London Calling – The Wager

As The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ single began its inexorable rise up the British singles charts in December 1979, Joe was invited to appear on Radio 1’s Round Table, a weekly radio show on which invited guests discussed the ‘hit’ or ‘miss’ potential of that particular week’s releases.

Everyone on the panel apart from an amused Joe unanimously agreed that The Clash’s apocalyptic new single was destined to be a ‘Top Ten’ hit, and that by extension an invitation to appear on Top of the Pops would be extended to the band. It was at this point that Joe felt the need to point out that The Clash would be maintaining their ongoing anti-’Top of the Pops’ stance, and would be turning down flat any invitation to appear on said show.

This non-negotiable stance by The Clash was greeted with dismay by both the panel and CBS – the band’s record company – who all realised that at a time when there were only three or four weekly music-based TV programmes in the UK, that they were turning down the opportunity to reach tens-of-thousands of potential new fans. This decision would also clearly impact hugely on both singles and album sales too.
Like virtually all of the initial wave of UK punk bands, The Clash had declared ‘Top of the Pops’ to be a virtual enemy, principally because of its deliberate policy to not feature artists whose music was uncompromising or challenging. In the next couple of years however, virtually every single one of those very same punk bands would renege on their promise to boycott this pop paragon of wholesomeness. Not The Clash, however.

One of the few voices of dissent within the hallowed corridors of Broadcasting House besides the rightly revered John Peel (and his show was tucked away in the ‘graveyard’ slot) was ‘Auntie’s’ sole female DJ, the inestimable spitfire and committed caner, Annie Nightingale. For years she had determinedly battled the endemic sexism (and racism) prevalent within the BBC, bravely championing the new slew of ‘punk’ bands, The Clash in particular.

An enthusiastic advocate and friend of the band from as far back as 1977, Annie was to now become directly involved in one of the more bizarre sub-plots in the band’s already convoluted timeline. With the ruby anniversary of London Calling approaching this year, she would once again recount the tale for the website Flavourmag:

“The Clash released ‘London Calling’ in late 1979, and I heard Joe say on ‘Round Table’ that as they would not be appearing on Top of the Pops to promote it, and so their was no way that it would make it into the ‘Top Ten’ Believing the song to be unstoppable I foolishly bet the band a Cadillac that it would ! It went straight into the chart at number 11 on its first week of release, so not unreasonably I thought ‘right – next week it’ll break into the Top Ten’ However, the following week it dropped to 15th and then to 20th the following week; I had lost the wager!

I was horrified! Now I’m thinking ‘how on earth am I was going to get them a bloody Cadillac’! Thankfully a kindly listener phoned in to my show and said that he would spare my blushes! It turned out that he had an old Cadillac and he even went to the trouble of delivering it to the Radio1 studio, in London.

After it had arrived the band called me to say that although they were grateful and impressed that I (or more accurately this generous chap) had honoured the bet, none of them knew how to drive! In the end it was auctioned off and the proceeds went to striking miners families in Cumbria…bless them..”

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