In 1973, bohemian aristocrat Penny Rambo experienced an opium-induced vision of the year 1984. In this nightmarish near future world, men dressed in orange overalls lay dead or dying in the streets while houses, shops and factories burned around them. Penny walked down the centre of the road in his tweed jacket and top hat, trying not to get blood on his Gucci shoes as he made his way to the Yorkshire Opera House, which was the only building left unaffected by all the chaos and destruction.
“Help me,” a voice pleaded.
Penny paused and looked down at a man lying on his back in the gutter, and noticed for the first time the huge torrent of blood flowing down the drain. The man’s bloody fingers twitched by his sides as he grimaced in agony. A white helmet with a broken lamp attached to it lay nearby, anchored with a thick black umbilical cord to a box strapped to the man’s waist.
“Who did this to you, old chap?” Penny asked.
The man’s cracked lips moved, but his voice was barely a whisper. Penny crouched down before him so he could hear what he had to say.
“… is coming. Save … the miners … from …”
Each laboured utterance was fainter than the last, and punctuated by a rasping breath. Penny had to strain to hear them clearly as the man’s life ebbed away from him.
“… save us … from … The … Thatcher.”
“What on earth is The Thatcher?” Penny asked.
But the man was already dead. Penny reached out to close his wide, staring eyes.
Then a brass band started to play. Penny startled and shot upright. He spun toward the sound, but there was nothing to see. It seemed to come from everywhere at once as a choir of Welsh and Yorkshire voices rang out:
“Save the miners and set them free, teach the world about anarchy.”
Penny woke from the vision with a start, the words of the miners’ lament still echoing around his opium-fuddled mind. He knew he had to do something to stop the prophesy coming true. But what?
Penny spent the next three years producing and distributing pamphlets extolling the virtues of anarchy, something he had learned meant living in a society free from government or law. He sold his ancestral home and built a house made entirely from clock dials so he would know precisely how long he would have left until the fateful year arrived, and invited all his chums from the polo club to live with him.
But nobody seemed to be interested in Penny Rambo’s pamphlets. He would find them scattered in the streets, unread, the message lost to an uncaring world. Even worse, The Thatcher, he soon discovered, was real and working her way up the ranks of the Conservative Party. If Penny didn’t do something drastic soon, the miners, and the whole country, were doomed.
And then along came the Sex Pistols, and everything became clear. The irony of singing about anarchy whilst signed to the pop music offshoot of global arms dealer Thorn EMI was not lost on Penny Rambo, but he saw enough potential in this new medium of punk rock to know it would be the perfect vehicle for his message. Using his military history as a drummer boy in the second world war as a starting point, Penny set about forming a band so he could spread the word about The Thatcher and her impending evil deeds.
They called themselves Cross, because they were all rather jolly cross about the whole affair, and to ensure there would be no ambiguity about what they stood for they inserted a letter A (for anarchy) inside the letter O of their name. With their marketing strategy in place, the fledgling punk band then set about converting Penny’s political pamphlets into rhyming couplets. Early attempts, such as Anarchy Would Be Rather Spiffing Old Chap, and Don’t Do What One’s Nanny Tells One To Do, failed to impress focus groups, however.
“Do what, you poshos?” Sounds journalist and amateur cage fighter Gary Bush is reported to have said at the time, before going on to write a scathing review in the Daily Mail.
Cross hit back by penning the song Gary is a Meanie, but Penny knew deep down that the band’s aristocratic upbringing was a major problem. After all, if nobody took them seriously, how were they supposed to warn the world about what was coming in the year 1984?
In the end it was Cross’s marketing director Gee Whizz who came up with the obvious solution. The idea came to her while she and Penny were watching a stage production of Oliver Twist at the Royal Opera House in London.
“I say, Rambo old chap,” she said during the interval, “I’ve just had a jolly brilliant wheeze.”
“Pray tell, my dear,” Penny replied.
“What if Cross hired a street urchin to sing for them? Then that old meanie Gary Bush wouldn’t say such frightful things about you.”
“What a simply splendid idea, old girl. But where on earth could we find such a person?”
“Golly, I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps we could place an ad in Vogue?”
“Do street urchins read Vogue?”
“Of course. How else would they know what is in fashion?”
“Then that is what we shall do, my dear.”
But as luck would have it, Penny didn’t need to advertise for a street urchin in Vogue Magazine. As he and Gee were leaving the Royal Opera House after the play they bumped (quite literally) into a young chap by the name of Steve Ignoramus who was on his way home from a Clash concert.
“Oi, watch ahht you mug,” Steve grumbled as he glared at Penny’s top hat.
“Golly,” Gee said, “doesn’t he talk frightfully funny?”
“Do wot?” Steve replied. “You havin’ a fackin’ bubble, darlin’?”
“I say old chap,” Penny interjected before the situation became any more heated. “How would you like to earn some money?” He pulled out one of his Cross business cards with a flourish, and held it out to Steve.
“Fackin’ Crass? Wot’s that when it’s at ’ome’?”
“It’s pronounced Cross, dear boy. We’re a punk band, and we would like to hire you as our singer. How does a guinea a week sound?”
After careful consideration, Steve Ignoramus agreed to join the band and moved into Clock Dial House, where he worked as a butler while Penny Rambo set about composing Cross’s first concept album, The Feeding of the Five Thousand Miners.
To be jolly well continued …