Toppling statues and comedians – the new Punk Rock?

toppling statues

In the second half of the 1970s, Punk Rock exploded into our teenage lives as Boomers. It lifted two unpatriotic fingers up at the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations. Pilloried pop stars way beyond their sell-by date as “dinosaurs”. And stuck the boot into a whole generation of comedians who had traded on racist or lame humour.

So, is the current toppling of statues and comedians just another Punk Rock explosion?

History repeats itself, first time as tragedy and second time as farce. So wrote Karl Marx. Watching the current purge of comedians from YouTube and Netflix reminds me of the death knell that Punk sounded for many cultural icons in the 70s. Punk Rock was an aggressive cultural laxative that flushed out a lot of rottenness by making it look pathetic. Its influence swept across music, the arts, comedy and fashion.

Punk Rock pillories old pop stars

On the music scene, we had one famous pop star who had drunkenly endorsed the racist politician Enoch Powell at a gig. Look it up on Google. I’m not getting sued. Others had played gigs in apartheid-ruled South Africa. While plenty more popsters had just become complacent and very rich with it.

Punk declared Year Zero in music. And I remember going down to Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow and begging the owner to give me a pittance for my early 70s prog rock, triple-sleeve LPs so I could buy some punk albums. You almost had to deny having ever listened to certain bands. And I remember the lead singer of Yes – replete with kaftan and flares – asking on the front cover of Melody Maker why he was hated so much.

Punk Rock gave birth to alternative comedy

The new punk purge today is claiming the scalps of some comedians, over doing “blackface” for example. It all seems terribly unreasonable to those comics who’re now seeing their shows coming off Netflix and YouTube. But some of these laughter mongers began their career by slaying the comic talent of the 1970s.

Out of the Punk ethos sprang the alternative comedy scene in the early 80s and soon TV shows like The Two Ronnies were looking very out of date. On reflection, I’ve got nothing against The Two Ronnies but their dominance of TV comedy made them a target to topple. What was offensive were shows like The Comedians on ITV, which aired in the early 70s.

I remember sitting at home as a kid watching The Comedians and feeling very uncomfortable as the anti-Irish gags got told. My Dad is Irish. I learned from the “talent” on this weekly show that I was genetically stupid and prone to doing dumb things.

At my first secondary school, I was called “Paddy” so much that I ended up on the school register with that name. Much to the horror of my father at a parent-teacher evening when my form tutor said: “Paddy’s school report was quite good this term”.

Toppling statues and comedians = Punk Rock for millennials?

When history repeats, it does so differently. Context and language changes. In the 70s, Punk Rock was a roar against the stagnation of the mid-70s. The post-war economic boom had ground to a halt. Britain was in visible decline. Pop had lost its vitality and become turgid and pretentious. And if millennials think us Boomers are backward – the older generation in 1976 was antediluvian!

Punk Rock was about causing maximum offence – to shock the bourgeoisie (as the French say). Whereas today’s movement is about not being offended by ‘problematic’ content. Although the end result is surprisingly similar.

Since 2008, many Boomers have wondered when the new Punk Rock would arise. Well, here it is. It may not be taking an agreeable form for older folk but then Punk Rock horrified the establishment in the 70s. Today’s movement is the spirit of 1968 and Punk Roll plus more besides rolled into one.

Ironically, even though we Boomers are often the target of millennial hatred – their actions smack of our revolts forty and fifty years ago. So, don’t judge them harshly.

Ten best cop series of the 1970s

Kojak
  1. McCloud

From 1970 to 1977, this largely forgotten TV cop series followed Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud who hailed from New Mexico as he tried to learn crime fighting techniques on the mean streets of New York. On horseback. With a stetson. Played by Dennis Weaver who also starred in a creepy early Spielberg movie – Duel – about a man being chased across the American desert by a mysterious, psychopathic and faceless lorry driver.

2. Cannon

This was a CBS series that ran from 1971 to 1976 about an overweight retired cop in Los Angeles who becomes a private detective. He had a penchant for fine wines and dining. Sometimes he would be fat shamed but would evidence in no uncertain terms that his girth was no obstacle to throwing a killer punch. In the series, the fictional Frank Cannon was a Korean war veteran while the actor William Conrad in real life had been a fighter pilot in World War Two.

3. Harry O

David Janssen had been famous in the 1960s for his title role in the TV series The Fugitive – later turned into a 1993 move with Harrison Ford. Harry O was quite a dark, sombre cop series but I really enjoyed it. There was something very compelling about David Janssen on screen. The gravelly voice and heavy smoker’s etched face. But the public didn’t agree with the young me. Barely made it to two seasons before being cancelled in 1976. The first season was based in San Diego but in season two, the whole thing was inexplicably shifted to Los Angeles with no explanation.

4. Hawaii Five-O

No – not the 2010 remake which I’d rather forget. This was the 1968 to 1980 original, which until 2002 was the longest continuous running cop show on American TV. It was shot entirely in Hawaii and dominated by the charismatic presence of actor Jack Lord as Detective Captain Steve McGarrett. When the criminal had been caught – McGarrett would always turn to the same officer and growl: “Book ’em Danno”.

5. Streets of San Francisco

This was my first exposure to a young Michael Douglas – starring alongside Karl Malden as two murder cops on the hilly streets of San Francisco. This ran from 1972 to 1977 and totalled an eye watering 119 episodes. And yet I’ve never seen it repeated like Kojak and Colombo – which are still broadcast today. I’m going to guess it hasn’t aged well.

6. Serpico

If you’re fans of Al Pacino then you’ll remember the 1973 detective movie by this name. What you may not realise is that three years later, Dino de Laurentis decided to produce a TV series based on the film with classical actor David Birney in the starring role. It limped to the end of a first season in 1976 before being unceremoniously canned. The consensus among critics seemed to be that Pacino had covered all bases and a TV series was entirely unnecessary.

7. COLUMBO

A whodunnit where you know whodunnit from the outset – but the fun is watching Columbo reach your level of insight. The original run on NBC was from 1971 to 1978 and I think all Columbo fans would agree these were the glory years. It was revived in 1989 by ABC and trudged on to 2003 but less enjoyable. What I love is the cheesy 70s decor of the sets and spotting some great character actors chewing the furniture around the detective.

8. Starsky and Hutch

Saturday night in the 1970s saw Starsky and Hutch rule the airwaves – before Match of the Day and Parkinson rounded off the evening. Actors David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser played a brooding mid-western blonde and a Brooklyn short-tempered army vet respectively. David Soul also had a singing career and some hits in the 70s – being something of a teenage pin-up. The opening credits featured Soul as Hutch landing on the top of his Ford Gran Torino car butt first – which always seemed hideously painful.

9. The Rockford Files

Jim Rockford is a Los Angeles private investigator played by James Garner – an actor superbly cast for the role. He’s a hapless fellow always getting into scrapes with an I-told-you-so father played by Noah Beery. Sadly, Garner and Universal studios ended up in litigation over the profits from the series. It ran for six seasons throughout the 70s ending in 1980. And I think it’s still very watchable now.

10. Kojak

To me – Kojak was the king of the 1970s cop shows. CBS aired it from 1973 to 1978 and the hard-bitten protagonist was instantly popular on British TV when it aired this side of the pond. Telly Savalas nailed the role sucking his trademark lollipop and observations delivered with maximum sarcasm. Watching it now, Kojak totally captures the danger and depravity of New York in the 70s. It’s a city where dark forces stalk the streets and any crime is possible. Politicians are corrupt and nobody can be really trusted.

Your 1970s sister – a David or Donny fan?

David Cassidy

In the 1960s, you divided between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. In the 1990s, you either liked Blur or Oasis. But in 1972 – your sister was either screaming at David Cassidy or Donny Osmond. And how they screamed…

David Cassidy came to prominence as the older son in a fictional TV sitcom called The Partridge Family. This was normally broadcast on a Saturday morning – on ITV if I recall correctly. The Partridges, led by their widowed mother, embark on a musical career managed by the affable Reuben Kincaid. Erm….and that’s the plot basically. It was enough to keep it going from 1970 to 1974.

While Donny was the second youngest son in a group of brothers called The Osmonds who performed as barbershop singers on The Andy Williams Show in the 1960s. Then in 1972, Donny had a hit with a cover of Puppy Love and Britain was gripped by the weirdest pop hysteria I’ve ever seen. He was clean cut, not quite out of puberty and voice still breaking. And girls just went wild.

David Cassidy
David Cassidy – credit: Hans Peters / Anefo / CC0

To this day, I have middle-aged female friends who still define themselves by which side of the David/Donny divide they sat on. It split sisters and it split my eardrums as my sister hollered at the TV whenever Donny appeared. In 1973, thousands of girls descended on Heathrow Airport as the Osmonds landed from the United States and part of a balcony on a roof garden collapsed causing serious injuries.

Sadly, David Cassidy had alcohol problems later in life and gave permission for his own struggle with dementia to be filmed prior to his death in 2017. Donny is still around with a loyal fanbase to this day. So – was your sister a David or Donny aficionado?

Donny Osmond launches Osmond mania with Puppy Love
David and The Partridge Family