By 1977, the monarchy was seen as just another outdated institution to rail against.
Along with the Government, the schools, religion, commercialisation, disco music, 3-day weeks, boredom, and poverty – the Monarchy was very near the top of the list of Punk’s prime targets. The Queen’s face stared out from Westwood’s T-shirts, and young, newly politicised Punks were questioning everything, including the Royal family, who seemed outmoded, out numbered, and old-fashioned. They were clearly part of the wider problem, they were the arch establishment, and had to be called out. In 1977 the establishment’s Silver Jubilee celebrations were planned as Pomp, Circumstance, lots more Pomp and some street parties for the little people – just like on VE Day, only with more Jammie Dodgers. As the world’s media turned its attention to the UK, the calling out could begin.
“There are not many songs written over baked beans at the breakfast table that went on to divide a nation and force a change in popular culture.” – John Lydon
The Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” not only takes its title from our national anthem, but goes on to rhyme “Queen” with “fascist regime”, and compare’s royalists and supporters to “morons”.
The release of the single, perfectly timed to coincide with the Silver Jubilee, received a total airplay ban from the BBC because, in their own words, the single was an example of “gross bad taste” – which is exactly what it was supposed to be. On top of this, many High Street retailers, including Woolworth’s, refused to stock it. Normally either of these things would be the commercial kiss of death to any potential chart bound single, but in this case, and because the BBC were seen as lumpy and square, the ban seemed to work just as effectively as an endorsement, and the single went onto sell an estimated 150,000 copies a day between late May and early June 1977. The single stalled at Number 2 in the charts, which some thought odd, considering the enormous sales figures.
On the day itself, June 7th 1977, The Sex Pistols took to the waters of the Thames for their infamous Jubilee Boat Trip, with the intention of blasting “God Save The Queen” from the giant onboard speakers. The police responded by docking the boat and arresting practically everyone on board. Meanwhile, people had started to plan their own “Stuff the Jubilee” parties, which were as much about finding a common cause to kick against with like-minded people, as they were about sharing the music. By now, even the Union Jack had an association with Punk, and the Jubilee bunting simply served as a further subliminal reminder that we were in the middle of a cultural revolution.
By the time Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer got married in 1981, things in the UK were not only worse, but were more broadly recognised as being so. The unemployment rate in the UK was around 10 per cent, meaning that roughly 2.65 million Britons were out of work, including many young people. Inflation stood at almost 12 per cent and the Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was busy privatising state-owned enterprises, and reducing health, education and social spending. The last thing we needed was another bloated, no expense spared, Royal Wedding.
The summer number one was “Ghost Town” by The Specials, a haunting ska appraisal of urban blight, which was again rather strangely usurped by the more upbeat and family friendly “Green Door” by Shakin’ Stevens, which shot to the number one slot just 3 days before the wedding. This time around there were even more, and better organised “alternative” events, including a Rock Against Racism concert in London’s Clissold Park billed as “Funk The Wedding” that was attended by about 3,000 people.
The more recent Royal occasions may feel more inclusive, possibly something to do with the massive PR machine whose job it is to make it seem that way, but old style Punk girls will never forget the filth and the fury, the shock the horror, and the excitement of that first truly glorious Jubilee summer of Punk.