Better Badges

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Better Badge
FounderJoly MacFie
ProductsBadges, Fanzines, Cassettes, Flyers
Production output
Printing, Manufacturing Cassette duplication
ServicesPublishing, Distribution

Better Badges was a London button-badge manufacturer, started in 1976 by Joly MacFie. During the years 1977–1984 it became the leading publisher and merchandiser of 'punk badges' - exporting millions worldwide from their offices at 286 Portobello Road. Better Badges was a major player in the punk and postpunk scenes from 1976–1983 - a pioneer viral marketer, fueling the independent labels' fan-based promotional successes of the time.[1]


1976 4 July, first punk badges sold at the Ramones and Flamin' Groovies show at The Roundhouse, London. The Better Badges stand went on to become a fixture.[1]

1977 May, First mass-production of punk badges for sale at Mont de Marsan festival in France.[2]

Commenced weekly badge top ten ad in NME.[3]

1978 Better Badges expanded from its original location in a lock-up garage[1] in St. Stephen's Mews into the top floor of 286 Portobello Road.

Better Badges published sets of badges for U2 - their first ever commercial product,[4][5] and Rob Gretton's first act as manager of Joy Division was to order a set of badges from BB.[6][7]

Later, after discussions with Gretton, MacFie ended BB's unwieldy royalty system, moving to one where bands just got a flat donation of badges.[8][9]

1979 MacFie purchased in-house printing equipment which, in addition to badges, was used to produce many fanzines which BB also distributed.[10] Titles included Jamming!,[11] No Cure and Panache[12] Promotional materials were also made for budding UK labels such as Mute Records and Rough Trade.[13][14] Some artists, such as The Raincoats[15] and Young Marble Giants[16] used BB to publish small booklets.

MacFie bought an AM radio transmitter so that music could be broadcast from the top floor to the printers in the basement. These pirate radio broadcasts of mainly reggae eventually led to the formation of the Dread Broadcasting Corporation, which, under the leadership of Lepke, became the first major London urban pirate radio station,[17][18] for which Better Badges created merchandise and served as the official address.[19][20]

1980 Fanzines published included i-D,[21] Kill Your Pet Puppy,[22] and Toxic Grafity, which included a flexi-single "Tribal Rival Rebel Revels" by Crass.[23]

MacFie bought a cassette tape-duplicator and started offering a cheap tape publishing service which was utilized by pioneering DIY labels such as Fuck Off Records.[24]


Many musicians, notable or otherwise, worked at Better Badges including Neneh Cherry[25] and Wayne Preston of minor band Youth in Asia.[26] and Hamish Macdonald of Sex Beatles/Sexbeat.[3] and the Frenchman Charles Hurbier aka Charlie H of Métal Urbain/Métal Boys/Doctor mix. Others included Duncan Sanderson of the Pink Fairies, Gabby Glaser of Luscious Jackson, Val Haller of The Electric Chairs, Eric Débris of Métal Urbain, Angela Jaeger of Pigbag, Nick Godwin of Zounds, and John Walker of Warsaw Pakt. Designers included Megan Green, Slim Smith - recently with Artrocker, and Derek Harris.

MacFie sold the business and moved to the United States in 1983.[27]

Recent activity[edit]

In the early 2000s Better Badges produced over half a million anti-war badges as part of the UK campaign against the Iraq war.[28]

Later in the 2000s Better Badges was wound up. A new entity 'A Better Badge' took its place.[23]

In his 2013 memoir A Boy About Town Tony Fletcher dedicates an entire chapter to how Jamming! came to be printed and published at Better Badges.[29][30]

Image as Virus Exhibit[edit]

An exhibit based on Better Badges - Image as Virus - ran 14 Dec 2016 - 5 Jan 2017 at New York University's Steinhardt School.[31] To mark the opening some of the early badges were featured in The Guardian.[32]

In September 2018 the Image as Virus exhibit went on show at the Busy Beaver Button Museum in Chicago.[33]


  1. ^ a b c 1980 article in The Face -Pt.1 |Pt.2 |Pt.3
  2. ^ "Festival Punk de Mont de marsan 1977". FR3 Aquitaine. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b Vague, Tom (1980). "Vague 4". Vague. Archived from the original on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  4. ^ "SHE IS REGINE..." Issue 7. Propaganda. 1 October 1987. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  5. ^ "WWWhatsup U2 Pins". Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  6. ^ Time Travel: From the Sex Pistols to Nirvana: Pop, Media & Sexuality 1977-96, Jon Savage, Vintage 1997, p. 363
  7. ^ Gretton, Rob (14 October 2008). 1 Top Class Manager - The notebooks of Joy Division's manager 1978-1980. Anti-Archivists. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  8. ^ "Innovate/Activate". New York Law School. 24 September 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  9. ^ The Clash at Lyceum Ballroom 1981 scroll halfway
  10. ^ Catherine McDermott (1987). Street style: British design in the 80s. Rizzoli. p. 66. ISBN 9780847808038. the first – Sniffin' Glue – and by the end of the 70s hundreds had started up, many printed by Jolly of Better Badges.
  11. ^ "Jamming! Magazine Covers 1-12". Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  12. ^ Scissors and Glue:: Punk Fanzines and the Creation of a DIY Aesthetic Teal Triggs Oxford Journals Journal of Design History 2006 19(1):69-83.
  13. ^ Taylor, Neil (2010). Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade. Orion Books. ISBN 9781409112211.
  14. ^ "first editions & ephemera". Item #61, Rough Trade Distribution catalogue. Big City Books. Archived from the original on 8 August 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  15. ^ Thompson, Dave (2000). Alternative Rock. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 578. ISBN 9780879306076.
  16. ^ Moxham, Stuart (5 September 1980). "Young Marble Giants". Better Badges. Retrieved 5 September 2020 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Dennis, Tony (23 October 1981). "Black Pirates in the Grove". Time Out. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  18. ^ "Miss P". BBC. 4 May 2005. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC)". HFUnderground. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  20. ^ Vague, Tom. "Notting Hill Timeline" (PDF). 16 Notting Hill Babylon Early 80s. Retrieved 20 August 2013.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Trebay, Guy (21 May 2001). "Front Row; Chronicling 20 years of renegade fashion as captured through the defining lenses of i-D magazine". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2007.
  22. ^ "Interview with Tony Drayton of Kill Your Pet Puppy!". Invisible Guy. 22 July 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  23. ^ a b Felicity Kinsella (18 January 2013). "A Better Badge". i-D. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013.
  24. ^ Birth of the uncool Bob Stanley, The Guardian, 31 March 2006.
  25. ^ "Intervju: Neneh Cherry". 26 February 2014. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  26. ^ Glasper, Ian (2007). The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980 to 1984. Cherry Red Books. p. 161. ISBN 9781901447705.
  27. ^ Motia, Shahryar (28 October 2003). "Bootlegger's Banquet". Village Voice. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  28. ^ Andrew Murray & Lindsey German (2005). Stop the war: the story of Britain's biggest mass movement. Bookmarks Publications. ISBN 9781905192007. Over half a million badges of various designs have been produced (by Better Badges – who are only still in business because of us)
  29. ^ Fletcher,Tony (4 July 2013). Boy About Town. London: William Heinemann. ISBN 978-0434021673.
  30. ^ Jennings, Dave (4 July 2013). "Louder Than War Interviews Renowned Biographer Tony Fletcher". Louder Than War. Retrieved 21 July 2013. The knock backs came... ...from the problems with printers, right up until I came across Joly at Better Badges.
  31. ^ Scott, Tim (30 November 2016). "ART Image As Virus Celebrates the History of the Punk Badge". Noisey. Vice. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  32. ^ "Moving the needle: the punk badges that defined the 1970s music scene". The Guardian. 14 December 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  33. ^ "Image As Virus: Better Badges in the Punk Era". Busy Beaver. Retrieved 27 September 2018.

External links[edit]