On December 1st 1976, Johnny Rotten arrived into our collective conscience, like a tiny, mad, staring, ragged pixie. He was like nobody else; an enchanted creature from a dark twisted fairyland, and he’d come to save us. The Sex Pistols were guests on the Bill Grundy ‘Today’ programme, a popular, nationally televised early-evening, magazine show. The band Queen had cancelled at the eleventh hour, and so the Pistols had somehow been shoe-horned in as a last-minute replacement.
The band didn’t diappoint. Rotten responded to Grundy’s smug, maddening and totally irrelevant question about whether they liked Beethoven and Mozart with classic sarcasm, “Oh yes, wonderful people, they really turn us on!” so Grundy came back with, “What if they turn other people on?” to which Rotten replied under his breath, “That’s just their tough sh*t!” When challenged by Grundy, Lydon composed himself again and said, “Sorry! Rude word! Next question.” asking Grundy to go on with the interview. Grundy insisted that Lydon repeat what he had said and when Lydon did so, on prime-time, pre-watershed, family TV, Grundy simply mocked him and goaded for more. Much has been said about Steve Jones’s contribution to what would be the final segment of that night’s show, when he managed to unleash “dirty old man” “dirty f*cker” and “f*cking rotter”, commenting on Grundy’s own slimey offer directed at Siouxsie to “meet up later” – but it was Rotten’s quietly delivered “sh*t” that really carried all the weight.
Like a punk rock Toto, Rotten revealed the man behind the curtain – not just exposing Bill Grundy himself as an unimaginative, cynical, arrogant, brown suited smuggins of the status quo, but also the dreary, lo-fi future that Grundy, the TV, the newspapers, and the mainstream, had lined up for us. This was the sh*t that we’d all been thinking for so long without even knowing it. By saying it out loud on prime time TV, it was as if Rotten was not only calling out Grundy, but everything around us; our schools, politics, parents, music, fashion, tastes, homework, the patterned carpets, the three day weeks, the secondary moderns, everything we’d been busy believing in and living through. Actually, it was all sh*t.
The next day, the Daily Mirror reported the alleged outburst of a lorry driver who had been so incensed, so furious by the appearance of the Sex Pistols and their potty mouths that he’d actually kicked in the screen of his own TV in front of his child. No prize for guessing which of these actions his actual child would have been more terrified by; a boy on TV saying a swear word or his father leaping up and destroying his own television, but somehow the lorry driver was seen as some kind of right-thinking, even moral voice of the rest of the country. The next day’s “Filth and the Fury” headlines, replayed and reminded us of the dangers of allowing this degenerate horror show into our living rooms.
Television played a huge part of our lives in 1976. There was no internet, no mobile phones, no twitter, and only 3 television stations. Far from making a mockery of or humiliating the Pistols, the interview all but ended Grundy’s career on the spot, and helped to kick-start the biggest counter-culture revolution since The Beatles.
Taken from punkgirldiaries Blogzine 3 – pgd zines are available at http://punkgirldiaries.com/store