The Sex Pistols were just another band in the early British punk scene in 1976. They had been signed to EMI, the powerhouse label of megastars Queen, and were slowly building a following with their aggressive live shows. Nevertheless, they were still an underground punk band.
All of that changed when they appeared on Thames Television's Today, a live interview show hosted by Bill Grundy, a man with a scandalous reputation. Grundy's disdain for the band escalated into the most profanity-laden exchange that any Briton had seen on their telly. The culture clash between Grundy and the predominantly teenaged group was immediate, as the two sides egged each other on and taunted one another.
With the band, Grundy bit off more than he could chew. After the interview aired, the station was flooded with complaints, and both the band's and Grundy's careers were transformed. And it escalated the antagonism between young musicians with rising rebellious streaks and their more established counterparts. But more than anything, it galvanized the punk movement and dragged it, kicking and screaming, into the national consciousness.
Queen were supposed to be Bill Grundy's rock star guests on the Today show in December 1976. At the time, everybody knew and loved Queen, as their music was accessible and innovative. Mercury developed a painful toothache, however, and canceled the interview to get it treated.
Queen's label, EMI, suggested the punk rockers to the show's desperate producers and they agreed, inviting them to perform on live television.
Although the band was not yet nationally recognized, they had a devoted fanbase in the underground punk scene. Most of their entourage for the interview was made up of the "Bromley Contingent," a group of outrageous teenagers devoted to the band. One of these teenagers was Susan Ballion, who later became Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Sioux told Bill Grundy she had always wanted to meet him, and he fired back that maybe they could "meet afterwards." This aggravated guitarist Steve Jones, who replied, "You dirty sod. You dirty old man!"
Grundy encouraged Jones to keep talking and "say something outrageous." So he did: "You dirty b*stard. You dirty f*cker. What a f*cking rotter."
Bill Grundy had made something of a career out of his lovable lush persona. When he introduced the band, he quipped "They're as [loaded] as I am." The members maintained that Grundy was, in fact, intoxicated during the interview.
Grundy objected to this, however, saying, "You cannot do a job like I do without being sober" and that his reputation as "the greatest drunk in the world" was nothing more than an image.
The acrimony between the band and Bill Grundy was palpable. Grundy goaded the members and contrasted them with Beethoven and Mozart, to which Johnny Rotten muttered the word "sh*t" under his breath. Grundy pushed Rotten, asking him to repeat himself, which he did.
A few minutes later, the tension escalated and Grundy continued to press the band until the explicit exchange revolving around Sioux ended the interview.
Interestingly, guitarist Steve Jones used the word "f*ck" earlier in the interview, but no one noticed because of Grundy's pestering.