Well, it’s Clive James week again in London. The wearied among us would say that’s every week, but the Kogarah Kid has been somewhat quiet of late. Now he’s bursting out all over with his fourth volume of memoirs, The North Face of Soho, and it’s entertainingly self-deprecating and nauseatingly narcissistic, often within the same sentence. But how true is any of it?

The question arises because of a passage in the later part of the book, where James is allegedly in a green room at Granada studios during the famous interview between broadcaster Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols in the 70s.

Grundy famously incited the Pistols to “be appalling” during the interview and they eventually responded by calling him “you dirty old f-cking man” – often, erroneously, said to be the first time the f-word made it to British TV (it was actually said by critic Ken Tynan several years earlier).

James makes much of his encounter with the Pistols, using them as a prop to advance the old theory that what rebels really hate is themselves, and focuses on a stand-up confrontation he had with Sid Vicious, who bailed him up and snarled “what are you looking at?” – the first time he had heard that phrase and a harbinger of a Britain to come.

All very momentous, except of course it didn’t happen that way – because, as any fool know, Vicious didn’t join the band (as its bass non-player) until sometime after the 1 December 1976 interview.

Was it the less iconic Steve Jones, or Paul Cook, who gave Clive a bollocksing? Did it happen at all? And can we believe the avalanche of other famous encounters recorded on Soho’s North face?

Unreliable memoirs are one thing, but when you start beefing up history to make the set-pieces more historic – “Clive Turns the Punks at the Gates of Vienna” – then it looks pretty desperate. And maybe there’s a bit of displacement involved – for if it was songwriter Glen Matlock (whom Vicious “replaced”) doing the business, then James encountered someone whose songs are of a power far greater than his own rococo efforts.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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