Why don't you try asking an intelligent question?
Fodderstompf, March 2008
© 2008 Fodderstompf.com
appearance on Tyne Tees, 'Check it Out' TV show in July 1979 is the
now the stuff of legend. Like all legends, only part of it is true,
the rest has either been misunderstood or blown out of all proportion.
The interview – and proceeding events – need
to be properly documented; and put into full context…
Unfortunately, a complete video of the appearance is not known to be in public circulation; and very few people can claim to have seen it. Myself included. Therefor, Fodderstompf has attempted to produce a full transcript from the various audio and video recordings available. To accompany the transcription we have also decided to look at the events surrounding the show in more detail. However, I'd like to preface this article with the following disclaimer!
Now, lets be honest about this, as funny as it is to watch, the whole thing was just a pathetic set-up by a careerist for his silly regional TV show. All in the sad attempt to provoke another Bill Grundy. The fact that nearly 30 years later it still gets talked about, proves to some extent they probably got their wish. But have no doubt about it. On the day they lost. PiL quite rightly tore them to shreds…
"Public Image. We do not like cheap publicity, pseudo gimmicks, condescension, and crawling. And that's what was expected from us tonight. Was it not? - John Lydon
In mid 1979 PiL were invited to appear on a new "youth" TV show in the North East of England called 'Check it Out'. Although initially sceptical, they eventually agreed when the producers offered to let them play live and include an interview with the whole band; not just John Lydon. PiL had a favourable experience the previous month with Granada TV – and the resulting Russell Club show – and were no doubt keen to expose the band's music to as many people as possible in TV land. Remember, at this point they hadn't really been given much television. They probably also needed the money; what little there was…
PiL arrived in Newcastle to pre-record their performance on Monday, July 2nd 1979, with the show to be transmitted the following night at 11pm. They were soon to discover the producers had a hidden agenda. And had overlooked to tell them the 30 minute show was actually a special on tracing the development of youth culture over the previous 25 years, "from Teds to Punks". They never had any interest in PiL, only using Johnny Rotten…
Speaking to Danny Baker in NME the following week Jeannette Lee explained: "At first we were only to do a live set, but later we said an interview was on provided they didn't just want more prattle about the Pistols – which, as you know, they're all absolutely sick to death of reliving. Well, Tyne Tees said they only wanted to talk to John, so we kind of guessed the kind of thing they were hoping for, and said it wasn't on. Eventually they consented to interviewing the whole band but still only posed the same old questions to John…"
The same NME article also reports PiL performed their new single 'Death Disco' along with (the as yet unreleased) 'Chant'. However, only 'Chant' was ever aired. The following day's local press – where the appearance made front page headline news – first stated this.
Looking at the studio you know it could only ever be British 'Yoof' TV. Spray painted walls, youth-club posters, unfashionable clothes, and zero credibility. A tacky mixture of 'Why Don't You' and 'Magpie' (apologies to readers outside the UK). TV for teenagers, made by middle-aged producers, presented by professional unprofessional's; straight out of media cloning school. PiL must have feared the worst as soon as they arrived.
"In Part 2 we'll be featuring Johnny Rotten's new group Public Image Limited and talking to them in the studio…"
PiL's segment begins with the live version of 'Chant'. John Lydon announces "We're back for the nice people…" An unshaven, headphoned Wobble sits smirking – and after getting the nod – a young, nervous looking Keith prowls centre stage. His guitar wailing and screeching as Lydon screams over him; obligatory back to camera. On the face of it PiL seem in reasonably good spirits (for PiL!).
However, it later transpires they weren't given proper monitors – hence all the headphones – and tensions are already strained. It does have to be said the performance is a bit of a rabble in places, but 'Chant' was always PiL's noisy punky-piss-take. And it is a glorious racket! Lydon even quips at the end, "And we get paid for this!"
It's not until PiL join presenters Chris Cowey & Lyn Spencer that the charade really begins to unfold. The presenters had only wanted to interview Wobble & Lydon. But as agreed, PiL insisted on the whole band. There are only two seats: Wobble and Lydon on either side; Keith perched in the middle on adjoining arms; while Richard Dudanski is left to crouch behind them. PiL already look like riled. They know something isn't right. Patience is fast running out.
On hearing the first question, "Where did you get the name Public Image Limited from?" it's obvious the – naive at best – bumbling presenters know little or nothing about PiL. They very quickly skip to the main event: a pre-recorded video clip of presenter Chris Cowey interviewing Mond Cowie from the Angelic Upstarts (Cowey/Cowie surely just a coincidence) as they walk round the streets of Newcastle. Note: It's probably worth emphasising that it is guitarist Mond and not singer Mensi as is often reported. Additional Note: Apparently the Angelic Upstarts were a band.
Having obviously been tipped off PiL are on the show, Mond launches straight into a personal attack on Lydon and PiL. He seems more interested in trying to show-off than trying to say anything constructive: "I'd like to state first of all, I'm much better looking than Johnny Rotten…". He then goes on to say that Lydon is finished, and that PiL are the "worst band that have ever came about…". Blah, blah, blah…
While his tirade is in full flow a sneaky split-screen shows an underwhelmed John Lydon back in the studio. He is clearly unhappy, but has not lost his temper. When the action returns to the studio you hear him patiently telling the presenters to stop. Wobble who looks to have departed returns to the set.
Lydon's response to the provocation is controlled and cutting, "Look, I don't have to explain myself to anybody, and I ain't gonna really bother… We're facing a cheapskate comedy interrogation act and it just ain't on pal. It's a joke. It's a farce…" Then after letting a swear word let slip he decides enough is enough, removes his microphone and slowly walks off.
When challenged by Keith if they intend to continue, Chris Cowey counters by asking if the band want to "follow the leader". Maybe not the wisest thing to say to PiL. Cowey – who is already white as a sheet, and acting extremely sheepish in Wobble's sunglassed glare – leaps at the chance of canceling the interview when prompted by Lyn Spencer. Amid screams of "cop-out" from Keith and Wobble. The rest of the proceedings are bleeped out as Wobble tells the presenters exactly what he thinks. Safe to say it's not wholly complimentary.
After the so-called interview the producers tried to claim PiL were removed from the studio by security. A claim totally dismissed by Jeannette Lee to Danny Baker, "There was no question of being 'escorted out' – in fact they became pathetic, and couldn't apologise enough, saying how they'd get us a drink. You can understand that the whole cheap affair was an attempt to goad John into doing his nut and giving the show a great deal of publicity. It was sickening."
There's no doubt PiL could have an awkward streak, but you would be hard pushed to pick fault with their behaviour. Insisting the whole band were interviewed – as agreed – is hardly unreasonable. It was a set-up from start to finish. A total stitch up. Worse still, poorly executed. The only people made to look foolish were the presenters and their co-conspirator (who incidentally later re-appeared on the show a few weeks later along with Pauline Murray of Penetration…).
"Why don't you try asking an intelligent question?
Try and think of one. If you've ever asked one in your life…" -
As a footnote, it's probably worth noting that Lyn Spencer did manage to carve out some sort of career as a local TV presenter. While Chris Cowey went onto produce shows like 'Top of the Pops' for BBC, and more recently 'Soapstar Superstar' for ITV. Call me cynical, but I think this may actually explain why edited clips of the show still appear from time to time… And as for (Des)Mond? Well, he's still a really down to earth person…
As the show was pre-recorded
the previous day, the original broadcast was already censored when
first transmitted on Tuesday, July, 3rd 1979. Therefor, ALL subsequent
clips/edits are bleeped. Shortly after its original broadcast the full
show was repeated by Tyne Tees, but was never shown nationally.
In February 1986 'The Tube' showed a 3 minute edit; which was widely recorded and distributed by fans (and is currently on YouTube). Various clips of the show later turned up in several 'best of/worst of TV' shows; along with a 2001 ITV documentary series on people reacting under pressure called 'Red Mist'. As recently as 2006 it was voted the 3rd best-ever rock interview by archive service ITN Source; who have the show in their online footage archive. Unfortunately the service is not open to the public.
A complete audio
exist, but to untrained ears, is largely inaudible. It took two people,
and a great deal of patience to transcribe it
for Fodderstompf! "And
we don't get paid for this!"
It goes without saying that we'd love to see the FULL version if anyone out there in internet-land has it. Well, it's worth a try… (We're also still looking for the Granada TV appearance, June 18th 1979…)
August 2008 Update: The second half
of the interview is available FREE in high quality via archive music
video streaming website
With thanks to James T MacGregor & Mark Woodley
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Check it Out, July 2nd, 1979 © courtesy Tyne Tees