Punk Britannia: Do you remember 1976?

Wednesday 30 May 2012, 14:33

Andy Dunn Andy Dunn

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June 2012, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, a heatwave in the headlines and a double-dip recession well underway.

What better time for BBC Four's Britannia strand to tackle the story of British punk?

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Watch the Punk Britannia Trailer

My sister was born slap bang in the middle of the summer of 1976, my all-time favourite film Taxi Driver came out that year and of course in those 12 months punk rock mutated from a few like-minded London bands to the national cultural phenomenon we know it to be today...

... but I wasn't there.

My sister is a couple of years older and by the time I came along post punk and new wave were well underway and punk had been reduced to an excessive hairstyle on a postcard.

So it was with an open mind that myself and the two other thirty-something directors set out to tell the story of Punk Britannia.

Well it's our version of the story at least.

It's impossible to tell THE story (if that even exists) so we decided firstly to follow the music, wherever possible to hear the story from the horse's mouth and attempt to convey a sense of the conditions in 70s Britain that gave rise to this most confrontational genre of rock.

Each episode had its own distinct challenges.

I directed the first programme in the three-part series.

To be honest it's the bit most documentaries on punk fast forward through to get to the juicy controversy of the Sex Pistols swearing on telly and upsetting the Queen.

But for me the fact that this early period (1971-1976) is less well trodden made it all the more exciting to explore.

It became clear that the origins of punk lie in a generational struggle for identity.

The momentous progress made in music, art and civil rights in the previous decade presided over by 'the hippies' had lost its way by the early 70s.

Kids coming of age in the early 70s did an about turn and began looking back to before the 60s revolution in an attempt to recapture the excitement and simplicity of the original teenagers in 50s America's dances and diners.

Punk's hard, fast tunes and its rebellious, tribal culture owe a great debt to a cast of unsung heroes who decided to launch an attack on the overblown prog rock and stadium super rock which rock 'n' roll had morphed into by the 70s.

John Lydon, lead signer of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd performing on stage

John Lydon, lead singer of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd

Alongside the likes of John Lydon, Mick Jones and Paul Weller, many of the characters interviewed in the first programme aren't exactly household names and never will be, but that's what makes them so fascinating.

Knowing that without them there may never have been a Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Jam.

It's this depth that BBC Four can bring to the subject that makes this series different to any previous punk series.

The second episode documents the big moments in punk, but so much more besides and the third episode contains music and stories that have never been seen or heard before.

That said there was no way we could ignore the white heat of the key moments in British punk and for me this boiled down to a diverse cast from Siouxsie Sioux to Humphrey Ocean recounting their collective epiphany on experiencing the Sex Pistols for the very first time.

We also decided where possible to film the interviews with the fine men and women of punk wherever we found them.

Minimal lighting and wide angle shots tell their own unflinching 'where are they now?' story of the cast.

Glamorous punk is not, and to their credit I've never met a group of musicians who remain so dedicated to the values that defined them in their heyday.

Kursaal Flyers

The Kursaal Flyers

My personal highlight has to be the driving soundtrack in the first episode - there are so many rare tracks from bands like The 101ers and The Kursaal Flyers that I hope will inspire people to discover these bands for themselves.

There are also quite a few artists that for various reasons didn't make it into the final cut.

Fitting everything in to 60 minutes was the toughest part of making this and I hope to fit the likes of Jesse Hector into another programme in the future.

He's a true original and leader of The Hammersmith Gorillas (look them up!).

In Punk Britannia we tried to tell it like it was, to celebrate the energy and excitement of the music and acknowledge the social and political effect of the movement.

Oh yes, before I forget, there's SEX, VIOLENCE, SWEARING and SPITTING in there too (phew!).

Andy Dunn is the director of episode one of Punk Britannia.

Punk Britannia starts on Friday, 1 June at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Read a BBC Music blog post by executive producer James Stirling about the Punk Britannia season of programmes on BBC Four and 6Music.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 42.

    Hello royksoppmelody #37
    Thanks for your comment and fair point about punk rock. We're not trying to censor anyone so just to clarify here, the reason we're not able to host a public discussion on the blog about nabson's comment on credits is that it's a private matter. We will continue to moderate comments on the blog in the light of that. It's been referred to the right people and is being handled away from the blog, along the right channels.

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    Comment number 43.

    @ Fiona
    Wow, I thought the BBC was a public broadcaster. I suppose we all have a little dirty laundry...

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Maybe comment #27 may become as famous as John Wilkes' #45

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    Comment number 45.

    Funny, someone was just telling me about Nick Abson the other night. Among other things he directed the UK version of Fraggle Rock. What could be more punk than the Fraggles. Uncle Traveling Matt perhaps being the most punk.

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    Comment number 46.

    No mention of the biggest most successful threatening talented band of the punk era - The Stranglers. The BBC REALLY don't like them do they and are always misinforming people about what was really happening at this time. They weren't manufactured boy bands like the sex pistols or the clash - they were and still are the real thing. Once again a pathetic showing from the BBC.

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    Comment number 47.

    I know that there's only so much you can show. There are always going to be disappointed fans who can remember things differently but the omission of The Stranglers from either the pub rock scene or early punk is ridiculous. Whether you like or hate doesn't come into it. They were there and they were huge in both of these scenes and a massive influence and in such an extensive examination they should have been mentioned. And although I loved them, I am sick to the back teeth about seeing The Clash and Don Letts re carving his name in punk history. Is this the only thing he does? yak on endlessly about The Clash! Oh and don,t get me started about that over used footage of Shane McGowan turning at that Sex Pistols concert. Seriously though, it does make you wonder who the BBC went to for the research. Dreadful in parts. My only hope is that some young people watch it, are bored rigid by these old farts yapping about an apparent revolution that has changed nothing and go out and do something exciting.

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    Comment number 48.

    I am glad to see that I am not the only person that is annoyed by the BBC makung the concious decission to write the stranglers from the history of punk. They were in the first wave and previous to that massively active in the pub rock scene. Can the director please come on here and explain why this decision was made? Does Jon Savage still have final say with the BBC on these matters & is refusing to allow them to be given the credit they are due just because JJ kidnapped him?

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    Comment number 49.

    Again, the fans of The Stranglers are spitting their dummies out. The Stranglers were never punk, JJ classed himself as one yeah, but they were never 'punk' as such. They were lucky enough to make their break in the music industry at the time when labels were signing new bands.
    After seeing episodes 1 & 2 I'm surprised the band never got a mention, but looking back to then I was 13/14 years old, they were never controversial. Yeah the odd 'shock' lyric (Nubiles) but thats all they were ... shock tactics. Think back ... when were they actually in the news ? Mow Malcolm McClaren DID know how to play the media, and he done it very well.
    Yes The Stranglers did have good tune, RATTUS being one of my favourite ever albums ... but admit it ... they were just lucky getting found when thay did ... if 'punk' never came along, I doubt they would have ever got signed.

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    Comment number 50.

    PS .. And, if the band were on ... we'd have had JJ banging on 'again' about the fight they had with The Clash etc etc :-0

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    Comment number 51.

    "There was a climate for things to be radically shaken up" ~ Hugh Cornwell

    Wow 7 seconds of the Stranglers and that from Hugh who left the band in 1990 & here we are in 2012 with the Stranglers as relevant as ever ~ turning out classy numbers and blasting all comers with humming gigs wherever they perform ~ the most successful tour of the year so far..............................

    Could go on and on about Rattus & Heroes aswell as Black & White that started the movement away from Punk. All I'd say is that as a 17 year old they changed music for ever for me. I heard their first single and on the strength of 1 play went to see them live in Manchester & never looked back. Their live music was even more than their recorded output in terms of excitement, immediacy, humour.

    When you talked to them they were simply unlike their two dimensional peers. Not only were they talented musicians, but made intellectual social comment, were observational, were threatening.

    Maybe that is why to this day the BBC gives them a wide berth.

    Impossible to pigeon hole yet clearly a prime mover. They deserve their own page & review.

    Time for the BEEB to write a few wrongs

  • Comment number 52.

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  • Comment number 53.

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  • Comment number 54.

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    Comment number 55.

    I was 16 in 1977 and really into punk. It was the energy that got me. And the best band of the time in my opinion were The Stranglers. They produced 2 punk albums. Can anyone really argue that Rattus and Heroes were not punk? They then moved on to post punk. You can see this band this year at numerous festivals across the country and here those tracks from 76/77 live sounding as good as ever. Still rockin'. Without doubt the most successful band of the movement. How they never appeared in the first 2 episodes of this series beggars belief. I agree with the previous comments. Is it just poor research or is there another agenda to change history? Otherwise interesting programme and giving Doctor Feelgood the recognition they deserve.

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    Comment number 56.

    To Realist, 'the Stranglers were never controversial ... when were they actually in the news'.

    This statement shows you have a lack of knowledge of this period or a very poor memory!!!

    And when they were in the news, which was often, it wasn't part of some media management project like the Pistols were involved in (how 'punk' is that?) in order to sell more records and make money for their management company. It was part and parcel of the bands outlook and collective personality.

    We all know the BBC dont like The Stranglers because The Stranglers said and did some very unpleasant things to BBC journalists and this has tainted their judgement of reality (not unusual for any journalist in the BBC) (see John Pilger)

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    Comment number 57.

    Think that the two episodes have been excellent but agree with the other sentiments about the Ramones needed to be mentioned. Infact the non mention of the boys from Queens is quite simply a travesty. I understand that it is about British punk but the historical aspect loses credence without mention of the New York influence from CBGBs. The Ramones' gig at the Roundhouse on July 4th which galvanised British punk was paramount importance with most of the London protagonists in the audience and thereafter stating themselves the vital role it played.

  • Comment number 58.

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    Comment number 59.

    The reason why The Stranglers have not been included in the prgram so far is that the BBC probably did not want to pay the royalties on the footage. Let's see what happens when they get to the Ramones...

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    Comment number 60.

    Have to disagree that the StrAnglers were not controversial. Indeed throughout the 70s the group seemed to court controversy. One example was when Burnel, a martial arts enthusiast, punched music journalist Jon Savage during a promotional event. Indeed, the bassist was no stranger to settling scores and arguments from on or off stage and viewing negative reviews as personal insults. Featured in tabloids, the group experienced a love/hate affair with journalists. There were frequent “hullabaloos”. These included a ban by the Greater London Council, anti-American comments culminating in the burning of a Stars and Stripes flag and Hugh's wearing of a t-shirt with an apparent swear word on it. Controversy came in the shape of the bands lyrics such as “Peaches” allegations of sexism (the Battersea Park strippers dancing to “Nice n Sleazy” springs to mind!). There was trouble in Sweden, trouble in Australia, kidnapping Journalists, smashing down dressing room doors, storming off stage in Guildford, jail for Hugh Cornwell, riots in Nice and potential jail sentences for all! Unlike most punk bands The Stranglers walked the walk and talked the talk!!


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