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 101.

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

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    Comment number 102.

    Andy, I enjoyed the Punk Britannia series and thought at times it captured moments of the era very well, rekindling emotions that I felt at the time, i.e.; that a real catalyst for change - something new, exciting and different was happening. But I have to say that the series was fatally flawed with the omission of one of the most important bands from the era; 'The Stranglers'. To say that certain bands had to be omitted really is a poor excuse for leaving out one of the most successful and important bands from not only the punk era but also the pub-rock scene and post punk - the three areas your series covered. I do not write under pressure from a fan group, but purely through my own understanding of the genre having grown up as a teenager in that era. Surely the strength of feeling shown on these pages must count for something? In my opinion The Stranglers were the most interesting and intelligent of all the bands to emerge from that time both musically, lyrically and through their controversial 'direct action' antics. You could do a lot worse than consider them for a future documentary of their own - it would make for a fascinating spectacle. I for one would welcome it, and it would go a long way to redressing the balance of the history of the period as it really was.

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    Comment number 103.

    To Andy Dunn

    I understand You were actually born after Punk happened , hence why a lot of people that lived through or were affected by this music feel very very strongly about this. Mistake 1 I am NOT a member of the Stranglers fan club/forum but Why on earth was there no mention of this group? In either the Pub/Punk/or Post where their presence was overwhelming & it's a fact they were the best selling Punk group of the 1970's. Mistake 2 is not realizing John Peel's importance of the pre internet source he was. Mistake 3 no mention of Bootlegs/Home Taping/Better Badges the Liverpool Scene (Big in Japan/Teardrops/Wah etc) Mistake 4 No mention of Killing Joke/Spizzenergi/Bauhaus. My strongest suggestion is you RE EDIT the program when the BBC are bound to re show it again (I am very willing to help you as well) The biggest mistake is too much emphasis on the Political/Social effects of punk , please appreciate that some people did like the actual music & to name check Where's Captain Kirk or Where have All the Boot Boy's Gone for example would have counted for a lot. When you do REEDIT cut out the 80's pop footage & the "2012" footage/performance of Pop Group & PiL.Honest I am here to remedy this for you contact me. No Stranglers???

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    Comment number 104.

    Hi Andy, Which episode did the Stranglers appear? I seemed to have missed it or more to the point you did! Am i right? Thought so, would love to spend 5 minutes with you.

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    Comment number 105.

    Some great stuff on this series but I have to agree with many of the critics, particularly with regard to the influence of John Peel and the absence of The Stranglers. I was just entering middle school at the height of the punk/new wave era but I have a hazy recollection that the three huge bands that always seemed to be in the news were the Pistols, The Stranglers, and The Clash, with The Damned a little way behind. The Jam seemed to become important later on, with the new wave era, but never seemed fully part of the punk era. The Stranglers and the Pistols seemed to be the ones who were constantly in the news, achieving notoriety in almost equal measure early on, the Clash rapidly became the most overtly political though, by the time of Black and White and The Raven (78/79), the Stranglers were making some interesting observations too, and had toned down much of their misogynistic rubbish. It does seem to be a bizarre oversight - even if their interviews didn't make the grade - to miss out all mention of them, particularly in view of the numbers of albums shifted and chart success (and, as others have pointed out, their origins in the pub rock scene). It's a bit like making a documentary of the 60s and excluding the Stones. I think Peel - the other person whose contribution is played down far too much - gave them at least 2 sessions on his show.
    Aside from that, some fascinating stuff.

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    Comment number 106.

    So the BBC have managed to put together a programme totalling 3 hours in length that proved to be little more than a commercial vehicle for an ageing Punk to promote his band’s new album and an opportunity for various Punk musicians and associated management, journalists and commentators to indulge their collective fantasies and make believe that they are far more important than they really are. In this respect the contributions of Mark Perry and Nick Kent were risible and both these individuals are in dire need of gaining the perspective that their significance to the music industry is at best peripheral. The programme was inaccurate and misleading in several important respects and painted a picture of the era that few who were around at that time could recognise.

    The failure to make any mention of the Stranglers can only be explained by the fact that their story doesn’t fit in with the fantasy that the programme makers were trying to convey. The Stranglers were significantly older and more musically accomplished than their Punk contempories (which probably explains why they were ultimately more successful and enjoyed greater longevity) and only used the ‘Punk’ label to get a record deal and the increased level of attention and promotion that goes with that. I’m sure the programme makers would have loved to have included interview footage with any one of Hugh Cornwell, JJ Burnel, Dave Greenfield or Jet Black if they could have persuaded them to say what they wanted them to say. Their absence from this programme leaves a gaping hole in the middle of it and can only be explained by their existence fundamentally undermining the makers’ intentions.

    The continuing lionisation of Lydon is particularly hard to understand as he has never been anything more than a self-confessed irritant. The fact that when he isn’t being pestered by BBC programme makers Lydon can most often be seen selling butter suggests that he takes himself far less seriously than the halfwits responsible for ‘Punk Britannia’ who probably as I write are planning 3 one hour programmes to explain how Glam Rock was responsible for the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

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    Comment number 107.

    Interesting quote from the guy that first signed The Stranglers in 1976 ( taken from the official site)

    "Q - When did you first catch them live?

    I can’t remember which Roundhouse one it was, either the Patti Smith (16th/17th May ’76) or the Flaming Groovies/Ramones one (4th July ’76). There were also gigs at the Red Cow and the Nashville, which Albion used to book. I was a bit confused at the outset of punk rock as The Stranglers didn’t quite fit in with the scene."

    Kind of fits in with the BBC's views on the subject.

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    Comment number 108.

    You do know that JL will be laughing his nads off all the way to the bank as he's managed to fleece so many people over the years. I bought the Pistols 1st & only real album - loved it & still do. However the old rascal has lost more than just a little credibility. The ommission of the stranglers is a huge mistake as so many have pointed out, as is John Peel. Let's be honest though it wasn't a "movement" as Mclaren may have had the world believe it was just a reaction to the state of affairs at the time in terms of dire music and a dire future for most. All those who hang on JL's everyword may do well to remember one of his earlier obsevations which went along the lines of - "i didn't open the door for others to copy me - I opened it for people to create something different" - apologies to those anoracks who will no doubt correct me in regards to the quote. However, here we are some 25 years later to find him promoting PiLS latest album through the BBC which has a remarkably familiar sound to that of say...metal box for example. Loads of bands attached themselves or were at the incarnation of the so called punk movement but very few - as predicted - lasted very long or are indeed still going. Some though have and have found themselves a different sound or new direction. The Stranglers have on several ocassions and are still creating different stuff all the time. It's also noteable that there was very little mention of Sensible & Co who were actually the first to get a record out, split up, reform, go in different directions and also tell everyone the truth - they were after the money & the girls! Did the Slits get much airtime? I'm not a massive fan but they were undoubtedly there & quite an influence on many. Anyway, as someone once allegedly said "it's just another kind of blues"

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    Comment number 109.

    I'm sure Andy has got the message by now [Andy?] but I may as well continue the main theme of this anyway being the pitiful omission of the Stranglers and others from the 180 minute Punk Britannia documentary [which to be absolutely clear supposedly covered pre punk, punk and post punk to avoid any 'genre' arguments].
    Last night the BBC screened "Sounds of the 70s 2 : Punk - Anarchy on the BBC."
    The programme information on BBC I Player is as follows:-

    "Featuring classic performances from the punk stars of the 70s, including all the anarchy and chaos. Featuring performances from the Stranglers and other legendary acts. The late 70s had parents from all over the UK fearing one particular four letter word... punk. With anarchy spreading across the nation, the BBC managed to capture and sometimes contain some of the chaotic energy of these iconic moments in its studios. This episode provides another chance to jump up and down on the couch and pogo to performances from the Stranglers, the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Jam, Undertones, the Rezillos, Buzzcocks, the Clash, X-Ray Spex and Joy Division."

    These are the BBC's words, not mine.
    The programme opened with The Stranglers playing No More Heroes, followed by The Damned's New Rose and the Pistols doing Anarchy. A really excellent punk programme also included The Undertones doing Teenage Kicks referencing John Peel's favourite ever song [both also conspicuous by their absence on Punk Britannia], The Clash, The Jam, Buzzcocks, X Ray Spex and others - miraculously the BBC managed to fit all of this into just 29 minutes.
    It's a shame Andy that you didn't manage to watch this programme before completing your documentary.

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    Comment number 110.

    to realist-2, maybe you should put an 'un' infront of your user name as you seem to be unaware of the importance of 'non-prescribed' acceptable bands from that period.

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    Comment number 111.

    @Realist_2 whether the stranglers were classed as punk or aging pub rockers is irrelevant, the fact is they sold a shed load of records, played a ton of gigs and were just as important as other bands that featured prominently in the programme.

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    Comment number 112.


    OK not every band of the time can be featured but at least feature the main players. Punk or not, The Stranglers were one of the key bands of the time and should have featured.

    Andy Dunn, the director of the first episode comment "....they just didn’t ‘fit’ the story at the various points they could have been featured." is a nonsense.

    They were already playing the pub rock scene well before punk kicked off AND survived the era because they are a talent and quality live act, the recent tour being testament to that.

    BBC / Andy Dunn redeem yourself, ...after watching the superb "We Who Wait: The Adverts and TV Smith" and as the band approach 40 years in the
    business, can we have a similar dedicated programme on The Stranglers please? ....who have more history than all the featured bands on
    Punk Britannia combined.


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