Will Self on God Save the Queen/Sex Pistols

In the summer of 1977 I was 15 years old and wore an old tropical linen jacket I’d bought in a charity shop for a quid. It wasn’t so much off-white as ruinous, and it matched the colour of my shoes — winkle-pickers I’d painted myself using some kind of weird leather paint. Naturally I had to lie on my skinny rump to force my El Greco feet through the eight-inch ankles of my drainpipe jeans. Given all this sartorial mayhem it goes without saying that I absolutely concurred with the Sex Pistol’s front man, Johnny Rotten, when he sang, “God save the queen / The fascist regime”. Admittedly the causal connective ‘it’s’ was lost in all the filth and the fury of his delivery, but we knew what he meant.

Actually, I can barely remember the circumstantial pomp that went into the celebration of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, all I can recall is the Sex Pistols’ treasonable ditty, and the fact that it was banned from being played on the radio. At least I’m certain it was banned from the BBC’s Radio 1. I’m not so sure about the commercial stations, but then Britain in the late 1970s still had the anomalous character of a socialist democracy with a vertiginous class system; an anomaly of which the state broadcaster was a key component.

Actually, being banned by the BBC wasn’t that crushing a piece of censorship; other far more anodyne ditties used to be blanked from the charts, or have their lyrics bleeped out by reason of their mild smuttiness. And of course, like all censorship, ridding the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” from the airwaves only ensured its fizzing presence in the brainwaves of disaffected youth. Malcolm McLaren, the band’s Situationist-inspired manager, got reams of publicity from the banning, together with a special cruise he organised on the day of the Jubilee, during which the band were to blast Parliament with their subversive sounds.

This is an extract from Smashed Hits 2.0, the new issue of Index on Censorship, out now. To read the rest of the article go to www.indexoncensorship.org/subscribe.

Will Self’s novels, short story collections and non-fiction include The Book of Dave (Viking) and The Butt (Bloomsbury)

To listen to contributors’ playlists go to indexoncensorship.org/music