18 May 1923
Manchester, Lancashire, England
|Died||9 February 1993
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Known for||Today interview with the Sex Pistols|
William Grundy (18 May 1923 – 9 February 1993) was an English television presenter and host of Today, a regional news programme broadcast on Thames Television. In the latter role, he earned national infamy for his interview with the Sex Pistols in 1976 during which he contemptuously encouraged a barrage of profanity. The interview destroyed Grundy's career, elevated the Sex Pistols to notoriety, and signalled the arrival of mainstream punk rock.
The son of a factory owner, Bill Grundy was born in Manchester, Lancashire, in 1923 and educated at the University of Manchester, where he read geology. Grundy began his career as a geologist and as a part-time journalist. When Granada Television began broadcasting in 1956, Grundy auditioned for the post of newsreader, which at first he held in tandem with his geological work. He was the first television presenter to present the Beatles on Granada Television on 17 October 1962.
As well as writing a regular column for Punch magazine, Grundy appeared on several TV shows including People and Places, and played himself in the 1974 film version of Man About the House, but he is best remembered for hosting the Today show. In an early faux pas he filmed a report to camera on the Ilford North by-election and was deeply critical of the constituency. Unfortunately he was filming in Ilford South at the time.
Grundy was also the producer of The Flower of Gloster, a children's TV serial. The 1967 drama, about four youngsters who take a narrow boat from North Wales to London, was broadcast as 13 weekly episodes. Based on a 1911 book of the same name by E. Temple Thurston, it was Granada TV's first venture into colour. Grundy also wrote a book of the same name, basically an updated version of Thurston's original.
The Today incident
Queen were due to go on the Today show of 1 December 1976 but cancelled their appearance at the last minute. They were replaced by the punk rock band the Sex Pistols, who appeared at short notice, with their entourage in tow. The show was broadcast live and uncensored on weekdays at 18:00, a time when spoken obscenities were forbidden.
The interview began with Grundy introducing the band but he then began to provoke his guests. As he introduced them, he said that "they are as drunk as I am!" Initially, he received mocking but relatively innocuous responses from Glen Matlock. He chided the band, speaking to viewers instead of directly to them and referring to them as "that group" — in his challenging of them over what he felt was possible hypocrisy — in terms of the philosophy of punk. He said "I am told... that that group... have received £40,000 from record company.... Doesn't that seem, uh, to be slightly opposed to the... anti-materialistic view of life?" The response to this goad were two comments: One was an indecipherable syllable (or two) from one band member and "The more the merrier." from another. Grundy responded with "Really?" The band member: "Oh, yeah." Grundy: "Well, tell me more about this." The result was the first example of profanity. Steve Jones said: "We fuckin' spent it ain't we?" Grundy did not comment on the profanity but responded "I don't know, have you?". The band responded that the money had all been spent.  Later, Johnny Rotten, in response to a question about Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Brahms, muttered the word "shit" under his breath. When challenged by Grundy, Lydon said that it was nothing but a "rude word" and asked Grundy to go on with the interview. Grundy insisted that Lydon repeat what he had said. When Lydon did so, Grundy mocked him.
Grundy said mockingly "Good heavens, you'd frighten me to death." While Grundy was being insulted, with one band member commenting about how he is like a "granddad" to another, he tried to involve the female members of the band's entourage, known as The Bromley Contingent, that appeared with them and which included Siouxsie Sioux. He said "What about you girls, behind?" One said she was "enjoying (this?)". Grundy responded "Are you?" to which another said "Yeah." Grundy responded "Ah, that's what I thought you were doing." That prompted a large exhalation from a band member. Sioux said, "I always wanted to meet you", to which Grundy responded by saying, "Did you really? Well, wait after the show." Interpreting this as a sexual comment, Steve Jones responded by calling the interviewer a "dirty sod" and a "dirty old man." Grundy further goaded Jones to "say something outrageous", a challenge that Jones met by calling Grundy a "dirty bastard" and a "dirty fucker". Grundy responded, "What a clever boy(!)" and Jones added "What a fucking rotter!" As the show ended and the credits rolled, Grundy mouthed, "Oh shit" as the band began dancing to the closing theme.
Although Today was only a regional programme for London, it became a national story due to coverage and comment by the tabloid press. As a result, Grundy was suspended for two weeks and Today was cancelled two months later. In a 2008 poll conducted by FremantleMedia, at this point Thames' parent company, the Today show interview was the most requested TV clip ever.
The broadcast harmed Grundy's television career. By 1979 he was presenting a book review programme, A Better Read, broadcast not at prime time like Today, but early on Sunday mornings. In 1980, while filming "Changing Trains", an episode in Series 1 of the BBC TV travel documentary Great Railway Journeys of the World, he "apparently [fell] down the neck of a whisky bottle, in Zurich", and, after being "air-freighted home", was replaced by Eric Robson. His presenting slot on What the Papers Say in the early 1980s was his last on national British television, although he continued to present on BBC North West on such shows as Sweet and Sour and The Lancashire Lads into the mid-'80s. He also appeared as an interviewer in ITV's adaptation of A Kind of Loving in 1982. Grundy died of a heart attack in Stockport, on 9 February 1993, aged 69.
His colleague Michael Parkinson, who worked with Bill Grundy at Granada in the 1960s, described him as:
A difficult man to keep sober, but not to produce. He was one of the best front men I ever worked with...At his best he was a superb forensic interviewer...Sadly, as his career drifted, he let drink overwhelm his personality.
- "Never mind four-letter words... here's the Sex Pistols: when television met punk rock". The Independent. Retrieved 12 June 2012
- The Flower of Gloster, Grundy, Bill, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, London. 1970
- Matlock, Glen (June 1, 1998). I was a teenage Sex Pistol. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-7119-1817-7.
- Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy's 'Today' show most requested clip. NME. Retrieved 9 June 2012
- "Fission Fragments 2". Ansible.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-01.
- Robson, Eric (2007). Outside Broadcaster: An Autobiography. London: Frances Lincoln. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-7112-2779-8. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006
- Obituary: Bill Grundy. The Independent. Retrieved 13 June 2012
- Parkinson, Michael (14 May 2009). Parky - My Autobiography: My Autobiography. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 145. ISBN 978-1-84456-900-7.