The Sex Pistols appearance on Today with Bill Grundy is one of the most notorious band interviews of all time. Broadcast on the 1st of December 1976, it was only two and a half minutes in duration but is credited with signalling both the advent of the punk movement and the death of Grundy’s career.
The interview is what truly cemented the Sex Pistols’ infamy and confirmed to the mainstream the terrifying whispers they had heard and the tales they had read in their broadsheets of a new snarling youth sub-culture. Hordes of leather-clad punks were knocking at the gates of the inertia drenched United Kingdom.
On the other hand, it was also the first time that Sex Pistols were exposed to a broader audience, and those who hadn’t yet heard of them were turned onto their raucous brand of punk. This was the first time that the punk caricatures of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook were broadcast into the homes of everyday Britons. Aside from this, the interview was also significant for another reason.
Behind the band appeared four members of their entourage. These supporting figures were also known in the London punk scene as part of the large ‘Bromley Contingent’. The four that supported Sex Pistols’ notorious turn were Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin, Simon ‘Boy’ Barker and Simone Thomas.
By this point, Siouxsie Sioux and Severin had already formed the band Siouxsie and the Banshees and had debuted that September at the iconic 100 Club Punk Festival, with a then-unknown Sid Vicious on drums. After the notoriety of the Grundy interview, Sioux would distance herself from the Sex Pistols entourage and concentrate fully on becoming the high priestess of goth that we know her to be today. In many ways, without the embarrassment she felt after her appearance alongside the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees might not have taken off. The implications of this for music and culture are immense.
Whilst it makes for slightly painful watching, Sex Pistols’ interview with Bill Grundy is also one of the most iconic television appearances in history. Famously, Grundy introduces the unruly rabble by stating “they are as drunk as I am”, a line that Grundy would find himself defending for the rest of his life, claiming that he wasn’t actually drunk. Given his well-known penchant for a tipple, his argument was hard to accept.
There’s a strange atmosphere that permeates the interview, with both sides apparently trying to goad each other into a very public faux pas. Grundy labels the band “that group” and constantly speaks to the camera instead of directly addressing the interviewees, clearly upset that Queen didn’t join him as had been planned. He attempts to poke holes in their punk beliefs by inferring hypocrisy with regard to their record deal.
His prying didn’t work though, and it resulted in Grundy getting pie on his face. Rotten, Jones, and Cook looked uninterested from the outset, and the responses he got from Matlock were similar to those of a teacher trying to get an apathetic student to participate. Grundy asks the band: “I am told… that that group… have received £40,000 from record company… Doesn’t that seem, uh, to be slightly opposed to your anti-materialistic view of life?” To which, Matlock responds swiftly: “No, the more the merrier.”
Steve Jones butts in with a “We f*ckin’ spent it ain’t we?” to which the unphased Grundy responds, “I don’t know, have you?” Following, there’s the section where Grundy asks the band the somewhat opaque question of “are you serious?” which he relates to their music. He facetiously compares them to classical composers such as Beethoven and Mozart, which coaxes Rotten into the ring.
Rotten responds in a typically sardonic manner that would underline his entire career, “They’re all heroes of ours, ain’t they?”. And when prompted by Grundy further, he said, “Oh yes, they’re wonderful people, they really turn us on!” The disdain is palpable across every single syllable.
Backed into a corner by his own stupid questions and the lightning-quick, semi-incomprehensible responses of the Sex Pistols, Grundy’s next question invites chaos. He asks Rotten, “what if they turn other people on?” to which Lydon remarks, “that’s just their tough shit!” It was a simple four-letter word but on the British TV airwaves, it was enough to spark outrage.
Asked to repeat himself by Grundy, who again cuts a figure of a supply teacher losing control of a class, Lydon defiantly says: “Nothing, rude word! Next question.” Grundy then proceeds with the interview after quipping “Good heavens, you frighten me to death”, amidst comments from Matlock about him resembling a dad or grandad.
Noticing that the entourage hasn’t yet said anything, Grundy turns to those standing behind the band. He asks Sioux and Thomas, “What about you girls, behind? Are you worried, or are you just enjoying yourself?” Siouxsie responds with “enjoying myself”.
Then it gets a bit weird. The old Grundy, who was by this point in his ’50s, asks her, “are you?”, to which she and Thomas both agree faintly. Then the host says, “Ah, that’s what I thought you were doing.” Given the context of the time, and the sexual discrepancies of some of those involved in TV back then, this clearly flubbed remark from Grundy still sends a chill down the spine; it is so cringy.
It gets worse. Sioux then says in shy earnest, “I’ve always wanted to meet you”, to which Grundy, seemingly beside himself at the praise, responds half-jokingly, “Did you really? We’ll meet afterwards, shall we?”
The band then interpret this as sexual innuendo, and Jones, dressed in his t-shirt adorned with a pair of breasts calls him a “dirty sod” and a “dirty old man”. Knowing that the show was coming to a close, Grundy gave Jones one last poke and challenged him to “say something outrageous.” Jones, the nihilistic bulldog of the band, happily acquiesces with calls of “dirty bastard” and “dirty fucker”. When Grundy remarks, “what a clever boy!”, Jones appends with “what a fucking rotter!”, and Grundy can be seen mouthing “oh shit” as the credits roll and the group start dancing to the robotic ’70s theme tune.
Everybody involved, and everybody watching it on TV could not believe what they had just witnessed. Given it was the age where swearing was massively frowned upon, it was picked up by the tabloids and became a national scandal. Grundy was suspended for two weeks for a “gross error of judgement” and “inexcusably sloppy journalism”.
The television regulator of the time, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, accepted the argument of the Thames Television franchise that Grundy could not have prevented the incident. Defending himself, Grundy said that from the inception, he had attempted “to prove that these louts were a foul-mouthed set of yobs. And that is what I did prove”.
Regardless of what Grundy or anybody else thought, Today was cancelled only two months later. Whether society wanted it or not, punk was here to stay, and the effects of this notorious interview would reverberate through popular culture for the next 45 years.
Watch the clip below.