I had tickets to see the Sex Pistols at Derby Kings Hall on 3rd December 1976 but this concert , and most of the band’s tour, was cancelled in the wake of the furore over the band’s infamous TV interview with Bill Grundy two days before.
I find it ironic that Derby was the venue for BBC’s Question Time where one time ‘enemy of the state’ Johnny Rotten (now plain John Lydon) was invited to air his opinions on topical current affairs issues.
Among the weighty subjects debated were bank fraud, the British citizenship test, proposed cuts in the UK armed forces, drug laws and whether Moors murderer Ian Brady should be allowed to starve himself to death in prison.
In true democratic fashion, Lydon was joined on the panel of ‘experts’ by one MP from each of the main parties and journalist Dominic Lawson. He was dressed in a designer boiler suit to denote his role as the wild card of the bunch, a calculated risk on the part of the Beeb to boost ratings and provide some much-needed contrast to the tedious party political mudslinging.
Lydon is smart and articulate so revels in being given a platform like this. Here, and on the latest PIL album, he milks his public persona as a working class oik from Finsbury Park who calls a spade a spade and doesn’t care who he offends in the process.
Despite this, he was on his best behaviour, mostly respecting the panel rules and not saying any rude words.
The perfect subject for him was that relating to fraudulent bankers. Here he could be the spokesperson for the oppressed and give full vent to his loathing for the cheats, liars and crooks of the fascist regime, aka the political establishment.
Since he burst on the scene in 1976, Rotten/Lydon has always maintained a consistent libertarian stance that people must think for themselves and avoid the herd instinct at all costs.
This has slowly helped him achieve his current status of national treasure. On Question Time, Lydon spoke in support of the troops and declared passionately that racial and cultural diversity is part of what puts the great in Britain.
Where he was well out of his depth was on the drugs question. Conservative back bencher Louise Mensch stole the limelight here by speaking of her own regret of using a Class A substance (she refused to say which) and being firmly opposed to the legalisation of ‘soft’ drugs. She got warm applause for this view and was backed up by social workers who spoke of their traumatic experiences with young addicts.
Lydon has never glamorized the use of drugs but it was more than his reputation was worth to be seen as siding with the ‘get tough’ advocates. The upshot of his argument was that kids need to be informed on the effects (both good and bad) of all narcotics so that they can make rational choices.
Lydon is a diehard conspiracy theorist and I think he is right to imply that the pillars of the establishment maintain their authority by keeping the lumpen proletariat doped with religion, misinformation and TV.
At the same time the war on drugs is far more complex than his weak ‘don’t die of ignorance’ line.
You have to admire Lydon’s savvy but sadly, and inevitably, he wasn’t able to convince anyone that anarchy in the UK is anything but a pipe dream.
- John Lydon – John Lydon Argues For Legalisation Of Drugs On Tv (contactmusic.com)
- John Lydon keeps airwaves clean during Question Time performance (independent.co.uk)
- John Lydon fails to bring anarchy to Question Time (guardian.co.uk)
- John Lydon’s ‘spiteful’ Question Time debut backfires on BBC (theweek.co.uk)
- Rabble-rouser, idealist, self-parody… On Question Time we saw John Lydon in all his guises (mirror.co.uk)