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The BBC Sex Scandals and the Birth of Punk

Look ahead a quarter-century: Which heroes and villains will swap spots? Whose "public image" will survive intact?

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

August 29, 2013 - 10:30 am

As everyone picked forensically through old television clips, I noticed that one of the most famous segments ever broadcast on British TV wasn’t being discussed.

Thames Television presenter Bill Grundy’s shambolic, booze-fuelled swearing contest with the Sex Pistols on December 1, 1976 marked the moment millions of Britons first learned of the latest “moral panic.”

The widely-anthologized segment has inspired (admittedly dreadful) songs and been lovingly recreated for Saturday Night Live.

(Oh, and here are the “Amish” and the “LEGO” versions.)

The Daily Mirror‘s front page the next morning is the “Dewey Beats Truman” of punk; Peter Vernon’s spectacular photograph now hangs in the National Gallery.

What marked the segment as a cultural turning point was the resulting upside-down fallout:

The Sex Pistols’ only real album is now considered one of the best of all time. In 2006 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — against their wishes.

It was veteran broadcaster Grundy whose career was ruined overnight, for goading guitarist Steve Jones into cursing on live TV before the “watershed.”

Today, viewers would be far more incensed by that (unremarked upon) Nazi armband worn by one of the Bromley Contingent in the back row.

(That symbol was the juvenile “satanic pentagram” of punk, not a badge of ideology. The sizable number of Jewish punk “elders” — from Malcolm McLaren and The Clash’s Mick Jones to Lou Reed and the ill-fated Nancy Spungeon — has been well-documented in The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s.)

But most of all, viewers today would be calling for Grundy’s dismissal for doing something¬† — and this is, at long last, the point — that no one, not even the “shocked and appalled” British “red tabs” — considered particularly creepy at the time:

Flirting with a teenaged girl.

(Content warning:)

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