❚ IT WAS ALBERT EINSTEIN WHO SAID: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” So listen up, kids, to the words of wisdom being expressed in George O’Dowd’s first known TV appearance at the age of 18 sporting the mauve tartan clownsuit he used to wear to Barbarella’s club in Birmingham. When this show went out nobody knew the faces in the studio crowd and as you can hear, other kids took their clothes just as seriously as George, but listen how his quiet Sarf London tones – not yet modulated into his posher popstar accent – take over the studio discussion in the face of sarcastic punks.
Punkette: “Everybody who looks different gets aggression. You always get picked on.”
George: “You don’t have to get involved in it though. I don’t fight. If you’re really into dressing up … you wouldn’t care what other people thought.”
Lad: “Yeah but say somebody hit ya?”
G: “So what? You don’t have to hit them back.”
Lad: “So are you gonna stand there and take it?”
G: “I do! It’s more cool to walk away from people.”
This newly discovered footage dates from October 1979 and the endearingly innocent freeform discussion magazine called Something Else, presented by a team of teenagers and made by the BBC Community Programmes unit, years before trendy Channel 4 was invented. Broadcast on Saturday evenings on the intellectual’s channel, BBC2, the show ran for six years until October 1982, closing down at the very moment Channel 4 launched. It is the clear inspiration for the torrent of yoof TV the new network spawned.
In this edition from Birmingham, the Coventry band the Specials had just finished playing and George is sitting beside Martin Degville, just in front of Jane Kahn, partner in the seminal outrage shop Kahn & Bell. In the spring of ’79 George was sharing Degville’s flat, an old dental surgery in Goodall Street, overlooking the Walsall market. George was earning £3.50 a day at Degville’s Dispensary, Martin’s clothes stall in the Oasis market at the Bull Ring.
George described Martin as “cool and alien” in those days, and one of his few remarks on the show nonchalantly raises the biggest laugh. A few months later, he opened a London branch of Degville’s Dispensary where he was always charming and polite and surprisingly shy for somebody who dressed to shock – only visually a precursor of the pop monster he became with Sigue Sigue Sputnik in 1986.