<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> God Save The Sex Pistols - Ronnie Biggs
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Ronald Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers, speaks to TIM LOTT from Rio.

Ronnie Biggs was doing time..Ronnie Biggs was doing time..Ronnie Biggs was doing time..

Biggs under his new guise as punk poet talks about his work with the Sex Pistols.

(THE ANSWER to) A Hack’s Prayer by Tim Lott

God save the Great Train Robber
He’s out of her Majesty’s reach
When he’s not making punk rock records
He’s lounging around on the beach.

God save the Sex Pistols
They’re in the top twenty this week
And using cheap gimmicks to hide
The fact that they’re well past their peak.

God save tasteless lyrics
They shift a lot of wax
God save cheap profiteering
spurred on by media hacks.

God save Malcolm McLaren
He knows how to make his bread
God save the Great Train driver
Whoops, too late, he’s dead.

Which, as a literary statement, is about as profound as anything Ronnie Biggs can manage. I, of course, am one of the media hacks referred to. Who can deny it? My claws are right up there, scratching McLaren’s back, provok­ing weals of profitable publicity.

Then any journalist who would turn down the chance to Interview Ronnie Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers — albeit over a crackly London to Rio telephone line —would either be exceptionally stupid or revoltingly moral. I am neither, being merely unashamedly curious.Ronnie Biggs, the only one that got away on any permanent basis, is curiously enough, my second acquaintance among the Great Train Robbers. Charlie Wilson — an infinitely more important figure in the robbery than Biggs, chatted to me in his Reading prison earlier this year, after he set up a Steve Gibbons concert there.

Wilson is a rock ‘n’ roll fan. But he sat still through the set. Prison has knocked the stuffing out of him, say his friends.The same could not be said of Biggs. Also a pop fan — he claims to like The Ramones, David Bowie, The Incredible String Band (!) and of course, the Sex Pistols - Biggs is currently relishing his new status as a pop star. “It’s very nice,” he proclaims, modestly. “Feels pretty good.”

For those of you who’ve had their heads in a bucket over the last couple of weeks. Biggs is the lead singer and lyricist of ‘No-One Is Innocent, A Punk Prayer by Ronnie Biggs’ a. k. a. ‘Cosh The Driver’ (the latter title which he denies having anything to do with). CBS refused — not unreasonably— to press the single under the title of ‘Cosh The Driver’ and it eventually reached the shops as ‘No-One Is Innocent’ -Even so, the lyrics are dubious enough for the single to have been banned by just about every radio station in the country. And it’s not only the big chain stores that aren’t stocking copies.

Immediately prior to my phone call to Rio, Malcolm McLaren, that magical manipulator of moolah, was desperately trying to ascertain why the single couldn’t even be found in Virgin Records stores that week —despite the fact that the record is, of course, on the Virgin label.Despite these mysterious stum­bling blocks, the single is selling a lot of copies, and, rather inevitably, generating large numbers of pound notes. It is inarguable that a massive number of these sales come from the fact that the Pistols, with ‘No-One Is innocent’ have reached the frontiers of irreverance and toppled over into rather question­able taste.

Or maybe you consider these lyrics perfectly innocent. Ronnie certainly does - The less “offensive” verses have been omitted

“God Save Martin Bormann
And the Nazis on the run
They wasn’t being wicked, God
It was their idea of fun.

God save Myra Hindley
God save Ian Brady
Even though he’s horrible
And she ain’t what you’d call a lady.

God save politicians
God save our friends the pigs
God save ldi Amin
And God save Ronald Biggs

This, per se, appears to be an exoneration of some peculiarly nasty activities. Like torturing children. Like gassing Jews. Like slaughter­ing unfortunate Europeans.

And that — in a sense — is just what it is,

“The Punk prayer,” says Ronnie, “Is at least half serious. It isn’t just a joke. I put a lot of my sentiments into it.

‘Whether it’s in bad taste or not depends how you look at it. Lots of things are in bad taste There are people who just don’t appreciate the lyrics.

“The message of the song is simply this: If God is going to save The Queen, then he should save Myra Hindley. and Martin Bormann and Ian Brady. He has to save everybody or nobody. Because, no ­one, absolutely no-one, is innocent.”

Ronnie says that the song has “religious overtones” and believes that there is a religious message implicit in it.

“The degree of your sin doesn’t matter; makes no difference whatsoever. Everyone’s just as bad or good as each other.”

Which is a convenient enough theory when you’re a criminal on the run for one of the biggest robberies in history.

The punk prayer was cut after the Sex Pistols were banned from playing in Finland. Jones, Cook and McLaren all admired “Biggsy”, and a phone call from Malcolm secured what turned out to be a welcome visit.

“The Pistols rang and said they’d like to visit me. Nothing was said about a record. I’d heard ‘God Save The Queen’ by the Sex Pistols some months before when an English friend of mine played it to me. I didn’t hear the lyrics properly, but I thought it made a great sound. Anyway.. I said I’d love to have them come and see me. Paul and Steve both being Londoners like me, we got on really well, They’re both wholesome blokes.”

Eventually it turned out —surprise, surprise — that the Pistols happened to want to do some recording In Rio. And guess what?

In the studio in Rio: Cook, Biggs, Jones, McLaren(left: In the studio in Rio: Cook, Biggs, Jones, McLaren)

“I said I thought it would be fun to sing on the record, and they agreed. The only singing I’d done before had been in pubs. They always threw me out on my ear, because I was no good’

Now if Ronnie was no good as a singer, why did the Sex Pistols make a single with him? Clue: it wasn’t because of his talents as a lyricist.

“I’d written some poetry anyway, so I asked if they would like me to write some lyrics. They said yes, and ‘A Punk Prayer’ was the result.”

Biggs insists that his motivation for playing with the Pistols had nothing to do with his financial solvency. Four times, he repeats that he did the record “just for fun".

"I have no idea what I stand to make out of the record. I have been given no money upfront. I haven’t had any royalties yet.

“I have high hopes that I stand to make a great deal of money. But I’ve been involved in so many rip ­offs, so many promises that haven’t gone right that I take everything with a pinch of salt now. I don’t need the money desperately: but it wouldn’t come amiss.”

Right now Her Majesty’s Government may well do their bset to prevent Biggs reaping any reward from his hit record, since such a payment would amount to aiding a criminal on the run, which, under the English legal system, is forbidden.

But such efforts, luckily for Biggs, may not be good enough, since Malcolm says he can pay the train robber via his American company.

Despite the money that Biggs stands to make out of it, the absentee convict has some reservations about the way he has been marketed.

“I had no idea that It had gone out under the title of ‘Cosh The Driver’. The record makes no reference to the coshing­. I wouldn’t go along with anything like that. That would be in very bad taste.”

Biggs sees himself as something of a willing pawn in a cut-throat industry,

“The record has a certain shock value. But I am not one of the big wheels that put these things together. I am happy to go along with the mechanics of the industry, shock value or otherwise,”

And for those of you who are wondering — and there must be a few — why, if Biggs found the exploitation of the dead train guard’s death so unappealing, did he dress up for a photograph in such an aposite pose, knuckle dusters bared?

“They weren’t knuckle dusters. It was a dog collar. I was just dressing up as a punk.”

Ronnie’s declared sensitivity seems rather pale when it turns out that he has re-written the lyrics of ‘Belsen Was A Gas’, which is to be released as the follow-up to ‘No-One Is Innocent’.

For connoisseurs of fine poetry, we reprint the lyrics below. The first verse is retained in the original, composed as it was by John Beverley a.k.a. Sidney Vish. The remainder is written by Ronnie.

“Belsen was a gas / I heard the other day / in the open graves / where the Jews all lay / Life Is fun / Wish you were here / they wrote on postcards / to those held dear / oh dear,

“Dentists search their teeth for gold / frisk the Jews for bank notes rolled / when they found out what they got / line them up and shoot the lot / be a man / kill a man / be a man

­“I wonder what the Jews would say / if I told where Bormann was today / would they start a vendetta? / you’d better ask Ernie Ledbetter / Leadbetter. ‘‘(sic)

I apologise for being unable to reveal the identity of Mr Ledbetter but I didn’t get to read the lyrics of ‘Belsen’ until after speaking to Biggs.

..'til he done a bunk..Ronnie insists that he isn’t just cashing in on a very sick episode in history.

‘“Belsen Was A Gas’ was already recorded by the Sex Pistols before I got involved with them. Anyway, Belsen was a gas. People got gassed­.

“It was an attack on the people who perpetrated those outrages. It isn’t defending them in any way.”

If you find the idea of a criminal profiteering from his notoriety a bitter experience, then prepare to choke back any bile you have left. Ronnie Biggs’s association with the music business is far from over.

Not only is he intending to perform live onstage in Rio, but he has now composed a concept album which he is determined to get recorded and released­.

“I have agreed to appearing live with the Sex Pistols. No other train robbers will be making guest appearances.

“I have also been approached to do more records, and I’d very much like to. I have written a punk rock opus about my experiences in prison, which the Sex Pistols will back me on.

“The opus will also include songs about famous villains. I’ve written a song about Sweeney Todd.”

Ronnie can’t play any musical instruments, so his efforts at the moment will be confined, thankfully, to vocals. He tells me that his son in Australia is a pretty adept musician, and that maybe he’ll take some lessons from him next time he visits.

How much Ronnie is pulling mine— and thus, your — leg throughout this chat remains to be seen. I should imagine that Biggs’ value to McLaren will be severely dimin­ished after the novelty value of the one record has worn off. It does not seem very logical that even the Pistols would go to the crass lengths of making a concept album with their new “friend”.

Still. I shouldn’t think Ronnie gives a toss. If Malcolm has exploited him, then the reverse is equally true.

The interview concludes in the spirit it started and I sense, continued: tongue in cheek.

“I’m very much looking forward to appearing on Top Of The Pops.”

On which note this feature would end, were it not for a quote that probably sums up the Biggs / Pistols connection more succinctly than reams of copy. Biggs is in fact referring to Brazilian jazz music, of which he is a great fan. But even taken out of context the irony of the statement is inescapable.

“There are a lot of things in Rio that need to be exploited.”

Two of them, of course, being Nazi’s and criminals on the run.

(Record Mirror, July 15th 1978)


When Ronnie Biggs wrote a line “God Save Martin Bormann” in a song for the Sex Pistols, some people were nauseated.

But Biggs says: “My object was to show that if we are going to make a better Christian society, we must start with some basic doctrine like forgiveness.

“I wanted to call it A Punk Prayer but the group’s manager retitled it No One Is Innocent. The record was made when we were a little drunk, in a studio in Rio with a priest present. He enjoyed it. Even if we were out of tune.

“I liked the boys. I related to them because they were working class, fun-loving Londoners who spoke my language.

“I don’t think were vicious or anarchic – just outrageously commercial.

“But, though I was promised £30,000 for writing the words for two songs, I only got £1,000.

“One made Top Of The Pops, but I was ripped off.”

(The Sun, February 6th, 1981)

God Save the Sex Pistols


God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton / www.sex-pistols.net