‘No money in the world worth a lie’, Johnny Rotten tells court

Former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten has told the High Court “no money in the world is worth a lie” while giving evidence about blocking the use of the band’s music in an episode of Netflix drama The Crown.

The punk group’s former drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones are suing the band’s ex-singer, real name John Lydon, to allow their songs to be used in TV drama Pistol, which is directed by Danny Boyle.

The six-part series, which is being made by Disney and is due to air next year, is based on a 2016 memoir by Mr Jones called Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol.

Sex Pistols court case
Paul Cook arrives at the Rolls Building at the High Court in London with his wife Jeni (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Jones and Mr Cook argue that, under the terms of a band member agreement (BMA) made in 1998, decisions regarding licensing requests can be determined on a “majority rules basis”.

But Mr Lydon, who has previously told the Sunday Times he thinks the series is the “most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure”, argues that licences cannot be granted without his consent.

Giving evidence at the Rolls Building in London on Wednesday, Mr Lydon said the producers of the popular series, which chronicles the reign of the Queen, wanted to “distort the history of the day”.

He explained in his witness statement to the court that the show’s producers wanted to depict him as a “political protester” and to show scenes of protest in front of the Queen, which he said “simply didn’t happen”.

On the day of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the band performed some of their hits, including God Save The Queen, during a boat trip on the Thames river.

Sex Pistols court case
John Lydon said the Sex Pistols had previously conducted their business with ‘unanimity’ (Yui Mok/PA)

He said: “The plots of the show, The Crown, with this particular issue was changing the history of the time. Absolutely rewriting it.

“They wanted some voting scene, something related to me talking about everybody should vote and then tried to turn that into an issue in this drama programme where I would be lining up to vote and that’s not relevant to it at all.

“The producers agreed to use film footage of the boat trip instead. But the story that they presented with the Queen in despair in her carriage, and all those ugly scenes on the streets of crowds fighting and chucking bottles, whilst others were celebrating the Queen.

“Nobody was rioting and here is my real serious problem with it. This never happened.

“This is a lie to history, it’s a lie about history, of the Sex Pistols’ history, and so I am always going to find that as an issue you cannot compromise on.

Court artist sketch of John Lydon giving evidence to barrister Edmund Cullen QC during the hearing
Court artist sketch of John Lydon giving evidence to barrister Edmund Cullen QC during the hearing (Elizabeth Cook /PA)

“If you allow this to happen you are allowing people to alter and rewrite your history, thus making your real history a lie by the contradiction supporting that and accepting money for that, that’s something I could never be a party to.

“I cannot compromise in selling my integrity. I know what’s what and far too often it’s the examples in the press and the media of history being rewritten that causes real damage to the truth.”

He told the court: “The show’s original offer was, well, it was a misuse of us completely.”

He also said that the proposed story was a “very adverse interpretation of the history of the Jubilee”.

Mr Lydon added: “There was no bricks and bottles thrown at the Queen. It’s a lie.”

A member of the public holds a copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, signed by John Lydon, outside the court
A member of the public holds a copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, signed by John Lydon, outside the court (Sam Tobin/PA)

He said the “only demonstration about the royal family that day was the Sex Pistols on a boat trip”, adding that they were “singing our lovely songs” in front of the Houses of Parliament.

He also said the producers could “mish-mash history all they want but they can’t do it using my name”.

He said he did not want the band to be “selling our soul just so other people can laugh at our history and take it off us – no money in the world is worth a lie”.

As he left the witness box, which he described as “the best seat in the house”, Mr Lydon chuckled and thanked the judge before saying: “Sorry, I was expecting to be here forever. I’ve got too comfortable.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Lydon said the Sex Pistols had so far managed to agree how to conduct their business with “unanimity” and he did not remember signing the agreement.

John Lydon, centre, poses for a photo outside the Rolls Building at the High Court
John Lydon, centre, poses for a photo outside the Rolls Building at the High Court (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He also described the agreement as a “total trap or prison” and said it “smacks of slave labour”.

Mr Lydon also told the court: “You can’t let your history be rewritten for us by a complete stranger with no interest in it.

“This is my life here. This is my history. I didn’t write these songs (for them) to be given off to nonsense.”

The Sex Pistols were formed in 1975 and disbanded in 1978, but have performed live shows together a number of times since then, most recently in 2008.

In evidence on Tuesday, Mr Cook accepted that the Sex Pistols were probably “gone for good” after he and Mr Jones took legal action.

The group Sex Pistols, signing a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace in London, (l/r) Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, bass player Sid Vicious and the group’s manager Malcolm McLaren (Archive/PA)
The Sex Pistols sign a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace (PA)

Last week, Mr Jones told the court he thought Mr Lydon was “a total dick”, but added: “This is not about slagging anyone off in this TV series at all.”

Mr Jones and Mr Cook’s barrister, Edmund Cullen QC, has previously told the court that his clients’ claim is against Mr Lydon alone.

He said in written submissions that original band member Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious, and representatives of the estate of Sid Vicious, who died in February 1979, supported their position.

After the end of the hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Lydon signed a number of photos and records – including Sex Pistols’ 1977 album Never Mind The Bollocks – for a fan outside court.

The hearing continues on Thursday when the court will hear live evidence from witnesses called on behalf of Mr Lydon and will conclude on Tuesday next week with closing submissions.