18 May 1923
|Died||9 February 1993 (aged 69)|
|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 while supposedly intoxicated on public television. The interview effectively destroyed Grundy's career, elevated the Sex Pistols to notoriety, and signalled the arrival of mainstream punk rock.
The son of a Foreman at Gorton Locomotive Works (Gorton Tank), Bill Grundy was born in Manchester 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.
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 film version of Man About the House (1974), 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 (1967), a children's TV serial. The 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 in the early evening, a time when spoken obscenities were forbidden.
The interview began with Grundy introducing the band, stating "they are as drunk as I am... they are clean by comparison," although Grundy later denied being intoxicated during the interview to the press. The interview resumed following a playing of the music video for the song Anarchy in the U.K. It was evident Grundy was attempting to provoke the band from the start of the interview, 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.  Initially, he received mocking but relatively innocuous responses from then-bassist Glen Matlock.
Grundy said "I am told... that that group... have received £40,000 from record company.... Doesn't that seem, uh, to be slightly opposed to your anti-materialistic view of life?" The response to this goad were two comments: One was an indecipherable syllable (or two) from one band member, while Matlock responded with "No, the more the merrier." When Grundy asked the band to explain further, what followed would be the first example of profanity during the interview, when Steve Jones quipped: "We fuckin' spent it ain't we?" Grundy did not comment on the profanity but responded "I don't know, have you?” The band confirmed that the money had all gone "down the boozer," as put by Jones. Grundy then asked the band "are you serious?" in reference to their music, comparing them to musicians such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Brahms. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) sarcastically replied "They're all heroes of ours, ain't they?". When Grundy inquired further, Lydon went on, stating "Oh yes, they’re wonderful people, they really turn us on!" Grundy responded with, "What if they turn other people on?" to which Lydon dismissively remarked, "That's just their tough shit!" When challenged by Grundy, Lydon said, "Nothing, rude word! Next question." asking Grundy to go on with the interview. Grundy insisted that Lydon repeat what he had said. When Lydon did so, "shit", Grundy tauntingly retorted, "Good heavens, you frighten me to death," to which Lydon called him "Siegfried" as Matlock muttered that Grundy was "like [a] dad... or [a] granddad."
Grundy then turned his attention to the female members of the band's entourage, known as The Bromley Contingent, that appeared with them and which included Siouxsie Sioux. He asked, "What about you girls, behind? Are you worried, or are you just enjoying yourself?" Sioux said she was "enjoying myself". Grundy responded "Are you?" to which she and Simone Thomas chorused "Yeah." Grundy responded "Ah, that's what I thought you were doing." That prompted a large exhalation from a band member. Sioux said, "I've always wanted to meet you", to which Grundy responded by saying, "Did you really? We'll meet afterwards, shall we?" Interpreting this as a sexual comment, Jones began openly insulting Grundy, calling him a "dirty sod" and a "dirty old man." Grundy further provoked 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.[clarification needed] 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.
In July 1986, Grundy was lead compère for the Festival of the Tenth Summer at the newly-opened Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre (GMEX), a week-long celebration of the anniversary of the Sex Pistols' performance at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Grundy was chosen for the role by organiser Tony Wilson, in a knowing nod to the 'Today incident' and Grundy's unhappy association with the Sex Pistols..
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.
- Brown, Jonathan (1 December 2006). "Never mind four-letter words... here's the Sex Pistols: when television met punk rock". The Independent. London. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- The Flower of Gloster, Grundy, Bill, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, London. 1970
- Matlock, Glen (1 June 1998). I was a teenage Sex Pistol. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-7119-1817-7.
- "Grundy banned". 3 December 1976. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
You cannot do a job like I do without being sober.
- "Transcript: Sex Pistols v Bill Grundy". The Guardian. 4 February 2004. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
- Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy's 'Today' show most requested clip. NME. Retrieved 9 June 2012
- "Fission Fragments 2". Ansible.co.uk. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- Robson, Eric (2007). Outside Broadcaster: An Autobiography. London: Frances Lincoln. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-7112-2779-8.
- King, Richard (2012). "How Soon Is Now? The Madmen and Mavericks Who Made Independent Music 1975-2005" London: Faber & Faber. pp.197-198
- Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
- Allan, Andy (12 February 1993). "Obituary: Bill Grundy". The Independent. London. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- Parkinson, Michael (14 May 2009). Parky – My Autobiography: My Autobiography. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 145. ISBN 978-1-84456-900-7.