Captain Zip's Amazing Film Footage Of London Punks In The 1970s And 80s

Captain Zip's Amazing Film Footage Of London Punks In The 1970s And 80s
A punk with shocking yellow hair sticking her tongue out at the camera
Image: Captain Zip/fair use

There is always more than a generous ripple of interest when we run anything punkish on Londonist — whether it's 14 Hair-Raising Pics Of Punk London In Its Heyday or our guide on Where To Be Punk In London.

Lately, we were tucking into the safety pin-addled goods of the Croydon Punk Film Festival at the terrific David Lean Cinema, where we became aware of the archives films of Phil Munnoch, better known as Captain Zip. Between 1978-81, Zip (his nickname coming from the fact his clothes were covered in zips) made it his business to go to Chelsea's King's Road almost every single Saturday, in order to stick a camera in front of the trendy striplings who hung out there. And thank the Lord he did, because some 50 years on, this is footage to be truly treasured.

Captain Zip's films can be found lacing everything from BBC documentaries to Julien Temple's 2012 piece London - The Modern Babylon, but they're also available in their rawest form on YouTube, as well as available to watch for free on BFI Player.

Watching these films really take you (back) to that uninhibited moment in time: fresh-faced youths with leather jackets slathered in badges muck about on the King's Road (at one point we think we spot a tribute to Morecambe and Wise), while Old School Routemasters and black cabs swoosh by in the background. In this extraordinary 14-minute-long clip, the filmmaker follows around members of punk band The Dispozest, who even take a stroll down Downing Street, not yet gated off, and get chatting to the bobby guarding the door.

A lot of play fighting goes down (and some kid ill-advisedly walks about 'shooting' folk with a fake gun) but all in all, there's a naiveness — a shyness, even — to these punks — some of them hiding their faces, or ducking into doorways to avoid the lens's gaze. The idea was not to take anything seriously, although that mindset could go too far; Zip admits in one of these videos that there was a strange link between punks and Nazism (at one point we see a flash of Third Reich memorabilia on sale), despite many punks being members of the Anti-Nazi League. We'd wager that the majority who blithely flouted swastikas back then crumple up with shame at the thought of it now.

The fashions, naturally, are eye-popping (shocking pink hair, shiny silver trousers, chains and safety pins galore). It was, says Zip, "a rebellion against denim, a rebellion against big collars, wide lapels, flares and Jason King." Still, the punk style was nothing compared to that of London's new romantics; in another clip (see video below) they strut their stuff along the King's Road in flowing gowns, and with hair sculpted like colourised baked Alaskas. A couple look like they've dressed for the role of a steampunk adaptation of Hamlet.

By the way, for glimpses of Captain Zip (who enjoyed a varied career, at one time, penning material for the Two Ronnies) check out 01:48 and 10:28 in this video, and him sneaking into a phone box here at 01:43.

Last Updated 19 December 2023

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