Somehow it would have been less offensive if there had been some deliberated thought behind this sartorial outrage - the glimmer of an idea about the fetishisation of evil, say - but as Paul Tickell's film showed, punk at its worst was little more than a suburban costume party, of the sort that ends up in weekend tabloids - Discontented from Bromley hanging round the King's Road, swapping clothes-talk and sexual partners. Malcolm McLaren, who has almost completed his slow metamorphosis into Sir Roy Strong, recalled the moment as an extended exercise in marketing.
At its best, though, punk was so raw and indifferent to established virtues that even the most practised unshockables were taken aback. It took nothing to make Bill Grundy blanch, but even John Peel (a truly honest man, and not one to rewrite history for the saving of face) confessed to having his conservative instincts aroused by the sight of punk girls parading in all their pierced glory.
He was just right, too, about the strange way in which disbelief gave way so rapidly to excitement - it's striking now to listen to "Anarchy in the UK", a record which finally seemed to break the incompetence barrier, and to recognise it without any qualms as a great rock 'n' roll record. Some retain their scepticism. Captain Sensible, catapulted from cleaning khazis at the Fairfield Halls to stardom in The Damned, recalled waiting in anxious anticipation for the Sex Pistols' first single. When they heard it everyone burst out laughing: "It sounded like some redundant old Bad Company out-take with old man Steptoe singing over the top." The Captain was very good too on the way in which the impact and persistance of punk surprised many of its principals - the stage names, he suggested, were not the result of an aesthetic programme but a practical necessity. Few of them thought people would want to listen to the music for more than a few weeks, so they had to keep signing on against the day when the bluff was called.
Paul Tickell's film began with some aggravating mannerisms and had also borrowed Adam Curtis's technique of commenting on historic material with the help of vintage thrillers - in this case Quatermass and the Pit , supplying some choice reaction shots to the reminiscences. "What can have made those marks?" asked a fictional police inspector, immediately after a fond recollection of a Bromley orgy, in which someone's unfortunate mother returned to find whip marks all across her bedroom ceiling. But "Punk and the Pistols" strengthened as it became engrossed enough in the story it was telling to lose its own self-consciousness.
Rwanda: the Bloody Tricolour (BBC1), a Panorama special, made a good case that France had much to be ashamed of in its involvement in that country - bolstering the regime even after its murderous instincts had become plain. It also made a good case that the French government, at least, has no intention of feeling any shame at all. How did Jean Christophe Mitterand (the President's son and head of the Africa Cell) respond to the suggestion that the French had favoured Francophone Hutus over English- speaking Tutsis, and so were partially responsible for genocide? "Bullshit," he said, "et je reponds en Anglais."Reuse content