Diligent sergeant raises alarm about danger lurking in Sex Pistols album

 

CENSORSHIP BOARD:THE SEX Pistols came to the attention of An Garda Síochána in 1977 when a diligent sergeant raised the alarm about the Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistolsalbum.

The sergeant from Dublin's Store Street station found the album sleeve on display in five city centre shops, according to a Garda memo released by the National Archives.

"The title on the sleeve . . . would indicate that the contents of the record is obscene," a garda inspector wrote but added: "The member did not hear the record played."

The matter was referred to the Censorship Board but the board's secretary responded that it was not clear how the punk record could be regarded as a publication, under the Censorship of Publications Act.

The deputy assistant chief state solicitor then suggested that the record sleeve could be a contravention of the Indecent Advertisements Act if it was on display in the shop window and visible from the street.

"However, the penalty on conviction cannot exceed £2 and in all the circumstances you may feel that prosecution is not called for," he wrote.

There is no indication that the prosecution followed but a few weeks before the sergeant raised his concerns, Virgin Records successfully defended charges of obscenity over the album title when the case was heard at Nottingham Magistrates' Court.

The annual release of 30-year -old State files can always be relied upon to provide a sheaf of correspondence on censorship, or the lack of it.

The latest releases include a series of letters about allegedly indecent comic postcards, following a complaint from a priest which appeared to come from two schoolboys.

A Department of Justice official wrote to the attorney generals office seeking advice and enclosing a few specimens of the cards, "the worst I can find" which were submitted to the department in another case years earlier.

He said he did not have a lot of sympathy with the complaint "and my private opinion of the two 17-year-old school boys to whom the complainant refers is that they are a couple of odious little prigs of the sort that their school companions would have dealt faithfully with when I was a boy".

He continued: "Not that I have any stomach for vulgar post cards nowadays but I find nothing unwholesome about coarse or ribald jests concerning sex, the processes of reproduction, and the natural functions of the body after (admittedly a long way after) the fashion of Rabelais, and having for their object the production of unrefined and uninhibited belly laughter".

A senior counsel at the attorney general's office responded, saying he entertained no doubt as to the vulgarity of the postcards "but have considerable misgivings as to whether they would be an incitement to sexual immorality or unnatural vice or be likely in any other similar way to corrupt or deprave".

In June 1978, the Children's Protection Society complained to gardaí about a "shameful film" being shown at the Irish Film Theatre on Dublin's Earlsfort Terrace.

The society's secretary, John P Clerkin, wrote that he attended the members-only cinema and saw Arabian Nights which contained full-frontal nudity, explicit sex, decapitation and ritual killing. He questioned how such a film could be shown in a theatre opposite UCD.

Three days later, a Garda sergeant went into the cinema and viewed the film for 10 to 15 minutes. He said he saw a naked couple on the bed making love "although it was obvious no sexual intercourse was taking place".

A Garda inspector investigated the legislation and reported that club cinemas did not fall under the film censor's remit because the films could only be viewed by members and so were not shown "in public".

The inspector warned that it was "most likely that this form of entertainment (uncensored films) with pornographic overtones may spread to other cinemas in Dublin and other parts of Ireland".

A Garda superintendent remarked that this was "an extraordinary situation and one which needs some control. It is more extraordinary when the cinema is funded by Government grant".

The cinema received support from the Arts Council.

The matter was eventually referred to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which found that the membership requirement meant that the films were not shown "in public".