Before 1 December, 1976, the word “fuck” had only been broadcasted twice in the history of British television. On this day 42 years ago the punk band Sex Pistols appeared last minute on Bill Grundy’s Today Show on which they used the word that was then too taboo for TV, sending the nation into a frenzy.
The young band appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror the following day alongside the headline “The Filth and the Fury”, which ended up being the name of their documentary released in 2000. The subheadings read “Who Are These Punks?” and “A POP group shocked millions of viewers last night with the filthiest language broadcast on British TV.”
Today, close to half a century later, it tends to be more difficult to find a television show without swear words than one that includes them, even on a national scale.
The offence has moved from the use of certain words on television to the meaning behind them. Ofcom reported in 2016 that people were more offended by racist and discriminatory language than general swear words.
The research revealed that viewers were comfortable with general curse words, such as “arse” and “crap” being aired at any time of the day, and harsher curse words, including “fuck”, being used after watershed (9pm).
Ofcom said of the study: “Many were concerned about them [racist/discriminatory words] being used at any time, unless they were particularly justified by the context. Many said that discriminatory and racist words were harder hitting, carrying more emotional impact than ‘general’ swearwords.”
This doesn’t seem to be the same for American TV viewers, however, as many seem confused by the common use of swear words on British TV. Would this be the case without the Sex Pistols 90 second TV appearance 42 years ago?
is swearing not allowed on american tv or something cos when american actors come on uk talk shows theyre always like "omg can i say this?"
— ♀laura♀ (@PARAQUlN) March 15, 2016
So in the UK they don't cover up the swearing on TV?!
— elle (@ns_tp_mg_sk_jm) June 24, 2013
People freaking out about Sam Rockwell saying the f word on TV, I just don't understand why Americans don't allow swearing on night time TV shows like we do in the UK? #SNL
— Majestic 🤔 (@MajesticMagic10) January 14, 2018
having catfish on uk tv is so good because you don't get the bleeped swearing like on the american broadcast episodes
— caitlin (@ifyouseecait) January 31, 2018
Twitter goes mental because Samuel L Jackson says Fuck on american TV. Is it that big a deal? Swearing on TV is constant in UK.
— Dave Ryan (@CtrlF5) December 16, 2012
Words: Georgia Hansen | Subbing: Maria Campuzano
Photo by: Georgia Hansen