“There was no part of us that wasn’t feminist”.
By the late 1970s, trendy teachers had started pimping their style of teaching for the modern age using new technologies and contemporary publications. Cassette players, xerox machines, copies of Spare Rib, and television sets had all started to appear in places of education. Before that, schools often didn’t have televisions – partly because they were expensive and cumbersome, but generally because they were still associated with time-wasting and brain-rotting.
By the early 1980s, some equally trendy new programme makers, had started making content specifically aimed at schools, produced as an attempt to expose young minds to concepts that might still be considered outside the main school curriculum. The English Programme was one such endeavour, whose content included subjects like communication, GCSE literature, news, media and language.
Aired as part of the language series, and first broadcast in 1983, the episode “Words Fail Me” centred around an all female band called Amy and The Angels. The band were made up of feminists Angie (drums), Sue (bass) and Stef (guitar and vocals), and their featured song considered how the use of everyday language often negated the role of women. Words like “Manpower”, “Chairman”, and “Mankind” were all used as examples, and the band are seen both at Angie’s secretarial job, and in rehearsal.
When punkgirldiaries first saw this video, we wondered who these fantastic, brilliantly outspoken young women were – and why we had never heard of them before? Were they real? Or made up for TV? Half way through, we recognised that the vocalist “Stef” was none other than that one-woman DIY powerhouse, Stef Petticoat, and through her, we managed to catch up with the rest of the band 36 years after the event. We are punk girl detectives.
“A woman TV producer for Thames Television who made programmes for schools saw one of our gigs and asked us to help her make her programme on sexism and language. A woman TV producer was rare and revolutionary in those days. She’d seen us do a song called “Words Fail Me”, which started as just a list of words where the male version was assumed to include the female such as “chairman”, and “masterpiece”. It also included phrases of woman-hating”.
“Up until the 1970s women were discounted and despised. They were, en-masse, classed with children in terms of capability but, unlike children, were the butt of virtually every joke in the comedian’s repertoire. They were considered trite, gossipy, vain, slow and useless. Older women were hags, battle-axes, mother-in-laws, spinsters. Women were visible in the real world, the world of men, only while they were sexually desirable. Afterwards they vanished completely, buried alive by the creepy combination of contempt, disgust and sentimentality with which they were regarded.”
– by writer, Elizabeth Young.
The band had got together in 1982, united through common causes and mutual friends. Angie told us that by 1982 she was living next to a former bus garage, in a lesbian separatist household on Ivydene Road, Hackney, just one of London’s many dilapidated Victorian streets awaiting demolition by the council, that had in turn become squats and licensed short-life housing.
“We were sick of bands where the singer might be a woman, but all the musicians were men”
“Stef was in Rock Against Sexism. Angie had some drums. Stef knew Angie from a party, at which Stef wore leopard shocking green trousers and looked cool and bored”.
The original line-up also included a friend of a friend called Linda, but after she left Sue took up bass duties, even though (according to her) she couldn’t play.
“Stef had already written songs and done an EP and formed a previous band Necessary Evil. Angie had only listened to classical music for years, but liked the idea. Sue had listened to lots of punk and been to lots of gigs. But couldn’t play the bass. Graham (a musician in the band SUB VERSE, featured on the Scaling Triangles EP) suggested to Stef and Angie that Sue could replace Linda who had left. Sue had a quick lesson and went to see Stef and Angie and we liked each other and so it was decided Sue would join”.
We asked them why they agreed to participate in the programme,
“It sounded fun, we wanted the money, and we wanted to put a message across. It was a school’s programme, i.e. played in schools during the afternoon to encourage students to discuss ideas. We had to join the Musicians Union as a requirement to work on TV, so thanks to that we got a decent fee and repeat fees too”.
At the time, and possibly even now, it was still a brave move by Thames Television to involve a rad-fem, all female band in a schools programme. Maybe it was reflective of the times; in some quarters including teaching and television, there was a palpable, new cultural shift in progress which leant towards embracing new ideas, and current radical politics.
The new wave of feminism too, was still finding its feet. Squat culture and low rents enabled experimental living arrangements, free rehearsal space and new women’s only spaces.
Reading matter of the time included,
Angie: London Women’s Liberation Newsletter, and Sinister Wisdom: US journal of feminist politics
Stef: Rock Against Sexism – organisation to promote women in music, paper: DRASTIC MEASURES, crime, music papers
Sue: I read lots of feminist theory and novels which the others didn’t like so much. Stef said it was too intellectual, and Angie said it wasn’t radical enough for her.
“There was no such thing as the feminism, it was incredibly diverse, being invented as you went along, and lots of disagreements”.
“Sue was more involved in anti-racism and abortion rights then. Angie went to difficult Women’s Liberation conferences. The most important thing to Stef was women in music and music in general”.
The trio, all with different tastes, listened to a raggle-taggle diet of punk, new wave, ska, reggae, and classical music, but for the band, “after an initial burst of energy of 3 years it kind of fizzled out. The new songs we tried to write just did not seem to work. Sue was then working nights in residential social work and that affected rehearsals and she didn’t want to only ever be at work or rehearsing”.
This Episode of The English Programme remains one of the best visual testaments to the concerns of the young feminist movement alongside punk, squatting, and the spouting of what then were seen as radical new ideas. The thought that young women might now be questioning something that had gone unchecked for generations! Shocking!
“They gave us plenty of time to talk and included most of what we said. In hindsight Angie remains embarrassed by the typing sequence, which Stef was the first choice for.
STEF: Angie, you shouldn’t be, cause you come over really great there!
Actually I had just done a typing course and started a typist job at University College London. But I am not a native English speaker and not good in interviews!
It’s good that it’s on the internet for anyone to see”.
“Fast forward 36 years and we are all in Berlin celebrating Stef’s 70th birthday, Sue is 65 now and Angie 67. Sue is still working part-time. Angie and Stef are enjoying their pensions, hahaha! Angie now plays the cello in an ensemble and Stef sings in choirs and projects and occasionally writes music!
We’re sitting in a beautiful garden having a good laugh, trying to remember all this! We’re still friends. Angie says being in that band was the best fun she had in her life”.
Amy and the Angels – Angie, Stef and Sue in 2018
We want to say a massive thank you to Stef, Sue and Angie, for taking the time to talk to us, and for having the foresight and nerve to allow the TV cameras to document them back in the early 1980s. It was something that was aimed at our age group, we could have been the school pupils watching it. It was an age of excitement and new possibilities, one where feminism and post punk seemed to come together, and this short film is still a slice of what we missed first hand. Happy Birthday Stef.
More interesting reading on 1970s Hackney’s post punk squats HERE