….Or – How the tabloids handled punk.
At this time of the year, it’s not unusual for newspapers to look back over the preceding 12 months with a critical eye, and remind us of what exactly they reported as happening.
Unlike today, where there’s an increasing number of punk pundits and writers all producing blogs and books about Punk history and its effects, in 1976/77, punk was afforded no intellectual dimension whatsoever. There was no discussion to be had, the tabloid newspapers saw Punk at face value – as a bunch of troublemakers and show offs, possibly with mental health problems. With no real care or understanding of this new youth movement, and instead of looking at its roots born of frustration and boredom, the newspapers of the day happily settled for shock value.
The tabloids are naturally attracted to anything that will provoke a sense of outrage from the readers, and also anything that they think will sell lots of newspapers. Punk did both, and the more outrageous the headline, the better.
December 2nd 1976, “The Filth and the Fury”. The classic Daily Mirror front page splash screamed its outrage at the Sex Pistols appearance on the Bill Grundy Today show the evening before. The Pistols are helpfully referred to as “a pop group” and “leaders of the new punk rock cult” for anyone not paying attention. FILTH referred to the sweary language they traded with host Grundy, and FURY to the “millions of viewers” left “shocked” by their appearance. Punk itself was still a movement very much in its infancy, it was a movement that hadn’t even had a chart or mainstream hit record, but in case anyone missed the Grundy show, the Mirror by flagging up Punk rock as something to fear did more to bring attention to the phenomena than it did to discourage it.
December 3rd 1976 – “Siouxsie is a Punk Shocker”. The Mirror, emboldened by the success of the previous days coverage, highlighted “Siouxsie Sue” the girl who had been standing behind the Sex Pistols, and had traded her own words with the host. The Mirror proclaimed her a shocker as she “praised their use of four letter words “because they are the first group that has got round to saying or doing anything worthwhile”. Adding “I knew all those words when I was in kindergarten, and they are harmless”.
March 18th 1977 “Filthy Rich”. The Mirror’s front page features “Punk rock’s notorious Sex Pistols group” again, this time after being dropped by A&M records. Still pocketing the alleged £75,000 advance the Mirror seem happy to remind the public that as they have been dropped or “sacked”, this money is for “doing nothing”. Also interesting to notice that they chose to use the word “Filthy” again.
The tabloids did more to spread the appeal of Punk than they probably knew, or even intended. Shock tactics now turned us on rather than off.
And just in case you were wondering, Debbie didn’t eat anyone’s hamster – it just made a good headline!