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December 21, 2013 9:56 AM Morning video: how the Sex Pisols saved Christmas — by standing in solidarity with striking workers

By Kathleen Geier

“Heartwarming” and “family-friendly” are two concepts that don’t generally appear in the same sentence — or even in the same mental/cultural universe — as the Sex Pistols.

Readers, I am about to tell you a story that will change all that.

Cast your mind back to December 1977, At that time, the Sex Pistols were the most reviled rock band in English history — banned by the BBC and from most performing venues, sensationalized by the British tabloids (“The Filth and the Fury!” screamed an infamous Daily Mirror headline), even investigated by the MI5, Britain’s central intelligence domestic counter-intelligence and security agency.

At the same time, as Christmas approached in Huddersfield, in the north of England, firefighters were heading into the sixth week of a strike. The website Dangerous Minds fills in the background:

For two years, the fire fighters had waited for the Labour government to negotiate a pay raise, but nothing had happened. As the cost of food, fuel and taxes skyrocketed, the pay-in-the-pocket of the average worker was worthless. Therefore, a ballot of the 30,000 strong Fire Brigades Union was held, which received 97.5% support for strike action. On the 14th November, 1977, the fire fighter’s strike began.

It was looking like the striking workers and their families weren’t going to have much a Christmas that year. Workers were earning no wages and couldn’t even pay their bills, so how were they going to pony up the money for Christmas presents? One of the firefighters’ children remembered, “our parents were struggling and there were arguments, bills weren’t getting paid…”

This is where the Sex Pistols came in. It’s unclear how it came about, but the Pistols arranged to play a benefit show on Christmas day for the striking firefighters and their families. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the impetus came from John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten, because the most striking characteristic of his politics has always been his strong sense of class consciousness and solidarity with his working class Irish roots.

Here’s how two people who attended the show as children remembered it as adults:

Lindsay: “I was overwhelmed with everything. There were tables of fruit, pomegranates and oranges. It was absolutely fantastic, what they put on for us.”
Craig: “The main thing I remember is the DJ handing out things, skateboards and that sort of thing. Then I remember Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious just walking about. [Snip]
Lindsay: “Skateboards were just coming into fashion and they were REALLY expensive. There was a bike as well, just one bike that the Pistols gave away.”

There were other memories, too — of Sid Vicious looking “a bit drugged up;” Sid spitting on the children and Johnny telling him to stop because they weren’t just kids, not punks; the Pistols performing “Bodies” but eliminating the swear words “because of the children”; a cake being served and Johnny putting his head in it.

Lindsay Mallinson, one of the people quoted above, says the concert turned out be “one of THE best Christmas Days we’ve ever had.” Sadly, the gigs at Huddersfield (in addition to the benefit, there was also a regular evening show) turned out to be the Pistols’ last performances in the U.K. In the space of a little over a year, the band broke up and Sid killed Nancy before succumbing to a drug overdose.

But the Huddersfield Christmas show stands as a high point, before it all fell apart. And for the lucky children who attended, their Very Sex Pistols Christmas turned out to be one of the best Yuletides ever.

Below is a video about the concert. For more, check out this excellent post on the great website Dangerous Minds.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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