Writing about Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the world Cup Final, or rather about the non-appearance of the piece of film that disproved his goal, reminded me of another moment, several years later, which played a much larger role in shaping me as the cynical character that I have been for most of my adult life.
Though the subject was somewhat trivial in itself, it opened my eyes to the fact that there is an agenda in the Press, and that we cannot trust what we read or hear or see. Given that that is how we learn about the world around us, to understand that the Press can and will lie, blatantly, is a moment of substantial disillusion.
This came about in 1977. I had completed my Law Degree the previous summer, turned twenty-one in the November and taken and passed six of the seven professional exams I needed to Pass in order to become a solicitor. What I hadn’t yet done, and which would take almost another year to even commence, was secure the Articles of Clerkship – the equivalent of an Apprenticeship – necessary to qualify as a Solicitor.
In the meantime, I was unemployed, a statistic. I lived at home, waited for the Law Society Gazette every week, combed it for potential jobs, wrote letters of application and, every now and then, went on interviews. I didn’t have or do much more. I existed on Supplementary Benefit, which was Unemployment Benefit for those of us who hadn’t yet worked for a living. Perhaps not at that time, but before long, I would walk to and from Matthews Lane, in Levenshulme, to sign on every Monday morning. I was young, I was fit, it saved on bus fares, but mainly it took the best part of two hours each way so it used up half a day of my week.
Apart from being a couple of years older, decidedly middle-class and having a University Degree, I was the natural audience for punk music. No Future. And I was slowly coming round to liking the music itself.
I’d hated it at first, a combination of the implacable, violent loathing for it in the Press, starting from the infamous Sex Pistols’ appearance on The Bill Grundy Show, and the enthusiastic adoption of the genre in the New Musical Express. It was a complete departure from the music I was embracing in 1976: post-Prog, American rock, 10cc and the first stirrings of the Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac (wow, she was hot!).
But gradually, I started to hear a few punk songs, every now and then. I didn’t take to the singing, rough, raucous, shouty, but the energy of the music, it’s speed, it’s directness, it’s primitive melodies. Each one I heard appealed to something in me, the part of me that has always responded to simple, direct pop/rock.
It must have been around the back half of May, maybe the beginning of June. I was listening to Manchester’s commercial radio station, Piccadilly Radio, which had become my station of choice from its set-up in April 1974. The lunchtime news started at, IIRC, 12.45pm, which usually meant that I switched off: I was not a newsfiend in those days.
But the opening item was about the Sex Pistols, and their controversial new single, ‘God Save The Queen’. The headlines were damning: Sex Pistols release record insulting the Queen, calling her a moron. This, you will recall, in Silver Jubilee Year, and pretty close to the date itself.
To comment on the allegations, Piccadilly had been out and interviewed a number of local punks. Without fail, they were polite, reasonable, intelligent and articulate. Each and every one of them pointed out that the song says no such thing, that the Queen isn’t being addressed personally, that she’s a symbol of the system in England, and that the song is addressing ordinary working class kids who have been brought up in a system that deliberately restricts them: they are the ‘morons’, the potential H-Bombs.
What they said was both logical and obviously correct if you listened to the words. I relaxed, seeing the case proven. This was the last few moments of my innocence, my naivete. The piece reached its end, the case demolished. The outro was ‘Sex Pistols release record insulting the Queen, calling her a moron.’
Sometimes, I look back and wonder that I had lasted that long, had reached the age of nearly twenty-one and a half, whilst believing that what i was told about the world around me was true, was honest, was not distorted by bias. Was not a pack of lies. Now, though, I had had an example of the Press blatantly telling their public something that just wasn’t true.
Innocence is like virginity (and don’t worry, you’re not getting that story, that matters only to me and her): you can only lose it once. The interpretation of the set of punk lyrics is a very small thing over which to learn that you can’t trust the Press, that it will lie and cheat and distort in favour of its own agenda, and that you can never be sure of anything that you read, hear or see, but that’s the way it was with me.
That manipulation has only increased in recent years, in recent decades. To give but one current example: the Press reported on Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith’s rally in Liverpool on Saturday with photos showing a mass attendance, the crowds pressed together. You have to go actively looking for yourself to find the photos that demonstrate that Smith’s rally atttracted a couple of hundred people, who crowded into a very small space for selectively posed pictures implying a greater reality. Meanwhile, in Hull, Jeremy Corbyn’s under-reported rally attracted thousands, most of whom looked like ordinary men and women, of all classes, with a complete absence of fanaticism (nobody wore a black hood and carried a big round black fuse-spitting bomb marked ‘Bomb’).
But the Press aren’t in the business of printing what really happens. Smith is the anti-Corbyn so, whatever his qualities or failings, he will be portrayed as a massively popular figure whilst a massively popular figure opposed by the Press will be demonised at every turn, and there will be nothing allowed to suggest that he even has any qualities.
John Lydon to Jeremy Corbyn. People, we are being lied to. Those who have decided that they own this country, that it is their’s to do with as suits them, will not tell you the truth. They will only ever tell you what it benefits them to say. I learned that listening to a Commercial Radio Station one lunchtime over forty years ago. Not that it’s ever done me any good.