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Never mind the Sex Pistols, here's to 30 years of bollocks

Exactly 30 years ago today, on October 28, 1977, the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols, their one and only expletive-riddled album.

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Civilised society, overnight, threw off its cloak of polite civility and we've been rolling around in a toxic linguistic quagmire ever since.

Except, of course, it was the toffs who started swearing the most, first, which we all now tend to forget, proving there's a thin attitudinal line between the audacious proper toff and the irascible proper urchin (it's more the ones in the middle with something to prove that you've got to watch).

Back in November 1965, 11 full years before the Sex Pistols kick-started their curse-propelled social revolution via use of "the f word" live on television (Bill Grundy's Today programme, December 1976), a flamboyant toff called Kenneth Tynan, revered theatre critic of his day, became the very first person to use "the f word" live on television, with wilful glee, during a late-night BBC debate on censorship.

This, back then, was a defining moment of artistic revolt, his scandalous pronouncement resulting in a formal apology to the BBC, four separate House of Commons motions signed by 133 Labour and Conservative back-benchers and a tongue-lashing from Mary Whitehouse, who even wrote a letter to the Queen declaring Tynan required "his bottom spanked" (which The Queen, you would imagine, was rather too busy to do).

It was the young, obnoxious and deliberately unwashed Pistols, though, who took the televised "f word" to the foaming tabloid mainstream, after the self-confessedly "drunk" Bill Grundy requested the teenage upstarts "say something outrageous", resulting in the Pistols being unofficially banned from television for all eternity.

One year later came Never Mind The Bollocks, immediately deemed offensive and legally deemed "obscene". It saw groovy young Virgin label owner Richard Branson charged for the crime of displaying the album in the window of his Nottingham record shop under the dustily titled Victorian law The Town Police Clauses Act 1847.

During the ensuing courtroom battle, defending QC John "Rumpole" Mortimer produced expert witnesses who declared the word "bollocks" a legitimate Olde English term usually in reference, curiously enough, to a priest and in the context of the album title meant "nonsense". The chairman of the hearing was then forced to conclude to the be-jumpered and defiant Branson: "Much as my colleagues and I wholeheartedly deplore the vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for the purchases of commercial profits by both you and your company, we must reluctantly find you not guilty of the four charges."

Thirty years on, we have a high street clothing brand delighted to name itself "fcuk"; detailed television documentaries investigating the history of "the c word" (BBC Three's amusingly irreverent The C-Word, broadcast this summer); and, of course, Gordon Ramsay, who is considerably more offensive as an overgrown bully-boy than any swear words ever could be as they continually cascade from his ever-less amusing and ever-more punchable mouth It's a linguistic tragedy, really, that the once all-powerful curse has almost wholly lost its outrage and definitely all its hilarity, the once-incisive tool, which gave us Billy Connolly at exactly the same time as the Sex Pistols. A then-precious verbal resource which, when applied with wit, accuracy and formidably placed anger could cause parliamentary furore, actual riots in the streets and ribs buckling asunder at the man on the telly with bananas on his feet.

No wonder, today, swearing has negligible effect, burnt-out through witless repetition in a world where our nanny-state Nazis insist on pre-show "health warnings" on all TV channels should an expletive be expected to fly, removing all element of surprise, while the only people, these days, who ever mildly curse on TV in any unexpected way are our old friends the proper toffs, or indeed actual members of The Royal Family. Witness Prince Charles's "these bloody people" appraisal of Nicolas Witchell and his ilk or Prince Harry's willingness to join the front-line troops in Iraq, otherwise "I wouldn't drag my sorry ass through Sandhurst". (Prince Philip, meanwhile, has surely been the royals' own Ramsay for the past 60 years.) To our modern, desensitised, brutalised selves, the only truly shocking things left in society are house prices; gun-toting 11-year-olds; the rise of the 10-stone toddler; man's continuing desire for global power at the expense of absolutely everything else (the true "vulgar exploitation of the worst instincts of human nature for the purchases of commercial profits"); and the lengths we'll go to in an attempt to live to 110, despite spending these lives in permanently stressed depression while drinking "hazardous" amounts of alcohol.

With swearing now at a shock-free, boredom-generating all-time low, perhaps we can look forward to seeing it disappear completely, gone the way of all ideological "rebellion" and only in 20 years' time, when we've forgotten how dull it became, will a comeback be memorably made. "Here's the thing about age," decided John Lydon the other month, now a much-loved TV biologist and nature enthusiast who doesn't, particularly, swear any more because he's too busy marvelling in hedgerows, "it takes away all of the shock value you had as a youngster. And the sad thing about being young is that you are never taken seriously. Work that out if you will!" Happy 30th anniversary to you, Never Mind The Bollocks.

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