Sid Vicious, a beer shampoo, and a phone call with mum...

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Sid Vicious, a beer shampoo, and a
phone call with mum...

Today marks 40 years since the dismal, lonely, drug-induced death of Sid Vicious. I remember the day, and I remember the tribute of a 12-year-old me - thanks to my mum sewing zips into a green jumper my grandma had once knitted for me.

I should say at this point that Sid was not a hero; he was just a working class kid who made history - primarily through his own death and that of his girlfriend Nancy, for which he remains the main suspect.

But to many teenagers then, Vicious WAS a hero. He was a nihilist and a disruptor. He was a symbol of those times in the late 1970s, of disillusion, of establishment loathing and of a deep rebellion threaded by music, fashion and a burgeoning anti-politics.

Yet a great old journo friend of mine Peter Dobbie has sent me an email revealing a different side of Vicious. Peter had been sent by The London Evening News to interview The Sex Pistols back in 1977 at The White Bear in Piccadilly. It was just after the release of Never Mind The Bollocks.

"It did not go well. It was lunchtime but Johnny Rotten had started drinking early and was defensive. No, he could not give a f*** what I or anyone thought about the album. Was if offensive to the monarchy? What the f*** would he care? Spongers the lot of them. Sid was also pretty pissed but seemed subdued and miserable. The interview ended with Rotten hurling a pint of beer at me, most of which covered a cream coloured suit which I had recently bought from M&S and thought rather snazzy.

"It was only then that I got talking with Sid. My own lifestyle consisted mainly of beer and crisps but Sid looked positively emaciated. He was clearly, even then, finding the strain of the touring and the relentless demands to be 'interesting' and unconventional, quite exhausting. He spoke quietly about being tired all the time and not being able to talk to his mum. His father had long gone. He asked if I could give her a call and reassure her he was all right. He scribbled her number on my notebook and as an afterthought said he was sorry that I had received the beer shampoo.

"I telephoned his mum. She answered warily and listened without saying much while I explained that I had met Sid. I told her that he clearly missed her and that I was to tell her that while he was tired that he was okay. She said nothing that I can recall. If anything I guess that she felt, rather like Sid - overwhelmed, confused and sad that perhaps everything was not as it should have been between them. It was as if things had got out of control and the pair had left things said that should not have been. I never saw Sid again."

Vicious' cultural impact, and much of the reason he is remembered today, is in part through the destructive life that ultimately destroyed him at the age of 21. For good and bad, his life symbolised an era. Yet, as Peter's poignant anecdote relates, he was really just a sad kid.


To kill, or not to kill

I've been asked a few times this week whether I really want to kill Tony the Tiger. The honest answer is Yes. But more importantly I want people to debate the pros and cons of killing Tony first.

That was the thinking behind the message I delivered in my speech to the Advertising Association on Wednesday. I singled out Tony, Coco the monkey, and the Honey Monster as cartoon characters being used to promote high sugar cereal products to children through packaging - "billboards on table tops aimed at tiny tots".

What I really want to see is the advertising industry have the conversation with itself, and its clients, and introduce a cartoon character ban on packets through self-regulation. Not only would that be socially responsible but, importantly, it would also form part of the vital public debate around sugar and health.

As I made clear in the speech, which you can read here in full, I started out my career as a young advertising account exec near the Kings Road, and the UK industry is one of our great global creative industries. I'm a huge fan. I told the conference that if the ad industry won't ban Tony itself, then, Labour will have to do it for them. But I really hope we don't get to that point.



Fizzing in to February

I couldn't have been more pleased with the response to Fizz Free February going nationwide. The campaign, first created by Southwark Council, is now being supported from Sandwell to Barnsley, Kent to Newcastle, Northampton to Lancashire people, and by the Mayors of London and Manchester.

Yesterday brought acres of print, TV and social media coverage for the launch. But most importantly, hundreds of schools and their pupils are pledging to give up sugary drinks for the month, as we start the fightback against the twin obesity and dental crises. My absolute highlight was getting to spend time with the wonderful kids at Cobourg Primary in south London. You can watch the short film we made with BBC Breakfast here..



Opening the theatre doors

(Photo: Alex Charilaou, Ever Photography)

An outstanding winner in The Stage Awards 2019 this week was Open Door, an initiative based in London and the East Midlands which helps young people from low income households prepare for drama school auditions. The scheme is, brilliantly, part-funded by Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke.

Judge Natasha Tripney said: "New initiatives such as Open Door are making it possible for talented young people to overcome financial barriers into the industry." 

This is exactly the sort of idea that the Acting Up commission - which I set up two years ago with colleagues Tracy Brabin and Gloria De Piero - believes necessary to encourage diversity and access for all to the arts. I couldn't be happier at Open Door's triumph.

Another notable winner was the Bush Theatre, which won London theatre of the year, with judges praising the diversity of  programming, which included Arinze Kene’s fabulous Misty.

The newly opened Barn Theatre in Cirencester won fringe theatre of the year for work including The Rise and Fall of the Little Voice, while Nottingham Playhouse was awarded regional theatre of the year. Congratulations to all the winners.



Protect not profit

On Thursday I challenged DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright to support the Science and Technology Select Committee's call for Facebook and others to face a legal "duty of care" for children - explicitly underpinned by a regulator with teeth. It's time they were focussed on protecting - not profiting from - our children.

It's a theme I will be looking at further when I give a speech this week on "Putting technology to work for democracy" for Progressive Centre UK at London's Whitechapel Gallery. You can still get tickets here.



A child's christmas

A boy rejected his Christmas gift of a football shirt because it lacked the logo of the betting company that sponsored his team and so "was not a proper one". There, in one sentence, the argument is made for banning gambling adverts on Premier League football shirts. I am delighted to see the Church of England is now supporting Labour's policy on this.


Hello Hello!

This week brought a great new addition to the #NoSpaceForHate club. Hello! magazine launched their #HellotoKindness initiative with a very firm nod to the campaign I launched back in November.  The need has never been greater to come together and call out hate on social media. Welcome!


Cuts to the heart


£400m has been slashed from local culture in nine years of Tory rule - a reduction in spending of more than 30 per cent. The Government must end the austerity programme that puts our cherished local institutions at risk. Each library, museum, gallery and creative space closed is a chunk taken out of the heart of a community.

The Daily Express has, understandably, got a bad name. But things are changing under its new ownership and it would be really churlish not to recognise the paper's excellent Save Our Libraries campaign.



Writing on the wall


Last week I wrote to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt urging a tough stand against Malaysia's refusal to allow Israeli athletes to take part in the World Para Swimming Championships. The International Paralympic Committee has now stripped Malaysia of its right to host the event. A sad but necessary decision.


Big data dynamite 


"Birmingham isn't a big city at peak times": How poor public transport explains the UK's productivity puzzle.

This extraordinary survey by Open Data Institute Leeds recorded 40 million bus journeys, a total of 16GB of data, and challenges urban planners, transport chiefs and economists everywhere.

I can read it and read it again, and still find it fascinating. It's an amazing example of how the use of big data can transform our approach to a modern economy.



Switch it on


There are just 10 days left to add your voice to the campaign to save free TV licences for over 75s. A shocking 2 million people living alone - many with only their TV for company - face losing this vital benefit.

In 2017 the Tories made an election promise to keep the free TV licence. They have broken that promise, and delegated the decision back to the BBC. Yet the job of the BBC should be to inform, educate and entertain - not to carry out the dirty work of austerity for this government. That's why the government must now step in and fund the free TV licence.

Please send a message in support of the campaign - backed by Age UK, Independent Age, the National Pensioners' Convention and the Labour Party - and say no to switching off free TV for the older generation. Please sign this petition.



Class action

Schools across the country no longer have the funds to meet every child's need. That is a terrible indictment of this Government. More so when headteachers - like these in Gateshead - are having to petition for fair school funding. Please show support by adding your name.


What comes out in the wash

This week I had the pleasure of watching Bafta-awarding winning Jack Thorne's play Mydidae in rehearsal at Waterside Arts Centre in Trafford. It's on from Feb 13 to 23 at Hope Mill in Manchester. Gritty and surprising. Grab tickets if you can here.