, England
  • Disc jockey
  • film director
Years active1975–present
Formerly of
WebsiteDon's BBC6 show

Donovan "Don" Letts (born 10 January 1956) is a British film director, disc jockey (DJ) and musician. Letts first came to prominence as the videographer for the Clash, directing several of their music videos. In 1984, Letts co-founded the band Big Audio Dynamite with former Clash lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist Mick Jones, acting as the band's sampler and videographer before departing the band in 1990.

Letts has also directed music videos for Musical Youth, the Psychedelic Furs, Fun Boy Three, the Pretenders and Elvis Costello as well as the feature documentaries The Punk Rock Movie (1978) and The Clash: Westway to the World (2000).


Letts was born in London, and educated at Tenison's School in Kennington. In 1975, he ran the London clothing store Acme Attractions, selling "electric blue zoot suits and jukeboxes, and pumping dub reggae all day long."[1] He was deeply inspired by the music coming from his parents' homeland, Jamaica, in particular Bob Marley. After seeing one of Marley's gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon, in June 1976, Letts was able to sneak into the hotel and spent the night talking to and befriending Marley.[2] By the mid-1970s Acme had quite a scene, attracting the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and Bob Marley.

In a 2022 interview, Don Letts discussed growing up in London and the discrimination he faced in relation to Steve McQueen's series Small Axe.[3] Discussing mistreatment at the hands of police he remarked that:

'A lot of us took that for normal. It was just what we had to deal with. Back in those Mangrove days… There weren’t no culturally enlightened policemen. It was the Wild West and trust me: we weren’t the cowboys.'

Seeing the crowd at Acme, the then-promoter Andy Czezowski started up The Roxy, a London nightclub during the original outbreak of punk in England, so that people could go from the store and have some place to party. As most bands of that era had yet to be recorded, there were limited punk rock records to be played. Instead, Letts included many dub and reggae records in his sets, and is credited[by whom?] with introducing those sounds to the London punk scene, which was to influence the Clash and other bands. He introduced members of The Sex Pistols and The Clash to Sound System culture, specifically, Jah Shaka and Lloyd Coxsone, artists who transformed the British music scene, and as a tribute, he is pictured on the cover of the EP Black Market Clash (1980) and the compilation album Super Black Market Clash (1993). He was able to use the fame and money from DJing and the Acme story to make his first film, The Punk Rock Movie (1978).

Letts quit the retail business to manage the band the Slits. He was able to get the Slits to open for the Clash during the White Riot tour. While on the White Riot tour he decided that management was not for him, but continued to shoot material for The Punk Rock Movie (1978).[4]

Letts went to Jamaica for the first time when, after the Sex Pistols broke up, Johnny Rotten decided to escape the media frenzy by going with entrepreneur Richard Branson to Jamaica. It was on this trip that Branson was inspired to start up Virgin's Frontline reggae record label.[1]

I guess he thought that since I was black and Jamaican – well, sort of – he'd be in good hands. Little did he know that the closest I'd been to Jamaica was watching The Harder They Come at the Classic Cinema in Brixton.

— Don Letts[1]

A portrait of Letts by photographer Dean Chalkley featured in the exhibition Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House in the middle of 2014.[5][6]

In a conservative culture that feels like punk never happened, the time is right for Return of the Rudeboy.

— Don Letts[6]

In recognition of Letts' unique contribution to music, on 16 October 2013 he was presented with a BASCA Gold Badge of Merit.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Letts is married to Grace and the couple have two children. He also has a son and a daughter from his previous partner.[8]

In September 2020 Letts and his wife Grace were featured on BBC's Gardeners' World, showing how they had combined their different tastes for plants and culture in their town garden in north west London.[9]

In 2022 Letts received an honorary doctorate from Nottingham University.[10]

Creative projects[edit]


In 1978, Letts recorded an EP, Steel Leg v the Electric Dread, with Keith Levene, Jah Wobble, both of Public Image Ltd and Steel Leg. The vocalist Steel Leg was Vince Bracken, a close friend of Sid Vicious and The Flowers of Romance (British band), which was a very early British Punk Rock collective. After Mick Jones was fired from the Clash, he and Letts founded Big Audio Dynamite in 1984. In 1990 Letts formed Screaming Target, a band named after the iconic Big Youth album of the same name which had been popular and profoundly influential with Rude Boys, Skinheads and Proto Punks in the early 1970s and Punk Rockers in the late 1970s.[11] As of 1 April 2009, Letts is presenting a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 Music.


In 2006, he published his autobiography, Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers.[12]


Since his first movie, The Punk Rock Movie (1978), Letts has expanded to doing documentaries and music videos for multiple bands. In 1997, he travelled to Jamaica to direct Dancehall Queen.[4] His film Westway to the World (2000) won a Grammy Award in 2003.

Filmography (as director)[edit]

Year Title Notes
1978 The Punk Rock Movie
1997 Dancing in the Streets: Planet Rock TV movie
Dancehall Queen
2000 The Clash: Westway to the World Documentary
2003 The Essential Clash Video
One Love
2004 Making of 'London Calling': The Last Testament Video
2005 Punk: Attitude TV movie
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Gil Scott-Heron
Brother From Another Planet: Sun Ra
2006 The Making of All Mod Cons: The Jam
Tales of Dr. Funkenstein: George Clinton
Rock It to Rio: Franz Ferdinand
2007 Soul Britannia
2008 The Clash Live: Revolution Rock TV movie[13]
2009 Carnival!
2010 Strummerville
2011 Rock 'N' Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen
2012 Subculture
2016 The Story of Skinhead[14]

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist
1977 "White Riot" The Clash
1978 "Tommy Gun" The Clash
1979 "London Calling" The Clash
1980 "Sister Europe" The Psychedelic Furs
"Bankrobber" The Clash
"The Call Up" The Clash
1981 "This Is Radio Clash" The Clash
1982 "Rock the Casbah" The Clash
"Should I Stay or Should I Go" The Clash
"Pass the Dutchie" Musical Youth
"Back on the Chain Gang" The Pretenders
"Youth of Today" Musical Youth
1983 "The More I See (The Less I Believe)" Fun Boy Three
"Got to Have You Back" The Undertones
"War Party" Eddy Grant
"Everyday I Write the Book" Elvis Costello and the Attractions
"Party Train" The Gap Band
1984 "One Love" Bob Marley and the Wailers[15]
"Waiting in Vain" Bob Marley and the Wailers
"Round and Round" Ratt
1985 "The Bottom Line" Big Audio Dynamite
1986 "E=MC2" Big Audio Dynamite
"Medicine Show" Big Audio Dynamite
"C'mon Every Beatbox" Big Audio Dynamite
1987 "V. Thirteen" Big Audio Dynamite
1988 "Just Play Music!" Big Audio Dynamite
1989 "James Brown" Big Audio Dynamite
"She Gives Me Love" The Godfathers
1990 "Get Up, Stand Up" The Wailers
1994 "Deep Forest" Deep Forest
1995 "In the Name of the Father" Black Grape
1996 "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness" The Heads with Shaun Ryder


"A good idea attempted is better than a bad idea perfected."[1] –Don Letts to The Guardian


  1. ^ a b c d Don Letts (24 October 2001). "Dem crazy baldheads are my mates". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  2. ^ Don Letts (24 May 2007). "Don Letts: In his own words - Special to". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  3. ^ "Then and Now: Black Britain through the eyes of Jeshi and Don Letts". The Face. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  4. ^ a b Charlotte Robinson (12 July 2002). "DON LETTS". popmatters. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  5. ^ "Return of the Rude Boy" at Somerset House, 13 June– 25 August 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Return Of The Rudeboy". Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  7. ^ "2013 BASCA Gold Badge Award Recipients Announced" Archived 18 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine, PPL, 16 September 2013.
  8. ^ "My family values: Don Letts". 20 August 2010.
  9. ^ "Gardeners' World: Episode 25, 2020". 4 September 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  10. ^ "News - Famous faces join University of Nottingham's winter graduation ceremonies - University of Nottingham". Retrieved 17 December 2022.
  11. ^ "Don Letts Biography". Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  12. ^ Letts, Don; David Nobakht (2008) [22 January 2007]. Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers (3rd ed.). London: SAF Publishing. ISBN 978-0-946719-99-0. OCLC 181422771.
  13. ^ Letts, Don; The Clash, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon (15 April 2008). The Clash Live: Revolution Rock (Documentary/TV movie). New York: Legacy Recordings. OCLC 227211002.
  14. ^ The Story of Skinhead with Don Letts, BBC Four.
  15. ^ "Worldsenders". Retrieved 18 May 2020.

External links[edit]