Part 15. Punk

The emergence of Punk in the mid-seventies was largely a reaction to the contemporary music scene, increasing commercialism and the spiralling cost of Jaffa Cakes. Punk reached out to a generation who felt excluded from mainstream culture. Its ethos was that anyone could make music and as a consequence the punk scene was mostly comprised of people who couldn't.

It was a philosophy that extended beyond music, particularly in the UK where punk attitudes infiltrated practically every section of society. Punk hospitals started to open their doors, staffed by amateur doctors and nurses who believed that training was just another form of state control. The world's first and last punk airline opened for business and operated briefly on the principal that airports were symbolic of fascist oppression and why the hell shouldn't they just land wherever they liked? And in 1977 Johnny 'Mucus' Ritchie narrowly missed being the first punk in space by only 100 kilometres when his homemade rocket toppled over in its milk bottle, shot through his neighbour's hedge and set fire to their cat.

Not everyone who emerged from the Punk scene was a toneless, talentless chancer. Bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Ramones reinvigorated the genre whilst others such as The Damned and The Clash professed a lyrical maturity that lifted them above the crowd. For this reason they were excommunicated by the International Federation of Punk Rockers who ordered them to hand in their safety pins on the grounds that anyone who actually knew how to make a decent record had clearly 'sold out'.

Punks preferred their heroes to be outrageous, outlandish and entirely devoid of talent. And no one summed this up better The Wombles. Who can forget the furore that was caused by their infamous appearance on the Today show, when Orinoco called host Bill Grundy a 'dirty rotter'? Grundy took offence at the phrase and goaded the band to say more, at which point Wellington told him to go fuck himself, which many people thought was fair enough.

The incident did nothing to slow their meteoric rise to fame and very soon they got their own TV show, an early evening slot in which each episode saw them trash Wimbledon Common whilst giving the finger to passers-by and screaming obscenities. Plot-wise it was a little thin on the ground, but the kids loved it and it did win them a BAFTA.

Nevertheless, despite this success there was trouble around the corner. There had always been suspicions about bass player Tomsk. He had written all the songs and was a proficient musician, hence the unease. When he admitted in an interview that he was a fan of The Clangers, it was clear that he had to go. Tomsk was sacked and replaced by Culvain MacWomble, whom no one had heard of because he was only in the books, but it was clear that the group was falling apart. Their TV show had been roundly condemned by self-appointed mentalist Mary Whitehouse, who claimed that that the voices in her head told her it should be cancelled. The band managed to weather this storm, but after a punch up in the BBC canteen with Basil Brush their days were numbered. The band split up shortly afterwards. Orinoco left to work in the dairy industry, mainly advertising butter. Culvain died in 1979 after ingesting a lethal dose of sticky buns and custard. Drummer Bungo Womble joined the girl group Bananarama, but left after just six months for fur-related reasons. And Wellington went on to produce the Sex Pistols. Today, still wanted by the government, they exist as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The Wombles?

None of this is true, by the way.

Ricky Stratocaster is three times winner of The Guardian's Bestest Professor Ever Award.

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