The infamous broadcast of the Pistols ended the career of the host Bill Grundy
The Sex Pistols unleash “the filth and the fury” on BBC’s Today show on this day in 1976
On December 1st 1976, only a few days after two TV appearances, the Sex Pistols unexpectedly returned to the British TV, and it was all because of Freddie Mercury, well, indirectly, to be precise, one of his dodgy teeth was to blame, and because of that Queen had to cancel their appearance at the ITV’s “Today” show with Bill Grundy.The Sex Pistols, who were still under contract with EMI, the same label as Queen, were asked to replace them, and made one of the most outrageous British TV appearances that contributed partially for EMI to drop their contract. The ill-advised meeting of a belligerent TV host and a startlingly young band became a potty-mouthed confrontation broadcast live on teatime TV across the South East. When Steve Jones responded to Bill Grundy’s dare that he say “something outrageous” with the words “What a fucking rotter”, he fundamentally altered British broadcasting and took punk into the mainstream. What followed was something never before seen on British TV to the point where Grundy was even called “You dirty fucker” by Steve Jones (after Grundy replied to Siouxsie Sioux who said she “always wanted to meet him” that they could meet after the show) Although he refers in his introduction to the band being “more drunk than I am”, Grundy doesn’t seem under the influence either.
In the aftermath of the program, Grundy, who in articles for Punch had developed a self-styled image as a Dean Martin-style drunk, protested to The Guardian that he was “stone-cold sober. You cannot do a job like I do without being sober.” A memo from studio producer Mike Housego (who was in charge of the programme as it went out live) to Today’s overall boss Tom Steel reveals that after the show ended the group were led back down to the Green Room. While the Pistols were there, the memo reveals, harassed workers on the program were receiving so many calls of complaint from viewers that they couldn’t answer them all. The 12-line telephone system automatically diverted any unanswered calls to the Green Room. The file indicates that a producer on the program, named as Martin Lucas, ignored instructions to remain in the room with the Pistols, and left them and their posse – which included Sue Catwoman and some of the Bromley contingent, one of whom was Siouxsie Sioux – alone with the ringing phones. The result? The group started answering the phones and dishing out even more abuse. In many ways the careers of Grundy and the Pistols never recovered from the confrontation. Grundy was disciplined by Thames head Jeremy Isaacs (who would later become the head of Channel 4). The beleaguered boss’s internal memo scolding staff said the conduct of the interview fell far below his usual standards’. The Today show was cancelled two months later, and Bill Grundy never worked in prime-time television again. He died of a heart attack in 1993 at the age of 69. In his acclaimed punk tome “England’s Dreaming”, Jon Savage says that the impact of the Today appearance had “a totally disastrous effect on the group: from then until their demise in January 1978, they added only four new songs to their repertoire and their approach to their audience and their music remained the same. They were flies in the amber of notoriety.” EMI dropped them, gigs were cancelled, Glen Matlock left and Sid Vicious joined. The day after the Today show was aired, every tabloid had the Sex Pistols on the front page, the most famous being perhaps The Daily Mirror with the headline “The Filth and The Fury”.
Watch the full appearance of the Sex Pistols at the Today show on December 1st, 1976
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