1. Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show
Although very tame by modern standards, Elvis Presley’s first performance on the Ed Sullivan show was considered highly shocking at the time. The myth goes that he was filmed from the waist up, so as not to offend viewers with his racy hip gyrations, but in truth, his whole body was shown. The performance was broadcast on 9 September 1956.
2. The Sex Pistols on The Today Show
In one of the most notorious television interviews in history, The Sex Pistols were criticized for swearing on the prime time arts show in December 1976. To be fair, Bill Grundy did egg them on quite a bit. They were a last-minute stand-in for Queen (who had to cancel), and Grundy was being quite condescending towards them. The show was broadcast live and uncensored before the 9pm “watershed” when swearing was forbidden. Grundy himself was seen to mouth “oh s***” as the credits rolled. He was suspended for two weeks and the show was cancelled two months later.
3. L7 on The Word
Not safe for work. Trust me on this. The grunge band appeared on notorious post-pub TV show The Word back in 1992, and rounded off their song by pulling their jeans and knickers down and exposing themselves to the audience.
4. Nirvana on Top of the Pops
Top of the Pops at that time was performed with live vocals and a pre-recorded backing track, which Kurt Cobain obviously thought was stupid because he refused to mime his guitar parts and impersonated Morrissey instead of singing Smells Like Teen Spirit the usual way.
5. Serge Gainsbourg on Michel Drucker’s Champs-Élysées
You have to feel sorry for Whitney Houston on this 1986 live show from France. A very drunk Serge Gainsbourg tells her that he wants to “f*** her”, much to the host’s (and Whitney’s) embarrassment.
6. Oliver Reed on The Word
One of the most shameful moments of British television was when The Word got Ollie Reed steaming drunk and laughed at him like a dancing bear. Reed was known for his drinking, and was frequently invited onto shows just so he could be laughed at for his drunkenness. He was famously ejected from After Dark after trying to kiss feminist writer Kate Millett with the immortal line, “Give us a kiss, big tits.” However, biographer Cliff Goodwin suggests that Reed was not always as drunk on chat shows as he appeared to be, but was playing the part to amuse the producers. The Word, for its part, redeemed itself when host Mark Lamarr verbally tore Shabba Ranks a new one for his hateful homophobic remarks.