John Lydon. "What Makes Britain Great?"

Interview: © John Lydon.Com 2005
Published 27th October 2005
Two new John Lydon interviews in two weeks, we spoil you Monsieur!

This time John talks about his new TV series, the state of the nation, the state of our TV & media, and the “great” British public! Charlie are you listening?

You just did a 5 part series all about Britain for Belgian TV, ‘What Makes Britain Great’ how did that go?

Loved it. Loved doing it, a belgian TV crew and a mad dog Englishman! (laughs). The idea of being paid to be a tourist in your own country was fascinating, utterly fascinating! And a bloody brilliant experience. And it might sound like a flippant remark, but the thing that makes Britain Great, the people. The people.

Even though it was Belgian TV, the whole thing was done in English wasn’t it?

Yeah. The station it’s done for is called Canvas, which is like a small little independent, but very pro-British network, and they broadcast mostly in English. They had budget problems and had to close down for a while, and this show kind of opens them back up again. Which I thought was a good idea. I liked it from that approach.

Of course I didn’t understand quite what all of their motives where. I was a bit suspicious at first. I thought they had came to take the piss. That was my fear. And they probably thought I’d be the perfect wrecker, you know? So I let them have that assumption. But let it be clear with me; when something is worthy of getting the piss taken out of it, it will happen, but only then.

You were travelling round with a Belgian Historian weren’t you?

Rotten & Reynebeau episode 1, October 2005 © CanvasMarc Reynebeau, I can never pronounce it! (laughs). He was an odd bod. Weird looking chap, thin, hideous teeth, and two eyes pointing in different directions (laughs). But I tell you, what could have been a great cultural divide between the pair of us, actually benefited the show, because I can get on with just about anybody, and I found that to be the same with him. If you just give people a bit of space they lighten up, and stop acting their role in life. He had a great mild sarcastic, dry humour. And worked at a much slower pace than me; my brain works very quickly. I mean ponderous historians! You know! It’s like they are flicking through their library manuals before they make a comment. But it was fun! I’ll tell you one thing about it; Blackpool shocked the Belgians!

It shocks most people to be fair!

They just couldn’t take it, “British people on holiday, you are disgusting!” (laughs). But, you know, if that’s how people like that want to have fun, well, that’s absolutely alright by me. It’s just a little tired, and it’s gone into a kind of a violent, threatening thing underneath. It’s not like when our families took us off to the beach when we were young, there’s a bigger nastiness now. And then you’ve got a bunch of loose tarts tearing it up in the middle! (laughs).

Yeah, that sounds like Blackpool! So was the plan for you to take the Belgians round certain places and towns, giving them an insight?

Sometimes. Sometimes. It would be plotted where a location was, then we’d just go there. After the first day they quickly realised that the concept of scripting these things is just not going to work with me, because you know, when you’re talking to people you can’t predict what their gonna say, or where that conversation will lead. That’s freeform, and that’s an art form in itself!

I’ve read that you were traveling round in a Rolls Royce, but I know that wasn’t true…

Yeah, I know the Belgians want to swing it that we travelled everywhere in a Rolls Royce, but that’s not the case. I drove in a Caravan, and Marc drove in a Rolls Royce, but every day I’d sit in his Rolls Royce and we’d have a chat about what we done. Don’t get me wrong I like posh sometimes, I’m not shy of a posh car, but I mean, it’s uncomfortable and tight! And I’d like a bloody caravan please, I’m sorry! (laughs), it’s more space!

It was very difficult to explain that to the Belgian’s, for them the Rolls Royce is a symbol of the British economy, but so is a Caravan! And this they missed. And lets get it right, the Rolls is no longer a symbol of the British economy because it’s been bought out by the foreign car companies. Same with Jaguar, or whatever, I mean just about everything Britain has ever had has been passed off.

There’s not much left these days.

Yeah, but doing that show, going round Britain, it was clear; yes we do have a culture, and yes it is still valid. It might not be understood by the BBC or Tony Blair, but you know, don’t wreck it. And there’s definite movements there to just take it all away. And oddly enough it puts me in the position of defending the Royal family, because they are part of our culture. We can’t just dispense with it to suit a currently topical form of politics. Socialism is a temporary come and go, but the Royal family has survived historically for many, many, many, centuries. Don’t throw things away until you properly understand them. I’d like a serious look at what the Royal family could and should be doing…

Did you cover that, is there a whole show devoted to the Monarchy?

Well, in slots, but not quite. I want to do that on another programme. I want to put together a proper, proper, show about that. I’m telling you, I was shocked at how low-rent everything has become on TV in Britain. There’s nothing new being introduced, everything is being treated so frivolously, there’s no sense of obligation from people to just be accurate. There’s just not enough effort made, and with this accountant take over thing of ‘just make money’, expense is the first thing that is spared. So quality goes out of the window. There’s no what you would call research or investigating your subject or topic, or any sense of professionalism. It’s just cheap and not very cheerful. And that’s a rubbish on Britain, that’s a real, real error. Class has gone right out the window, and I’m not talking working class, you know, it’s trashy and just not informative anymore. It’s all idiots mocking somebody’s else’s work. There’s a lot of that jealous spite kind of comedy, and I didn’t appreciate it.

It seems to be just smarmy sarcasm or horrible unfunny pranks these days.

Yeah, and endless channels dedicated to Hindu or Muslims. That’s all well and fine, but come to England to be English, right? Stop creating these independent fucking states. I mean, I wore a T-shirt with a Union Jack on it, and I was asked if it was a racist statement! Bizarre. It’s just ludicrous. It seems now that the only people that are wearing things like that are tourists! It’s bizarre. Bloody hell, that flag is part of your country. That means it’s part of you. If your country is lousy, and then so are you! Do something to change it.

How can wearing your own National Flag in your own country be offensive? It drives me nuts. How can it possibly be offensive!

You tell me! You tell me. That bloody idiot from Croydon, Billy Bragg, I mean he sees the Union Jack as a racist symbol, right? So what are we going to hold up? A glass plate? A glass? Crystal clear, see straight through it, no content? That flag’s about your history. Of course history is full of mistakes, that’s why it’s history! (laughs).

I’ve seen arguments on TV, with the MP’s waffling their nonsense, and there’s even that transvestite comedian [Eddie Izzard] going on about “Britain being a nation of immigrant‘s.” Of course it is! But it doesn’t mean we don’t have a culture. And it doesn’t mean you should negate the culture you now have because it threatens any new immigrant. They come here because of that culture, not to spite it or ignore it, and if they do come for those reasons then they shouldn’t come at all…

I should tell you about the Mosque in Finsbury Park… we had just done a small bit of filming outside of Arsenal’s stadium and we were driving up to the Arsenal shop, in my little caravan, but got stuck in traffic right outside that Mosque. There were two Police guards there, so I just opened the window and shouted, “What time does it open!”, and they went, “I beg your pardon!” So I said, “Well, that’s supposed to be a religious centre isn’t it? And therefor as a religion the public should have free access, right?” “Don’t be cheeky, move on” comes the reply! (laughs). At which point I gave them what for! And seriously challenged them on many, many levels.

I’m surprised they didn’t try arrest you for speaking your mind.

I tell you why I wasn’t arrested, because I started turning the cameras on, and they didn’t want that to happen. But I was facing arrest for asking why I could not go into that building, and I find that very odd. I wouldn’t have given a toss about being arrested because then that would have to be debated elsewhere, and that would open it up to a public debate, and you know I’m quite prepared to take these situations. Because if you’re telling me to accept that kind of thing in my life, I will not. Some very nasty people have come out of that centre. And they’re being protected by policemen? For what? So they can plan to kill us? I’m really puzzled by that. Anything that doesn’t have open doors is a problem. We had to open our doors, they should open theirs too.

And I find it monumentally crazy to put that Mosque in such a working class area. You can see what a problem that might create, but guess what? No! Because working class people aren’t like that. If they wanted to create threat and attention it didn’t work. It’s just enormously, laughingly ignored. But at the same time, a structure like that is a seriously contemptuous insult to Britain. That’s not a place of worship. It looks almost like a prison. It’s very, very, unfriendly in its architecture, it’s a statement. And, you know, don’t build these antisocial structures and expect people to tolerate it. And don’t you think it’s quite poignant that years ago just for making a record I was discussed under the ‘Traitors Act’ in Parliament, and now years later there are people plotting bombs and they can’t be done under terrorism (laughs). It’s just stupid, stupid. Preaching hate, and they’re not questioned…

Unfortunately in England no one questions any more. Just about everything is bloody taboo, and that is nonsense to me. I’m finding that I’m being asked to ‘compromise’ more and more when I do any kind of TV work; ‘we can’t discuss this’, ‘we can’t discuss that’, and that’s a nonsense to me! I don’t want to live in no society where I can’t speak freely. I do not. If there’s anything in the world that’s taboo, it should not be. Because when idiocy is openly discussed it’s clear nobody would want it! (laughs). The Nazi’s only rose to power because nobody questioned it. Apathy is a luxury you can not afford, because the cost is, you’ve just lost your life.

Book of the Road!Did you manage to get any footage outside the Mosque for the show?

Only snippets. It was kind of off the subject. But I was more or less plotting out the script for really doing something proper with Britain, because I don’t think the situation there is clearly understood by anybody. Everything seems vague and in the shadows. There’s no real energy in anything, it’s all dissipated and lost focus. And honest debate seems to be a problem, you know, I see no reason why I can’t interview Prince Charles. That’s my ambition. And if he’s not up for that, well, that tells you everything, because if you want things like that to be understood then that’s how you do it isn’t it? You take two odd ends and you put them together, and you see what comes out the other end.

And if the presumption is that ‘oh, I’m just going to be naughty or bad’, well, what are you basing that on? Certainly not any of the work I’ve done. Still to this day approaching TV networks and production companies, it still seems to follow this line that I’m going to be silly, daft, negative, and swear a lot. And wherever that came from, it’s a shame it isn’t looked at or questioned. That lack of attention to truth and detail is what is letting everybody down, your own media are ill-informed, and that’s going to reflect all the way down the line.

Look at ‘Best of British £1 Notes’ I don’t think there’s one swear word on that album, all this stuff about you being “obscene” where are they getting it from? It’s just a convenient excuse.

What is obscene? It’s in the bloody song! What is obscene, what? These are words, you take words away from us and you’ve taken away our best, best creation. We’re top dog as an animal because we’ve created language, we can imagine things through language. Every single word matters. You can not remove them, when you do that you are negating on free thought.

I mean, let the likes of some ignorant twot swear his head off, if he’s got nothing to say it should not offend you. Those are just words. It can be really hard to listen to someone that only has five words in his vocabulary, but at least he has five! And they might all be seen as obscene, but they’re not obscene, that’s all he’s got. People use words to express their meaning. When I said “You fucking cunts” on that ‘I’m A Celebrity’ thing, it was like; ‘What you like me! ‘ ‘You voted me to stay in?’ ‘You fucking cunts, I’d be glad to leave!’ (laughs).

I don’t think anyone really took offence to that anyway, I mean I know even my Mum laughed at it!

Exactly, there you go! Those so called swear words or obscene words can be used in the most friendliest way, because it is obvious I don’t mean it that way, right? Important. What is genuinely offensive is that they let the lie run that I supposedly apologised afterwards. Excuse me, when did that happen? That was all done behind my back, I didn’t need to apologise, I’d done no wrong. Don’t try and cut my balls off, ‘cos it’s not gonna work. Why lie? Why bother?

And it’s sad that people need to do that ‘cos I think just the truth would be more fun, and easier to follow. You can not manipulate real human beings. You can’t presume you can orchestrate the behaviour in others. And Britain does have that terrible ‘School Mam’ attitude, and that’s the attitude middle class TV people seem to assume, you know? What should be a reality show, they try to script and plan and fake, and take the energy out of it… What a bunch of tossers. They offered me nothing, nothing after that show. Nothing. Everything I’ve done since is nothing to do with that at all. They actually made life quite difficult, then made presumptions that they could steal and nick songs and use them in all sort of Granada productions, and so I just put a stop on the lot of them. They did not behave well with me, so I have a problem with Granada, I do not trust them.

The others still seem to be working with them. Kerry just did something, and obviously there was the whole Jordan and Peter wedding malarkey.

Well, they signed long-term contracts with Granada, right? And I’m not so stupid just to sign a blank page, nobody owns me. Basically they got themselves into a position where they are owned, and that’s no achievement at all. But that’s alright, if you want to fill up the TV with useless people, that’s fine, I don’t care. I mean, I don’t think anyone got much joy out of Jordan’s wedding! What a lame duck to operate your whole Granada spin-off’s on. Unfortunately, most people were saying, ‘Was Johnny Rotten invited?’ Of course not! (laughs).

I still think I’m a Celebrity was brilliant TV, but you’re well shot of all that mob anyway.

Oh, c’mon it was great fun! There was no gain for me going into that. No gain. And it was hard, hard work, knowing that it was all about trying to compromise me, or make me look silly, or an idiot. Well, I don’t think I am an idiot, and you can’t make me look like one. So I had that positive thing in me, that positive energy, and it’s a shame that ain’t respected, because when you get my guff up I know how to turn on you, and I do. They could have had the fun me right from the start, but no, they made me feel like an outsider. There was no relationship to me as a human being. I’m assumed to be cannon fodder for selling a TV programme, but they approached me at the wrong angle. They took me for a dope, and I spun it right round on them, and fucking knew it, and dropped them in it too, because when I walked that was it. Hello, you notice me now don’t you! And all the time implying I was doing it ‘cos I was desperate to be famous again, I mean what the fuck is that?

You’ve not exactly been hiding have you? That’s what I always say, PiL, the Pistols tours, the TV and radio stuff, or when you did your book, etc etc. You’re always about! All that ‘What has he done in 25 years’ nonsense! Just fuck off, there’s no excuse to be that ignorant about you in this day and age.

Yes, why don’t you know? Who’s telling you that, and why are you believing it? I mean c’mon! Look, it doesn’t matter what they’ve said after anyway, because I’ve don’t think anyone fucking believed them, and I think that was an amazing achievement too. When I was going round Britain for the Belgian show I was talking to regular people of all walks of life, and all ages, and they were coming up and saying so. They are not led by that media thing. It’s almost like the population of Britain is separate from the media.

I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! January 2004 Source unknown But the media now is tied in very, very tightly with TV. ITV and Granada have really got it under control, very powerful control. I found this out after ‘I’m a Celebrity’, when that fake, made up Razor Ruddock story was put out, and I could not respond to it. Not one newspaper would print my response; and I’m stating categorically ‘The News of the World!’. What? Someone is allowed to make up a lie about me, and I’m not fucking allowed to respond to it. What’s that telling you?

They should be able to say what they want, but they should also know there’s a price to pay for being wrong. There is a price you should pay, and you shouldn’t think you’ll get away with it. I’ve got to say that I find the drop in standards a shocking thing. Or has it always been like that? Who needs to sell that down low-rent thing? Those papers sell anyway, and you could have good content with good journalists, but that of course requires effort, or you can have slop and kack. I don’t ask for much in life but if you’re gonna call yourself a newspaper, that’s what you should be, news! An opinion is fine, as long as it is based on fact. I mean, you gotta know when the John Savage book [England’s Dreaming] came out that was murder for me. That ridiculous toffee nosed opinion from a complete outsider, with a complete bias as one of Malcolm’s friends. And then when I put my book out I’m not even used a reference point, my book is called opinion! I remember reading those reviews and finding that completely strange…

Going back to the Belgian TV show, how’s it looking? Have you saw any episodes or edits?

No, this is the strange thing, they just haven’t returned any phone calls. Very bizarre way of working. They’re being very closed fisted with it, you know, it makes me wary, but it’s me, you can’t poison it too much…

With you being away from the UK for so long, you probably notice the changes more than us, but I think most people in this country realise there has been big, big changes, and not for the better…

It’s so dissipated between wealthy and poor now, torn apart, and you know, it wasn’t quite as bad as that under the Conservative’s! This is a Labour government doing this. The centralist politics of Tony Blair really left a gaping wound in the Conservative Party, which was a good thing, because that was a bad piece of work originally, but now I look at it, and I’m oddly surprised that I think the Conservative Party has a hope! But it still keeps on putting up posteriors ludicrous nonsense, and so you’re stuck with Labour.

And all over Britain this was a consistent feature, everywhere. Whether it be a tiny little village pub outside Macclesfield or anywhere you like, there was the feeling that the government is negating on its original population, or a very large part of its original population. And it’s an outrage to assume that anything that comes from that culture and those people is racism. That’s not true. You are making them racist to suit some other purpose. People are being led into these things. Blair’s Britain has a media very closely monitored by the Labour Party, they pay for it to be that way…

There are still a lot of good people out there, but unfortunately there now seems to a huge undercurrent of selfish, lazy bastards. A whole wave of people who don’t give a fuck about anyone but themselves. Did you pick up on that?

Hmm, yeah, that sense of allegiance to other people, and an obligation to other people has almost been totally and utterly removed. And I miss it, I miss it. Working class areas did not have crime like it is now, because it’s been broken up. No one could get out of order because everyone would be on you. It was one large family. And it sorted itself out. But, look, poor working class people are still looked down on. Utterly despised, right? And that’s going to become a very violent, violent thing, and a serious force to reckon with because you can not keep on pushing them aside, and rolling them over for any latest import, or political movement. There’s nothing being done to help it, nothing.

And I keep seeing this nasty little reminder that the only way out of that slum situation is to fake middle-classism’s, and move to Milton Keynes (laughs). Well hello, that’s not an offer, that’s torture! That’s mediocrity, with a posh accent. And it’s just a shame in England I find the more money people have, the less sense they talk, that’s notable too.

I think Blair is on his last legs anyway.

I just don’t know what Blair is anymore, other than, how can that still be acceptable? I’m sorry, but Blair is Bush’s lapdog, and Bush is a fucking half-wit. This nonsense I keep reading about Blair that oh, ‘he put in a good word to Bush’s ear’, ‘and he’s gearing him the right way.’ What a load of nonsense (laughs). Do you think they listen to that silly sod, he’s straight out of the ministry of silly walks! They laugh at the whole pantomime when he comes here; it’s like, look at this idiot, this goofy brain dead guffawing twot!

And when Blair attacks the BBC for ‘biased reporting and anti-Americanism’ on the New Orleans disaster. That is shocking, shocking. That was a disgusting tragedy, with a negative government response. And I’m sorry, the truth has to be told. Blair might not like it, but it has to be told. And you can not call that bias. Why are you telling us not to notice these things? Do you want the world to be all like that? If something’s wrong fix it. There’s errors being made, and there’s a terrible fault in America that when they do a wrong, they don’t fess it, so it repeats itself, and that’s just the way that is. All we get is merely waffle. In reality we’re under some big fist here. Someone’s got a big army, but you know, it’s not such a bloody good one is it.

When Bush and Blair were over here at the G8, Bush made it pretty clear that Blair could ask for things all he wanted, but at the end of the day, he would just do what he thought was best for himself or America. Bush will just do as he pleases, he couldn’t give a toss what anyone else thinks, let alone Blair.

No. And can you tell me what the G8 conference is about? I mean does anyone in the public have any insights? No. It’s closed doors. Like I said earlier, anything that doesn’t have open doors is a problem.

Well, that’s the thing, and that’s why all the G8 protesters are little more than a smokescreen, ‘cos you’re not questioning what they’re actually talking about inside the G8, everyone’s too busy complaining about the protesters causing trouble or making an arse of themselves in their silly little hippy communes. It’s just a smokescreen.

Yes, and it’s a shame. And I found this out outside the Republican Conference, and particularly the Democratic Conference, here when I was doing my Eyada thing, that the demonstrators don’t know quite what their subject matter is. It seems to be just professional demonstrators, with a left wing leaning. Well, they weren’t allowed to demonstrate outside the Republican building, so they didn’t, but they were allowed to demonstrate outside the Democrat building, so they did. And did their best to wreck it basically, and create a scene, and an uproar. But, hello, what kind of demonstrator are you that you’ve got to get permission to demonstrate? You’ve been organised, and you don’t know what your cause is, you just don’t know it.

I remember hearing you talk about the ‘organised Anarchist march’!

Foolish! Foolish. I stood there and watched that go by. How can Anarchist’s organise themselves into a march? (laughs) I mean just march please! That is contradiction (laughs). You’d almost think it was Government sponsored to look stupid! It’s like some of those Anarchist web sites in America, they are just laughable beyond belief, there was one I saw that was selling cellphones! If Anarchy is no law, no order, well, if you want a world without order and law, let these sods like Bush and Blair carry on what they’re doing! (laughs) ‘cos that is what they are giving you (laughs).

As I said earlier with you being away from Britain for so long and coming over for that six weeks or so, it must have been the longest you spent over here for ages, you must really see it differently.

I’m puzzled by it. Everything there now seems silly and daft to me, the clothes that people wear, it’s this revisionist 60’s, mock public schoolboy look, with your hair stuck into a fin! You look dopey the lot of you! You all look like young Irish blokes at the Irish dance in Holloway Road, 20 years ago (laughs). They look like Paddies out on a Friday night. Or public schoolboys, it’s about the same dopeyness…

I know exactly what look you mean! It’s either that or the sportswear look. Everybody is wearing poxy sportswear. It’s like an army of trainers, hooded tops and tracksuits up and down the country.

Shopping mall culture’s are very pervasive things. Oh, fucking hell, Blair banning hoodies, oh for Christ’s sake! Now this shows to me this is a politician not on the ball, he’s oblivious to logic, oblivious. That’s a childish and idiotic reply to a non-existent problem. If I wanted to be a criminal, and get up to bad behaviour, I don’t think I would be wearing a cliché! Right? I would not want to be noticed, because the idea of being a criminal is to not get caught! Not look like one! (laughs).

Yeah, they’d be better with a black and white stripy jumper and a ‘swag’ bag!

And if that’s all the youth of today can get up to, a silly thing with a hood on, Ha! You know? If you’ve got to invent threat? Because it is a shock to me in Britain that there is no real youth movement, not at all. I mean the way it’s going, you might have to just take a university course on being a rebel. Because this is what they’re doing, they’re going to evening classes to take courses on how to be a rapper! Or how to make a disco tune, it’s silly.

It’s worse than that, there was one on Punk not that long ago!

That’s not punk, that’s plonk! (laughs). That’s what plonkers go and sign up for! I can’t help those kind of people. If they would just listen to me in the songs they should know better! But quite seriously, I just think Britain’s lost some motivation, it needs a good kick up the arse…

Rotten & Reynebeau episode 1, October 2005 © Canvas

Rotten & Reynebeau: "What Makes Britain Great"
5 part series starts Friday 28th October 2005, 20:45 on Canvas, Belgian TV,
follow this link for more info…

Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Rotten & Reynebeau episode 1, October 2005 © Canvas
Book of the Road! © Readers Digest
I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! January 2004 © unknown
Rotten & Reynebeau episode 1, October 2005 © Canvas
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