In December 1976 the Sex Pistols appeared on Bill Grundys Today programme. In one short interview broadcast mid-morning and barely lasting two minutes they used the word fuck three times, shit twice, with bastard and sod being drawled out once apiece. Contrary to popular myth, and despite the witness testimony of fifty thousand would-be-cognoscenti who claim to have been in the Pebble Mill audience that day, they did not say cunt at all. Neither did any member of the seminal punk group employ the epithet cock wrangler.
It was a watershed moment. Not least for poor old Bill Grundy who, following immediate suspension by Thames Television, found his programme axed less than two months later. His career never recovered. In the shambles Bill managed to get one shit out himself, so to speak, on air. This was as the credits rolled and he realized what a fuck up hed made.
Britain was appalled. The filth and the fury.
Mary Whitehouse began her campaign to Clean up TV in 1963, shocked, apparently, by the sight of John Lennons fringe on Ready, Steady, Go! Two years later she founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association. Like Churchill banging Drakes Drum in the dark days of the late 1930s, warning a lethargic nation of the brooding menace posed by Hitler and fascism, Whitehouses was a timely intervention in the war against filth. On Saturday 13th November 1965 Kenny Tynan, arts critic, darling of the literary left and sado-masochistic arse spanker, dropped the verbal atom bomb on an unsuspecting nation when he was the first person to utter the word fuck on British television. We were stunned. The word would not be heard again in the 1960s. Even come Year Zero and the Bromley Contingents appearance with Bill Grundy on that frosty morning late in 1976, Steve Jones the arch fucker was only the third person to unleash the vulgar slang word verb (1) have sexual intercourse with. (2) damage or ruin, noun an act of sexual intercourse, exclamation a strong expression of annoyance or contempt on the British viewing public.
Between 17th October 2008 and 23rd October 2008 the Sunday Telegraph conducted what it describes as an investigation into the use of expletives in programmes broadcast just after the 9PM watershed. In other words somebody counted them. It found that in that seven day period f??? and its derivatives was used 88 times, s??? 26 times and p??? 13 times. Eh? Fish derivatives? Like croquettes ? Oh, no, they mean fuck. Fuck, fucking, fucker, fucked.
It is not surprising that two programmes that featured, for lazy lack of a better word, the worst language in the Sunday Telegraphs round up were Traffic Cops and Jamie Olivers Ministry of Food, both of which give the essentially middle-class, Radio Times-reading viewer a glimpse of the booze-swilling, skunk-tonking, Burberry clad underclass. You can almost smell the stale body sweat masked by knock-off Armani Code coming through the phosphors, cant you, Sandra? Almost, but not quite.
Jamie Olivers programme managed to get the f word out twenty-three times in one episode. Its a cookery programme, for fucks sake! In response to criticms the programme makers left-kicking Channel 4 declared that it has a duty to reflect real lives and people. Or does it find itself propagating a standard of living as being acceptable? That woman on the TV told her son to fuck off, so Ill tell mine to fuck off. Ere, Diesel, fuck off!
TV teaches. TV instructs. TV standardizes.
And therein lies the toe to toe fist fight between Mary Whitehouse in the blue corner and Kenneth Tynan in the red.
Like it or lump it, television is an influence on the way we live our lives. Pernicious or otherwise. We do not watch it passively. And under its auspices, to my mind, some of the most subversive and morally corrupting television in Britain can be found in speciously comfortable middle-class sitcoms, populated in a surburban neverneverland by Mum, Dad and their precocious progeny. One thirty minute episode of Robert Lindsays My Family is more damaging to the parent/child relationship than the entire back catalogue of Steptoe & Son. It portrays a stereotypical image of the family containing dysfunctional parents attempting to maintain a relationship with their increasingly mercenary children through cash. This concept is repeated in the appalling Nicholas Lyndhurst vehicle After youve gone. Its also the main boot up the arse to the plot in virtually every episode of The Upper Hand that was ever broadcast. And on and on and on. Consequently today in modern Britain the ungracious rapacity of comfortable middle-class kids has become an acceptable norm. This Christmas Im going to max out my credit card getting the kids the latest PSP5i and that talking, shitting, stuffed chimpanzee Boogie Ben. Why? Because thats what happens on TV. So to be a good parent means that you have to buy your childrens love, respect and affection regardless of how you actually behave and interact with them? The more you spend, the better the parent you are ? To paraphrase Steve Jones: You stupid fucker!
And has any other programme done more to erode marital values than Terry & June? Hen-pecked husband who is treated in a dismissive, patronisingly indulgent way by his wife, who in turn is wrote off by her husband as being technically inept and easy to shut up by slipping her a box of Milk Tray and some man pipe at the end of every episode? How many people now play out that particular dynamic in the their own relationship to some degree or another?
The effect of TV’s depiction of violence, sex, bad language or whatever on behaviour is not immediate. But it is invidious. The question is would we have television reflect life as it is or life as we would like it to be? And who are we? Deep thoucus, man. What moral code is acceptable? The line for me is when it becomes gratuitous. There for the sake of it. To shock. Or to convert me to some other fucker’s view of life by breaking down my own ideals. But the line is subjective. Contextual. That said, I dont want to watch some Mockney chef chuntering: Get some fucking greens in the pan, you daft cunt! at half past nine of a Tuesday evening. What the fuck would Fanny Craddock think?