The London Weekend Show was the Friday evening flagship magazine programme on the former ITV London Weekend Television network, broadcasting to the Greater London area from 1975 until 1979.
Presented by the journalist Janet Street-Porter, their Punk special aired in November 1976, and set out to explore this new youth phenomenon in a way that the tea-time television crowd could understand. It presented early Punk without judgement. Street-Porter, herself savvy, was not afraid of Punk nor of its advocates. For a change, it didn’t set out to shock, and although it may have done so, it doesn’t seem guilty of being made to horrify worried parents. To me aged 12, it played like a training manual, and it still makes for an interesting and inspiring watch even now.
Janet Street Porter wears a t-shirt clearly emblazoned with the word Punk. She sits in the studio, looking like a “Low” period lady Bowie and asks into camera, “What’s Punk all about?” as she introduces a clip from a recent Sex Pistols show, “just off Leicester Sq”. This must have been the show at Notre Dame Hall, that the Pistols had played about a week earlier on November 15th 1976.
As the camera pans around the crowd, Janet narrates, “The first thing you notice, is that Punk Rock fans look as devastating as their music sounds. Torn clothes are held together with safety pins, there’s lots of black leather and bizarre hair, and the whole idea is to shock outsiders”. We catch glimpses of Siouxsie, Soo Catwoman, and Vivienne Westwood who can all be seen milling around in the audience. Although now it seems very basic, it was exactly this kind of footage and commentary that would act as midwife to young small town proto punks like me. This was all new.
“What’s your dress made out of?” – “A bin liner”
We see JSP in the Pistols dressing room asking the band who they like to listen to, Rotten responds “I don’t….I don’t have any heroes, they’re all useless”. This in itself was a new response, TV guests were supposed to be polite and say how much they loved all the other bands, but Rotten, although polite in his manner, had just said the opposite of the clichéd, well-worn response, “There’s no bands around is there? None that are accessible…unless you pay a fiver to see them and then you can’t see them”. Finally some honesty. Why hadn’t someone pointed this out before?
“Who comes to see you?” Janet continues ….”I dunno, just bored people….bored out of their brains with hippies”. They describe the bands on Top Of The Pops as only “relevant to their Mums and Dads”. This was TV gold. I’d never thought about this before, but the wild-eyed boy with the bright copper hair was absolutely right.
The show cuts to a cafe where a young singer called Siouxsie talks Janet through the set at the first Banshees show, “The Lord’s Prayer via Twist and Shout, Knocking on Heavens Door and a bit of Deutschland Deutschland über Alles. It got boring in some parts but it picked up” she explains. To this young suburbanite, life just got interesting, really interesting. Pop music was suddenly no longer just entertainment, it was now a philosophy, a way of life. I wanted to be just like them.
I’d always loved chart music, but these people were speaking the truth. They were right, it WAS hard keeping up with established bands, I certainly had nothing at all in common with any of them. Bands with mansions in LA, coke habits and sprawling back-catalogs; bands that were already 20 years older than me and were also popular with people of my parents generation.
Next up, Janet interviews a band called Clash (before they prefixed themselves with a “The”) who are just as damning in their take on the current state of the world “You got to have some music that you feel like, or otherwise you go barmy don’t cha?” – Joe Strummer.
From The Clash to the Pistols, the bands all come across as quietly angry, Simenon was seething, but this was no squalling temper tantrum, this was serious. JSP should probably get some sort of knighthood for this programme, Punk had arrived and with it came the brilliant ray of hope that we were no longer just resigned to accepting modern Britain as it was; it’s dole queues, it’s mother-in-law jokes, and its stupid schools. Punk Rock was something new, whether you were 12 or 17 this was now the only way to go – and you’d better get your shoes on, because we’re leaving right now.