How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Here’s a Fact Check

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The post How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Here’s a Fact Check appeared first on Consequence.

This week’s release of Pistol, FX’s six-part limited series about the short existence of U.K. punk group Sex Pistols helmed by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, has been met with excitement by fans and some serious trepidation by critics.

So far, reviews have been mixed (for the record, we liked it) but even among the pans, one aspect that nearly all the writers seem to approve of is the show’s attention to detail. The team behind Pistol went above and beyond to replicate the look and feel of mid-’70s London, the groundbreaking fashion designs of Vivienne Westwood, and the physical mannerisms of the real-life people being portrayed on screen.

As for the story being told in Pistol — a group of striving lower-class Londoners who through sheer chutzpah and the machinations of their manager Malcolm McLaren fomented a musical revolution in their home country — Boyle and screenwriter Craig Pearce worked primarily from Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol, the 2017 memoir by Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, while also culling from other books, articles, and films about the band and the London punk scene.

To their credit, Boyle and Pearce and their team got more right than they didn’t. But just how close did they get to telling the real story of the Pistols and what did they miss or mess up? We dug into the six episodes of Pistol and compared them to the historical record to give it a quick fact check.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Pistol (as much as you can spoil such a thing).]

Did Steve Jones Truly Steal Some of David Bowie’s Gear?

pistol steve jones How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol steve jones How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

Yes, if Jones’ 2017 memoir Lonely Boy is to be believed. In the opening moments of Pistol, future Sex Pistol Steve Jones is seen sneaking into London’s Hammersmith Odeon in the hours following the one of the final gigs of the Spiders from Mars. He briefly lives out a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy on stage before hustling out the back door with some equipment.

Here’s how Jones remembers it in his book: “I just went in and got as much stuff off the stage as I could fit in the back: Trevor Bolder’s Sun bass amp… a few cymbals and this little Electro Voice microphone that still had a smudge of Bowie’s lipstick on it.”

Did Steve Jones and Chrissie Hynde Have a Hot and Heavy Fling?

pistol chrissie hynde steve jones How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol chrissie hynde steve jones How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

There’s no telling if their brief affair was as intense and… acrobatic as the love scenes that feature prominently in Pistol. The two did fool around in their days as hopeful rockers in London however. In an appearance on Jones’ radio show, Jonesey’s Jukebox, Hynde joked around with her longtime friend about winding up in his bed and once having sex with him in a bathroom during a party.

Did NME Writer Nick Kent Hate the Sex Pistols?

pistol teaser trailer sex pistols fx series danny boyle hulu
pistol teaser trailer sex pistols fx series danny boyle hulu

Pistol (FX)

Not at first. Eventually he had every reason to, especially after their future bassist Sid Vicious tried to brain him with a bike chain. But while he’s portrayed in Pistol as looking down his nose at the punk group, the truth is that Kent was nearly a member of the Sex Pistols. He jammed with the group early on and wrote some material with them. Until manager Malcolm McLaren intervened.

“He saw [it] as me trying to undermine his control over the project,” Kent wrote in his memory Apathy For The Devil. “He banded the other three together and told them I was a disruptive influence that needed to be exiled forthwith.”

Did Jordan, the Legendary Shop Assistant at Vivienne Westwood’s Boutique SEX, Take the Train to London With Her Breasts Exposed?

pistol maisie williams How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol maisie williams How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

According to Jones she did. In Lonely Boy, the Sex Pistol writes that Jordan (a.k.a. Pamela Rooke, played by Maisie Williams in the series) dared to dress “so outrageously” that he was “almost embarrassed to walk down the street with her because everyone would be staring at us. It wasn’t like she got changed to go to work… [At] the end of her day grind she’d totter off down the King’s Road and get on a bus back to the countryside or wherever the fuck it was she lived. She’d have her tits hanging out on the bus in all of this rubber gear.”

Did Jones Freeze up and Run Away at His First Gig, Fronting the Band That Would Become the Sex Pistols?

pistol fx hulu 1 How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol fx hulu 1 How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

Jones did fill the role of vocalist in the early lineup of the group previously known as The Swankers and Kutie Jones and Sex Pistols, and McLaren did secure the band its first show at Salter’s Cafe in London. In Pistol, the night ends abruptly with Jones, unable to squeak out even a word, running off stage.

The reality was far less dramatic but the gig was, by all accounts, a mess. The 10-minute performance found Jones barely able to sing and quickly realizing how much he didn’t want to be the center of attention. “I wish someone had filmed that gig,” Jones wrote in Lonely Boy, “because watching how terrible I was would’ve been fucking hilarious.”

Did Malcolm McLaren Help Steve Jones Avoid a Long Prison Sentence?

pistol thomas brodie sangster How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol thomas brodie sangster How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

A key moment in Pistol finds Jones arrested after trying to steal more music equipment — this time from the heavy psych outfit Hawkwind. He spends a few nights in jail but avoids a long prison sentence when McLaren shows up in court to argue on Jones’ behalf. The last-minute reprieve is true.

As for the circumstances behind the arrest, Pearce took a little artistic license in the retelling. In his book, Jones is hazy on the details. “The fact that I can’t remember exactly what I got done for,” he wrote, “is probably another example of my memory closing down when life gets too difficult.”

Did Sid Vicious Attempt to Beat Up TV Host Whispering Bob Harris?

pistol fx hulu 2 How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol fx hulu 2 How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

Without a doubt. As portrayed in Pistol, the band was celebrating their new recording contract with A&M Records at a party that was also attended by Harris, then the host of popular music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. Vicious confronted him, demanding to know when the Pistols were going to be on the show.

“It didn’t matter what I said,” Harris told BBC Radio’s The Arts Show. “He took this incredible haymaker swing at me… It was the trigger. All hell broke loose.” It was Harris’ friend, recording engineer George Nicholson, who was unfortunately slashed by a bottle Vicious was wielding.

Did the Pistols Play a Matinee for Kids During Their 1977 Tour of the U.K.?

pistol fx steve jones How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol fx steve jones How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

Sounds crazy but it is absolutely true. The closing episode of Pistol recreates one of the most improbable shows in the original incarnation of the Sex Pistols: the band playing a Christmas Day benefit concert for the children of striking firemen in the city of Huddersfield. The quartet took to this live appearance with glee, dancing with the kids to disco hits of the day, handing out promotional goodies, smashing cake in each other’s faces, and then playing a short set.

“I think they only played about six songs,” said Jez Scott, a young punk fan who was there that day, speaking to The Guardian in 2007. “I remember they did ‘Bodies,’ but omitted the swear words because of the children.”

Did Jones and the Rest of the Pistols Try to Force Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious’ Girlfriend, Back to New York Against Her Will?

pistol sid nancy How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol sid nancy How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

The tragic story of Nancy Spungen entering the orbit of Sid Vicious and the debilitating effect their relationship had on Sex Pistols is recounted in detail in the final episodes of Pistol. In the series, the situation became so bad that McLaren and Jones concoct a scheme to essentially push her on to a plane bound for New York in hopes that she’ll vanish forever.

There’s little indication though that that actually took place. In Hynde’s memoir Reckless, she talks of “whispered plans… to grab Nancy off the street, bundle her into a van and speed off to Heathrow,” but she doesn’t make it sound as though anyone went through with it. Jones, on the other hand, says that “Malcolm’s brilliant plan to kidnap Nancy and force her to go back to America had failed” without offering any other details.

Was “Bodies” Inspired by a Mentally Disturbed Woman Who Carried an Aborted Fetus in a Bag?

pistol sex pistols fx How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check
pistol sex pistols fx How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Heres a Fact Check

Pistol (FX)

The creation of this unnerving Sex Pistols song serves as an anchor for one Pistol episode, as Pauline, a young escapee from a mental institution, forms a deep attachment to the band and, one night, arrives at John Lydon’s house with her aborted child.

According to the Sex Pistols vocalist, the story is true, confirming it to The Guardian’s Dave Simpson in 2018. “Shock, horror and all that, but once you get over it, it’s a bloody good subject for a song,” Lydon said.

Pistol is streaming now on Hulu.

How Accurate Is the Sex Pistols Show Pistol? Here’s a Fact Check
Robert Ham

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