In the autumn of 1976, punk was still operating at cult level. The Damned had recently beaten rivals Sex Pistols to the punch, with “New Rose” rather than “Anarchy In The UK” scooping the prize for the UK’s first official punk single, but Johnny Rotten and company had bagged a major deal with EMI, and they appeared to have secured a bright future.
That all changed overnight after the Pistols were hastily drafted in as last-minute replacements for labelmates Queen on Thames Television’s Today show, on December 1, 1976. During a frank exchange of views with the show’s host, Bill Grundy, the band swore repeatedly, enraging the public and subsequently sending the press into overdrive.
With Daily Mirror’s notorious headline “The Filth & The Fury” blazing the trail, the furor continued for days, and from that moment on the media scrutinized every move Sex Pistols made. The book 1977: The Bollocks Diaries recalls that time, digging deep into the archives to find a collection of outraged headlines proving that, for a moment at least, Sex Pistols were Public Enemy No.1. What follows is a rundown of some of the more famous bits of media attention the group garnered in their short run.
Two weeks’ work for £75,000
“Filthy Rich!” screamed the Daily Mirror on March 18, 1977, after A&M announced they’d sacked Sex Pistols, allegedly “for doing nothing” – though, as the story reveals, the little matter of hijinks after the band’s signing ceremony could well have been a factor. There are also salacious references to “attempts to rape some of the girls” at the record company offices, so it’s no surprise the label’s managing director was “unavailable for comment.”
Wanna ruin me in your magazine?
Sensationalist headlines stuck to Sex Pistols like glue after the Bill Grundy furor, but the knives really came out in the wake of “God Save The Queen” and the band’s legendary River Thames Boat Cruise during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations.
Running a banner headline on June 12, 1977, calling upon the nation to (in their words) “punish the punks,” the Daily Mirror launched a moral crusade against both the band and punk in general, publishing a “disturbing report on the amazing new cult” under the headline “Punk Rock Jubilee Shocker,” and encouraging others to take a similar editorial standpoint.
Many did, such as London’s Evening News (now the Evening Standard) and an unnamed publication which carried a less-than-salubrious profile of drummer Paul Cook after he was physically attacked by a gang wielding crowbars. This latter altercation, which took place close to Shepherd’s Bush tube station, was just one of numerous instances of violence meted out to members of the band following the release of “God Save The Queen.”
Stop your cheap comments
Of all the UK tabloids, the Daily Mirror were especially dogged in their pursuit of Sex Pistols, and they had their hooks into the band again in July ’77. With their headline screeching “Top Of The Punks!,” the Mirror were outraged when the nation’s arbiter of good taste, the BBC, dared to lift their ban on Sex Pistols’ music and air the promotional film for the band’s third single, “Pretty Vacant.” The paper’s fury fell on deaf ears, however, for the Beeb did indeed show “Pretty Vacant” on Top Of The Pops on July 14, alongside an appearance from Aussie punks The Saints.
Never mind the bans
The tabloid press ensured Sex Pistols were constantly in the public eye after their sackings from EMI and A&M, and the post-Jubilee “God Save The Queen” furor. Further notoriety surrounded the release of the group’s long-awaited debut, Never Mind The Bollocks… Here’s The Sex Pistols, after the band found a new home with Virgin Records. Despite a blanket ban by numerous department stores, the album still topped the UK Top 40 and even survived a legal charge on the grounds that it was “indecent printed matter” after Virgin Records’ Nottingham store prominently displayed the record sleeve in its window display.
Hired as defense counsel by Richard Branson, QC John Mortimer (also the creator of Rumpole Of The Bailey) successfully argued that the word “bollocks” was a 19th-century term for a clergyman, and the case was thrown out – much to the chagrin of The Sun, whose November 25, 1977 story “And The Same To You!” grudgingly conceded that the verdict gave the “foul-mouthed Sex Pistols the chance to put up two fingers to the world.”
Got you in my camera
Unlike the UK tabloids, the rock weeklies supported Sex Pistols, with the NME saying, “Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are coming,” as early as February 1976. Still a rather more conservative publication when punk first hit, Melody Maker ran a tabloid-style front-page story on March 26, 1977, complete with sarcastic subheading, “Firing Of Pistols,” following the band’s A&M sacking – though the publication did expand further on the story inside.
By the time “God Save The Queen” was released, however, Melody Maker were devoting their front cover to the Pistols, as were Record Mirror. All four UK weeklies voted “God Save The Queen” their Single Of The Week, while both NME and Sounds clambered aboard to cover the band’s Scandinavian tour during July 1977. The NME famously granted Sex Pistols a memorable feature, trailed with the headline “Four Pages Of Fun” and a classic image of the band on the cover of their August 6 issue.
Just a satellite of London
Granada TV in Manchester first put Sex Pistols on the telly, and the band regularly played in the provinces, building a following before the Bill Grundy debacle petrified city councils up and down the UK. The regional press, however, didn’t always warm to the Pistols. As a cynical November ’77 article in the Edinburgh Lynx reveals, their failure to conform to the accepted punk stereotype (“they’re such good boys, you know”) clearly left some editors feeling short-changed.
Cash from chaos
Sex Pistols regularly infuriated the tabloids on an almost daily basis and even irked the odd broadsheet during their notorious prime, but their most unlikely coup was wowing the financial sector. Perhaps fittingly, when the Investors Review granted them the cover and dubbed them “Young Businessmen Of The Year,” the band were just days away from imploding at the end of their US tour of January 1978.