Saturday, 24 December 2011

"You dirty f***er."

35 years ago this month, the Sex Pistols accidentally made rock music history. For cussing in a live TV interview.

And this was the headline the following day...

Some may think, "people got worked up over a few swear words?" Indeed, they did - the above front page reported that one viewer actually kicked in his TV in disgust - and today it all comes across as unintentionally funny. But it does have to be seen in perspective.

It wasn't the first time the F-bomb was dropped on TV - that honour goes to theatre critic Kenneth Tynan in 1965 - but it was the first time it was used repetitively, and was also the first time a "prole" had used it on air. 1976 was also a time of uncertainty and disillusionment - post-war British economic stability was grinding to a screeching halt, and Vietnam and Watergate were still fresh on the public mind. And punk rock was far more than just a "new craze", it was a socio-cultural movement that harnessed widespread youth disillusionment.

Interviewer Bill Grundy's drunken ignorance - if not outright prejudice - was laid bare in the space of a few minutes. The "nice, clean Rolling Stones" never have been - Grundy was simply using them as a yardstick at best, and at worst he probably wasn't familiar with the Stones' off-stage antics. And given his disdain for rock music as a whole, he went out of his way to troll the Pistols into saying dirty words on air. It went all horribly right, with guitarist Steve Jones especially unleashing both profanity-laden barrels on Grundy. The rest, as they say, is history. And if you look closely, at the end of the interview Grundy appears to be muttering "oh shit" under his breath. Oh shit, indeed - he was immediately demoted big time after the Pistols's on-air stunt.

So how accidental was this pivotal turn of events? Well, for one thing, even the Pistols' manager, Malcolm McLaren, was browning his pants immediately after the broadcast. The following day, though, he found the guts to cash in on the whole affair.

Closer to home, the Neville Purvis Family Show was cancelled amidst controversy in 1979, after the namesake character dropped an F-bomb during the end credits. Arthur Baysting, who played Purvis, fled to Australia for a number of years as a result.

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