Getting a track banned from the BBC makes you part of an illustrious club, and The Sex Pistols are fully paid up members. For a band who only lived a short life, they somehow received the badge of honour on three occasions with ‘God Save The Queen’, ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and ‘No One Is Innocent’ all blacklisted by the powerhouse corporation.
It took the BBC two weeks after the song’s release to ban it on July 13th, 1978. In truth, it’s remarkable that it took the broadcasters that long. The track was released after the Sex Pistols had already broken up after they failed to recruit a lead-singer after the irreplaceable Johnny Rotten stormed out on them earlier that year. ‘No One Is Innocent’ was their last hurrah and bizarrely featured the notorious London gangster Ronnie Biggs on vocals.
Biggs planned and carried out the infamous Great Train Robbery of 1963, where they stole £2.6 million. Even though he was a criminal, Biggs had an anti-establishment aura, making him a perfect honorary member of The Sex Pistols. He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment but somehow escaped from Wandsworth Prison in 1965 and fled to Australia.
From Australia, Biggs made his way to Brazil. The South American country had no extradition treaty with the UK, and he was free to live a fairly normal life. However, everybody knew about his sordid past, which stopped him from working, visiting bars, or even coming home after 10 pm.
Biggs did some bizarre things to earn a living. He regularly hosted barbecues at his home, and tourists would pay just to be in his company. When The Sex Pistols came calling and asked him to lend his vocals to ‘No One Is Innocent’, it was a no brainer.
The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook recorded two tracks with him in Brazil, but only ‘No One Is Innocent’ would receive an official release. It’s a nihilistic anthem that epitomises the band’s attitude and cynical outlook on life.
“The record was made in a church studio in Rio with the priest present, who seemed very happy,” Biggs later said. “We were rather drunk by the time we came to make the recording, which explains why it may have appeared a little out of tune.”
Meanwhile, Jones later proudly recalled to Mojo magazine: “Ronnie Biggs rated himself as a bit of a poet, and I remember sitting in the hotel room writing the music while he wrote the words. It was a big accomplishment, to write a song with an infamous train robber. That was a good move.”
It’s easy to understand why a song featuring an ardent criminal on the run from British authorities didn’t receive airplay from a public service broadcaster paid for by taxpayers.
The Sex Pistols had already split up, and it was only right that their last hurrah was scandalous. Jones and Cook had nothing to lose and successfully bowed out in the most outrageous way imaginable to mankind by celebrating the ultimate lovable rogue, Ronnie Biggs.