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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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Actually enjoyed the third episode, still no Stranglers but so what ... they're still living on Hugh Cornwell material, but hats off to John Lydon, never really been a big fan but always had a bit of respect for doing what he does .. and still doing it ...... the track 'Reggie Song' is superb (unlike the stuff on Giants)
    Loved the JD era, and the bands from the early 80's

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Love em or hate em you can't ignore them and there is no denying the stranglers were an integral part of the pub rock and punk scene.They were there at that time,why pretend otherwise?This programme surely wasn't intended to be a 'story' but a documentry based on fact and the fact is the stranglers were a major part of all era's-the pub scene,the punk explosion and the second wave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Mark at comment 78 spot on fantastic.I will add my last rant on this sham series.Its a stalinist removal of The Stranglers,a total disgrace.Mind you If your talking about post punk.I will just add a few bands that might deserve a mention Killing Joke,Theatre Of Hate,The Meteors.I find it quite amusing the Peter Hook (said It was the Pistols)that were his inspiration really? I suppose his up front lowslung bass style was nothing to do with a certain (jj) from that invisible band?. I could go on but the whole series was flawed.A stalinist revision of events.The first Punk was probably Elvis If the truth be known.It was the british punk scene,but you have to go back further,if you want to examine the british punk scene.Disgusted and outraged in Wiltshire.PS Kraftwerk were also an influence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I can't believe how little reference the Punk Britannia series made to John Peel. We had a few seconds of him in episode 3. In 1976 I was 15 years old and lived in south Sheffield. My friends and I tuned in religiously to John Peel on week day nights between 10 and 12 and he created our evolving musical taste. I remember him playing the whole of side one of Dr Feelgood's 'Stupidity' album and ditto for Buzzcock's 1st and my mind being gently blown. '76-'77 seemed to be transitional years for the man and his show as he left prog behind and embraced punk. My friends and I dutifully followed ...
    Now, I accept that people who lived in London may have had a different route to punk, but for those of us who couldn't get to the Roxy, Peel was our means of exposure to this new music. Fundamentally, it was his personal connection with emerging musicians around the country and his willingness to listen to their demo tapes and play the best of them on his show. He didn't have to go to that trouble, but it is to his eternal credit that he did. Without him a lot of bands would not have had any exposure and would not have survived long enough to make that ground breaking 3rd single ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Enjoyed this, but why so much time on PIL and no mention of The Cure, Killing Joke or goth?
    Also John Peel was so vital.
    Hope you intend to do a Goth Britannia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I thought the pub rock approach was a refreshing change from the US/Maclaren domination they usually regurgitate. So unbelievably naive of me to think this series was going to be different. Don't need to repeat the consensus in previous posts about huge omissions. The final scene of part 3 turned the whole series into a blatant plug by the BBC for PIL's latest recording. The interviewees have no editorial control over the programmes. The Stranglers should be glad not to have been included in this publicity exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Anyone who believes the omission of The Stranglers was purely an editorial decision because they didn't fit the 'story' must be seriously deluded. This is the latest in the long line of BBC re-hashes of the punk/new wave period to obliterate The Stranglers from history. For further proof of an anti-stranglers agenda see the coverage of Glastonbury from last year, the band played the festival for the first time to a massive crowd and were strangely absent from the BBC coverage, mmmm...

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Yes no mention of the Stranglers or coincidentally John Peel who were both targets of badly-informed attacks by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons-the latter strangely appeared on this series This was a programme that had fascinating archive clips and interviews,but the Stalinist attempt to rewrite punk history and omit bands who were not fu
    lly paid-up members of the SWP was somewhat misguided.In a Channel 4 documentary entitled top 10 of punk in the late 90s-based on record sales-The Stranglers were number 2,behind the excellent Sex Pistols,and ahead of The Clash-whom i also like a lot.Yet no mention on the bbc 4 series.Why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Ref comment 71 by Andy Dunn.

    Dear Andy, can you please re read the biography of the Stranglers that is on the BBC's very own website. It reads as follows:-

    "The Stranglers are an English punk/rock music group.
    Scoring some 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums to date in a career spanning five decades, the Stranglers are the longest-surviving and most "continuously successful" band to have originated in the UK punk scene of the mid to late 1970s. Beginning life as the Guildford Stranglers on 11 September 1974 in Guildford, Surrey, they originally built a following within the mid-1970s pub rock scene. While their aggressive, no-compromise attitude identified them as one of the instigators of the UK punk rock scene that followed, their idiosyncratic approach rarely followed any single musical genre and the group went on to explore a variety of musical styles, from New Wave, art rock and gothic rock through to the sophisticated pop of some of their 1980s output.
    They had major mainstream success with their single "Golden Brown". Their other hits include "No More Heroes", "Peaches", "Always the Sun" and "Skin Deep".
    The Stranglers' early sound was driven by Jean-Jacques Burnel's melodic bass, but also gave prominence to Dave Greenfield's keyboards at a time when the instrument was seen as unfashionable.[citation needed] Their early music was also characterised by the growling vocals and sometimes misanthropic lyrics of both Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell.[citation needed] Over time, their output gradually grew more refined and sophisticated. Summing up their contribution to popular music, critic Dave Thompson later wrote: "From bad-mannered yobs to purveyors of supreme pop delicacies, the group was responsible for music that may have been ugly and might have been crude – but it was never, ever boring."

    Having re read that can you now please give the real reason you couldn't manage to fit even 5 minutes of the band into 180 minutes of your documentary. You state that there were others who didn't 'make the cut' and that you can 'never include everything' - actually what you've done is blatantly ignored one of the most innovative and successful bands of the 70's and 80's which frankly you should be very embarrassed about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    It is a glaring omission Andy re the Stranglers.They may not have been everyone's idea of a punk band but so what,they were there and as such warranted a mention.Just two minutes in three hours would have sufficed.I look forward to a BBC documentary of the swinging sixties minus the Beatles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series and some of the archive material was stunning but like many I was baffled by the Stranglers omission. Maybe the BBC should make a documentary on the Stranglers, why not get John Robb to present it afterall your series took plenty of guidance from his excellent oral history of punk book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    I'm sorry Andy but that's a poor excuse (for leaving out the most successful British band of the punk movement). It would be nice if the real reasons could be published. Could it be something to do with the fact that a certain Tony Parsons (Who openly hated the band along with Julie Burchill & Jon Savage) was involved in the making of this programme? To be honest, the BBC have would be as well throwing this documentary in the bin as it's factually incorrect. It would be best (to save the BBC further embarrassment) too maybe avoid the likes of T. Parsons, J. Savage or J. Burchill with assisting with your Punk Documentaries for the future, as these bitter ex journos of the time seem to want too continue with their 35 year petty grievance of The Stranglers. Get a non-biased person to contribute the next time as I'm getting sick of posting the same comments every few years!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Lots of Stranglers related complaints here .. register with a certain Stranglers 'fanclub' forum and you'll see why. Lets all write in and complain, get a petition etc etc ... :-) LOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    why do the BBC still continue to ignore the contribution to that musical period of the Stranglers? Probable the best bridge between pub rock and punk. Ok keyboards were included but had more punk attitude than most others put together. Again, another poor attempt to wash over what really went on......'something better change'!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Dear Andy Dunn. Your credibilty is now completely blown with your 'wishy washy' and lame excuse for not including the Stranglers in your programme to a greater extent. You really don't have a clue about how influential they were at the time and what should have been a compelling programme turned out to be just what to expect from the BBC with regards to the facts about that period.

    looking forward to you picking up the out takes and making a 'real' documentary about those times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I missed the whole series due to work and sound on I player not working,but reading these comments makes me think perhaps I didnt miss much.As a 13 year old in 1977 there were 4 BIG British punk bands Sex Pistols,The Stranglers,The Clash,and The Damned and many more to follow,so the BBC not for the 1st time are just trying to rewrite history.Earlier this year I see The Stranglers in Portsmouth,outside were several local punks handing out leaflets for the forthcoming "Punk by the sea Festival",makes no sense if they were never a punk band!

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    To have a series of programmes spanning the years when The Stranglers were so relevant in so many ways ,and to omit them is a joke to be honest . They started in 74 in the pub rock scene ,they were embraced by the punk scene and then went forward through 78-81 with 4 totally different albums the last one spawning Golden Brown and who are you showing ? The Human League ! Get a Grip

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    In response to Realist_2 - there may well be a campaign by disgruntled fans but that doesn't change the facts. To omit the Stranglers - while spending a while in Ep 1 on the pubs where they had residencies - is either deliberate, or very sloppy journalism. Andy Dunn's responses are lame in the extreme. I am an experienced TV editor - in reviewing your 'story' and realising you'd left out one of the main players, it might have been good practice to go back and re-cut it. If you'd discovered the Beatles missing from a 60s documentary I'm pretty sure you'd have gone back and reworked things. Pathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    in response to realist_2. The fact that there has been such a feeling of injustice should make you realise that their may be some truth in what is being said with regards to The Stranglers. Do you work at the Beeb as your views would fit in wonderfully well in that institution!!! Making a programme about pub rock and its metamorphis into punk rock without mentioning the Stranglers with all their history on the circuit is, quite frankly, astonishingly unbelievable !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    By the way - I reckon over half the comments on this blog refer to the stranglers - most, if not all in a positive way for the band - without any encouragement from the bands website. ("Fanclub?"- nob!89) Says it all!


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