God Save the Queen’s


In December 1976 the Sex Pistols appeared on Bill Grundy’s 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 he’d 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 Lennon’s fringe on Ready, Steady, Go! Two years later she founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association. Like Churchill banging Drake’s Drum in the dark days of the late 1930s, warning a lethargic nation of the brooding menace posed by Hitler and fascism, Whitehouse’s 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 Contingent’s 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 Telegraph’s round up were Traffic Cops and Jamie Oliver’s 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, can’t you, Sandra? Almost, but not quite.

Jamie Oliver’s programme managed to get the ‘f’ word out twenty-three times in one episode. It’s a cookery programme, for fuck’s 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 I’ll 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 Lindsay’s 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 you’ve gone. It’s 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 I’m going to max out my credit card getting the kids the latest PSP5i and that talking, shitting, stuffed chimpanzee ‘Boogie Ben’. Why? Because that’s what happens on TV. So to be a good parent means that you have to buy your children’s 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 don’t 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?


One comment

  1. guinnessorig · October 27, 2008

    In order to find out how many times the Sex Pistols had used shocking words, ripping up the rule book and sticking two fingers to The Man during the interview with Bill Grundy, I used the find/replace facility in MS Word. Below is the edited transcript of the Today appearance which I think reads rather well.

    GRUNDY (To camera) They are punk rockers. The new craze, they tell me. Their heroes? Not the nice, clean Rolling Stones… you see they are as drunk as I am… they are clean by comparison. They’re a group called The Sex Pistols, and I am surrounded by all of them…

    JONES (Reading the autocue) In action!

    GRUNDY Just let us see The Sex Pistols in action. Come on kids…

    [Film of The Sex Pistols in action is shown; then back to Grundy.]

    GRUNDY I am told that that group (hits his knee with sheaf of papers) have received forty thousand pounds from a record company. Doesn’t that seem, er, to be slightly opposed to their anti-materialistic view of life?

    MATLOCK No, the more the merrier.

    GRUNDY Really?

    MATLOCK Oh yeah.

    GRUNDY Well tell me more then.

    JONES We’ve gingerin’ spent it, ain’t we?

    GRUNDY I don’t know, have you?

    MATLOCK Yeah, it’s all gone.

    GRUNDY Really?

    JONES Down the boozer.

    GRUNDY Really? Good Lord! Now I want to know one thing…

    MATLOCK What?

    GRUNDY Are you serious or are you just making me, trying to make me laugh?

    MATLOCK No, it’s all gone. Gone.

    GRUNDY Really?

    MATLOCK Yeah.

    GRUNDY No, but I mean about what you’re doing.

    MATLOCK Oh yeah.

    GRUNDY You are serious?

    MATLOCK Mmm.

    GRUNDY Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Brahms have all died…

    ROTTEN They’re all heroes of ours, ain’t they?

    GRUNDY Really… what? What were you saying, sir?

    ROTTEN They’re wonderful people.

    GRUNDY Are they?

    ROTTEN Oh yes! They really turn us on.

    JONES But they’re dead!

    GRUNDY Well suppose they turn other people on?

    ROTTEN (Under his breath) That’s just their tough raspberry.

    GRUNDY It’s what?

    ROTTEN Nothing. A rude word. Next question.

    GRUNDY No, no, what was the rude word?

    ROTTEN Raspberry.

    GRUNDY Was it really? Good heavens, you frighten me to death.

    ROTTEN Oh alright, Siegfried…

    GRUNDY (Turning to those standing behind the band) What about you girls behind?

    MATLOCK He’s like yer dad, inni, this geezer?

    GRUNDY Are you, er…

    MATLOCK Or your granddad.

    GRUNDY (To Sioux) Are you worried, or are you just enjoying yourself?

    SIOUX Enjoying myself.

    GRUNDY Are you?

    SIOUX Yeah.

    GRUNDY Ah, that’s what I thought you were doing.

    SIOUX I always wanted to meet you.

    GRUNDY Did you really?

    SIOUX Yeah.

    GRUNDY We’ll meet afterwards, shall we? (Sioux does a camp pout)

    JONES You dirty pudding. You dirty old man!

    GRUNDY Well keep going, chief, keep going. Go on, you’ve got another five seconds. Say
    something outrageous.

    JONES You dirty bumper!

    GRUNDY Go on, again.

    JONES You dirty gingerer! (Laughter from the group)

    GRUNDY What a clever boy!

    JONES What a gingering rotter.

    GRUNDY Well, that’s it for tonight. The other rocker Eamonn, and I’m saying nothing else about him, will be back tomorrow. I’ll be seeing you soon, I hope I’m not seeing you [the band] again. From me, though, goodnight. Oh, raspberry.


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