How the Sex Pistols sparked outrage in Britain

The band at the time was made up of singer Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon), guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock, who would leave the following year to be replaced by Sid Vicious. They were introduced with a segment that aimed to bring the audience up to speed with what they described as “the cult of punk”.

“Well, it may not be the best rock ‘n’ roll in the world, but it is certainly the most controversial,” intoned a clearly disapproving voiceover from presenter Lionel Morton, which warned viewers that one London newspaper had called the Sex Pistols “the most aggressive, nasty band ever”.

His co-presenter Maggie Norden, who was actually much younger than the band’s manager Malcolm McLaren, also seemed to struggle to understand the appeal to so many young people of this visceral, nihilistic garage rock and the band’s contempt for authority. She put it to McLaren that they were “more into chaos than anything else”.

“Well, that’s an accusation by people who really don’t understand what kids want,” said McLaren. 

“Kids want excitement, they want things that are going to transform what is basically a very boring life for them right now, and music, young rock music, is the only thing they have, that they thought that they controlled. And if you look in the charts, they don’t really have anything to do with it.” 

‘Worthless, nasty’

Norden took the band to task – saying that “they were trying to shock everyone” – as well as calling their clothing “bizarre” and asking Johnny Rotten if he was happy with the term punk, saying it meant “worthless, nasty”.   

“The press gave us it. It’s their problem, not ours. We never called ourselves punk,” he replied enigmatically.

She went on to press them on what was wrong with bands of the 1960s who were still going, like The Rolling Stones and The Who, which she seemed more comfortable with as a sound of teen rebellion.

Johnny Rotten merely dismissed them as being established, saying: “They just do not mean anything to anyone.” 

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