Back in 1991, I spent an afternoon with Malcolm McLaren. I was working for a design and advertising magazine, and he’d decided to try his hand at directing commercials. Naturally, we gave him the front page.

It was a curious encounter. I have to admit that I felt slightly uncomfortable, not only because of what he stood for, but because I half thought he might pull some kind of devilish prank on me. He didn’t. In fact, he was terribly charming and grown up. He wore a green tweed suit, checked country shirt and floral tie, a picture of respectability. We met at Hazlitt’s, his hotel in Soho, and took a black cab to the disused Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, where he was shooting his ad which, unlikely as it sounds, was for Cadbury’s Twirl. The last time he’d been there apparently was with Bow Wow Wow. The spot featured a troupe of dancers taking a break for a Twirl (geddit?). The music, which was particularly important to MMc, was his own reworking of Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’, and the man himself made a cameo appearance sitting at a piano at the end. Even then, the whole notion of McLaren moving into advertising was a bit puzzling, and looking back on the article, I’m pleased to report that I quizzed him about it at length. His rationale was that he’d always been and arch-marketeer and ads were a natural extension, he also said he found the speed of turning around a commercial exhilarating compared to the slow burn of making music or nurturing a band’s image. For someone who’d flunked out of countless art colleges, he was remarkably erudite – constantly dropping names and asking if I’d read any of this or that author or philosopher. He seemed restless, inquisitive, easily bored, his conversation jumping around like an itchy bird on a tree. Occasionally he’d get a glint of amusement in his eye… he was particularly taken with the typographer’s name, Len Cheeseman. “Cheeeseman, Cheese Man… I wonder if his ancestors made cheese or just ate a lot of it,” he pondered. I also distinctly remember him describing the closing shot of a vat of swirling chocolate as resembling “the very bowels of hell”, in that unmistakable whiny voice of his. Despite my misgivings, he was extremely good company – he gave me an afternoon I’ll never forget. Not to mention the Sex Pistols. RIP Malcolm. Rest in Punk.

Leave a comment