BACK in November 2016, when Theresa May was still in Number 10, Boris Johnson had moved from being Mayor of London to Foreign Secretary and Clean Bandit were number one in the charts with Rockabye, Joe Corre -– businessman, activist, co-founder of lingerie firm Agent Provocateur and son of famous parents – stood on a boat on the Thames dressed in a top hat and bandana, and, in front of spectators, detractors and various members of the media, started a fire.

This was November 26, 2016, to be exact, 40 years to the day since the release of the single Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols, the band managed by Corre’s father Malcolm McLaren and clothed by his mother Vivienne Westwood.

Corre was protesting against a year-long anniversary celebration of punk in London endorsed by the likes of the British Library, the Museum of London and the office of the Mayor of London (in other words by Boris Johnson who was still mayor when the celebration was announced). The kind of people, Corre complained, who would have hated punk back in the 1970s.

As a result, Corre took John Lydon’s final sentiment in Anarchy in the UK – “Destroy” – to heart. He announced he was going to burn some of his own collection of punk memorabilia.

And so, on the river on this particular November day effigies of various politicians – David Cameron, George Osborne and May herself – were put to the torch, along with a chest containing clothes, posters and other memorabilia worth, Corre claimed, £5 million.

It was that figure that caught the eye of the media and caused a small scandal at the time. Corre was burning important cultural artefacts, some said. Sell the collection and give the money to charity, others argued. Newspaper columnists labelled Corre attention-seeking and juvenile.

He went ahead anyway and had film maker Nigel Askew record the event. Now five-and-a-half years later a documentary about the event is receiving its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival this evening.

Wake Up Punk is a film about what punk meant then and still means now. It’s also about Corre’s parents who were also, one could say, the parents of punk, and Corre’s relationship with them. In passing it also tackles the idea of news as entertainment and empty spectacle.

And it’s a film about Corre’s self-belief and, critics might say, self-importance. Which is the very thing that makes him fun to talk to, of course. In our time together he’s mouthy, outspoken, dismissive of others’ opinions and often quite funny into the bargain.

It’s a Thursday morning in February when we talk via Zoom. I’m at home, he’s in his office in Clerkenwell. In the background people ghost past as he talks about his past, his parents, and about lingerie and bondage trousers.

“The title of the film Wake Up Punk is really a message to those people to say wake up and actually see what’s important,” Corre explains. “Don’t try to be nostalgic about something that was never meant to be nostalgic. It was something that was very current at the time and then lost its energy. There’s no point trying to resurrect that energy in an old way.”

HeraldScotland: Joe Core. Photograph Paul StuartJoe Core. Photograph Paul Stuart

One of the things Corre rails against – in the film and in person – is the commodification of the idea of punk; Virgin’s Sex Pistols credit card, McDonald’s using Buzzcocks to sell peri peri chicken wraps, BrewDog’s Punk IPA.

Punk, Corre suggests, has become a meaningless word. “It’s on a bottle of beer. If you drink that beer, you’re a punk? ‘I pay for my McDonald’s with my Never Mind the Bollocks credit card because I’m so alternative.’ It’s pathetic really.”

Corre’s position on all this is not welcomed by everybody. Wake Up Punk, to its credit, acknowledges as much. At one point we are reminded that Corre has been dismissed as the “Eric Trump of Punk” (ouch). And there’s a sequence at a public event where Corre is gunning for everyone and more than a few are gunning back. He is even labelled a bully.

“When you stick your head above the parapet people hate you for it,” Corre suggests. He’s known this all his life, he says. Born in 1967, he was just a kid when his parents were at the heart of the punk media storm

“It’s very memorable to me as a young kid growing up through that time how much people hated you. Grown men would come and spit in my face in the street. The National Front came outside our flat and smashed all our windows and threw fireworks in. We had death threats on the phone, turds through the letter box. My parents’ shop in the King’s Road was smashed up every weekend by Chelsea football fans.”

Every day, Corre reminds me, the tabloids were “drumming up hatred” against punk rockers.

“It was manufactured hatred. And to stand up and do things at that time it took a hell of a lot of courage. Malcolm was there … some of the time. Most of the time he was hiding around a corner. So, he’d cause the aggravation and then disappear and let someone deal with it.”

Your mum presumably?

“Vivienne always looked so incredibly glamorous and sexy. Those clothes that she designed at that time were the most glamorous thing you’d ever seen. But at the same time, she also looked like some kind of alien had landed from space because you’d never seen anyone like that. I would be literally walking up the road with her and cars would be crashing because she looked so amazing.”

Add to that, “she’s got a disarming quality to anyone who ever wanted to be aggressive towards her,” he says. “She’s very disarming in that way.”

HeraldScotland: Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in the 1970sMalcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in the 1970s

Corre is, as you may have already gathered, slightly in awe of his mum. His dad, maybe not so much. In the past he has been highly critical of McLaren (“f****** wanker” was his two-word summary of his father when he talked to The Sunday Herald back in 2008).

With good reason, you might think. McLaren walked out on his family when Corre was barely into his teens. But the film suggests a rather more complex push-and-pull in Corre’s attitude towards his father. There is a lot of animus still, but there’s also a recognition of his father’s achievements.

“People don’t understand the brilliance of him,” Corre says of McLaren. “I think it’s a bit of a shame that the information out there about Malcolm really focuses on his megalomania and all his bullshit really and doesn’t actually let you see the man himself who did some really brilliant things.”

He tells me a story from childhood, from the pre-punk years. “When I was a really small kid my mother was a schoolteacher in south London and Malcolm was at art school. Vivienne taught a class which today would be called special needs. And within the space of about a year, a year and a half, that class had become the top class in the school.

“None of those kids had ever been to the countryside so Malcolm and Vivienne and me and Ben [Corre’s half-brother] used to take these kids on these weekend outings. We’d turn up at the train station in the morning and Malcolm would get a couple of packets of sausages out of the shop. We’d get on the train and go down to Kent and just walk and they would have this incredible adventure. Malcolm was so neurotic and so full of wild energy he could make a fire by rubbing sticks together. He’d start a fire and cook the sausages and the kids would go wild for it.”

He smiles at the memory.

“He was great in that way. I guess he really identified with kids because I think he always identified himself as some kind of naughty child.

“There’s a lot of aspects to Malcolm that I don’t think have been understood or shared. There’s a little bit of it in this film. So, what I can say is that, yeah, he was never really a father. But there were things about him that were fantastic and things that I treasure about him.

“There were other times in my life where he really was there for me, and it was good to have him there.”

HeraldScotland: Joe Corre. Photograph Paul StuartJoe Corre. Photograph Paul Stuart

McLaren died in 2010. I wonder if Corre has come to a different understanding of his father since his death?

“Yeah, I think so. One of the slightly painful things to me about this film, and the books that have come out about him, and the lies that are still told, is that through all of that is it hasn’t allowed me to close the book on it. It’s always there or thrown back at you.

“I’m kind of hoping with this film, it’s kind of the end of it, and I don’t have to talk about it or think about it anymore.

“He had a very disturbed childhood in many ways. What can you say that isn’t trite? But then he did things that I could never imagine doing. Hurtful things.”

Well, yes. One of the revelations of the film is that Corre, after organising and co-ordinating a huge funeral for his father, then learned that McLaren, on his death bed has bluntly, hurtfully written him out of his will.

“I don’t know why he wrote that will in that state of mind,” Corre admits. “All I know is that if I had been in that position, I could never have written those words about my child. I’d rather die … I know he was dying … I could never have done it and he did and that’s the end of that.

“I didn’t want anything from him. I wasn’t expecting anything from him. But the thing that hurt was to write in that will, ‘My son will not inherit anything whatsoever.’ That’s the thing that hurts. So, you know … Anyway.”

You could say that the story of Corre’s own life is the story of someone who had learned all of the lessons his father taught; how to put on a show, how to get noticed, how to inject himself into the culture.

When he and his then wife Serena Rees set up Agent Provocateur, the upmarket lingerie brand, in 1994, Corre knew how to get the media’s attention; whether it was by having an Agent Provocateur-clad Kylie Minogue filmed on a bucking Bronco or dressing up (or is it down?) the likes of Kate Moss and Maggie Gyllenhaal in his lingerie.

HeraldScotland: Agent Provocateur store. Photograph PAAgent Provocateur store. Photograph PA

One could argue, I suppose, that for all his complaints about the commodification of punk he made his fortune commodifying sexuality.

“I’ve always been independent,” he says when I suggest as much. “When I started Agent Provocateur, I certainly took a leaf out of my parent’s book in terms of using your shop as a way to communicate ideas over and above simply sales. The ideas that I was pushing at that time were about … Well, I think we’d come out of that time in the late eighties of power dressing and big shoulders and women saying, ‘We can be as powerful as men, we can sit on the board of these companies, and we can do what we want.’

“And, in some ways, by doing that it had kind of taken away the power of their femininity. You’ve got something special here and there’s nothing wrong with showing it off.

“Later on, I have to say, after doing it for 10, 12 years or something it became a business. The bigger something like that gets the more anti-creative it becomes.

“In the end it becomes run by bean counters. And you spend your entire time arguing against the bean counters, and that’s not a great creative process to be in. And it certainly got to the point for me where it was like, I’m out of this.”

His marriage broke up (Rees went off with Paul Simenon of The Clash) and the business was sold to a private equity house for £60 million.

Corre set up another fashion label A Child Of The Jago (“original terrorist clothing,” according to its website) on a much smaller scale and became more politically active. If his father was a mischief-maker and his mother got by with her charm, their son is a fighter.

HeraldScotland: Corre and his mother Vivienne Westwood protesting against frackingCorre and his mother Vivienne Westwood protesting against fracking

“I wanted to get much more involved in political activism and the thing that grabbed me particularly was the fracking industry.”

He did his bit in the resistance to fracking coming to the UK. He launched court cases, spoke to the media, protested, hired, he says, guards to protect other protesters.

“I looked at it from a business point of view, to say that if I’m really going to make this thing work, I’ve got to be prepared to get involved in all these things. It’s not just about me going out with a banner saying, ‘Stop fracking.’”

In 2019 the UK government did a U-turn and did just that. “It took like seven years or something, but we won in the end,” Corre says.

One of the keys to the campaign, he says, was understanding how the media works. The need for a good story. You could say that figure of £5m he suggested for the worth of the punk memorabilia he torched was another example of that process at work. It’s a nice round figure, isn’t it?

Near the end of our conversation, I ask him, did the burning of the memorabilia work?

“If you’ve seen this film and at the end you are still asking that question you’ve kind of missed the point,” he says, putting me in my place. “Because the film is about asking people to question what they really value.

“People have got to be responsible for their own actions and reactions, and that’s the message of the film. Was it worth it for me? Well, I guess we’ll see how good the film is. But I don’t have any regrets. I’d do the same thing tomorrow. I think I made the point I wanted to make.”

Wake Up Punk has its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Theatre tonight as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. It also screens tomorrow at 1.30pm. Visit glasgowfilm.org

Wake Up Punk’s director Nigel Askew on Joe Corre and his parents:

HeraldScotland:

Why did you want to film the burning of the memorabilia?

I thought it was an important statement. It was a big statement to make that the authorities don’t own punk.

I was documenting what was happening. And making suggestions of who we should talk to about it. But, of course, nobody wanted to talk to us. When it happened, Joe was like the worst demon on the planet and nobody wanted to know.

The film offers a different vision of Vivienne Westwood than we normally see.

For me, that was one of the most important things in the film, to show Vivienne not as a crazy person, because that’s how journalists tend to portray her. I wanted to have her as her true self with her sons. I think that came across.

How do you view Joe Corre?

He really stands up for people. People were very unhappy when we started this film and I just hope they understand Joe better when they see the end result.

In the film he acknowledges his father’s part in the story.

Yeah, they had a difficult relationship. But, overall, Joe really respects his father for what he did and what he achieved. In my mind, he’s really sticking up for Malcolm’s point of view.