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Professor Matthew Worley introduces the topics which will be covered on this free online course, Anarchy in the UK.
In mid 1970s, punk put a mark on Britain’s cultural fabric that seems to be irremovable. What we’re going to do over the next couple of weeks is look at why that was, and the different ways in which punk has a legacy that seems to live on into the 21st century. I’m Matthew Worley, I’m a historian at the University of Reading, and I use punk and youth cultures to look at broader processes of social change in Britain in the 20th century. Over the next two weeks, we’re going to look at punk in a variety of different ways.
Most people have their own preconceptions of what punk is, and what punk sounds like, and we’re going to test those and challenge them, perhaps, in certain ways. We’re going to look at what punk sounded like and why, where it came from, where it went, the fanzines, the independent labels, and the politics that are projected onto punk and emanated through it. Most importantly, we’re going to think about punk as a creative and formative space. We’re going to think about punk as a youth culture, in which young people could play with ideas, grapple with politics, become creative, and create their own selves.
To do this, we’ll look at some of the ephemera from the time, we’ll listen to some of the records from the time, and we’ll be talking to some of the people who are involved in punk. People like Jordan, who worked in the shop SEX with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, and John Ingham who wrote the first major article on the Sex Pistols for Sounds in April 1976. We hope that you bring your own influence to bear on the cause. If you lived through punk, we’d like to hear your memories of it and what it meant to you back in the 1970s and 1980s. If punk is new to you, then we’re also interested in what it means to you now.
Punk, in many ways, was a way of doing. It was a creative process, and it will be interesting to see if that process still means something to people today, or whether it’s a product and a relic of its time. So once again, welcome to the course. I hope you like reading the old articles, flicking through fanzines, and listening to the noise. I really hope that the course will be as inspiring to you as punk was to those who lived through it in the mid 1970s.

Hello and welcome to ‘Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78’, a two-week online course produced by the Department of History and the Online Courses team at the University of Reading (UoR).

The course

On this course, you’ll explore the history of British punk and its effect on the politics and culture of 1970s society.

In Week 1 you’ll consider what ‘punk’ means before meeting the people, listening to the music, reading the fanzines and scrutinising their design. Through step-by-step analysis of zines from the time, you’ll discover the impulses behind the DIY attitude and have an opportunity to experiment with different formats and styles that reflect your own creativity and ideas.

In Week 2, you’ll explore how punk confronted moral and cultural convention, enabling young people to make their voices heard and engage with issues of class, race, gender and sexuality. You’ll sharpen your critical thinking skills by considering the effects this had on Britain. Towards the end of the course you’ll draw parallels between the issues that gripped society then, and those that dominate now. And you’ll have a chance to bring everything together, collating your ideas into punk fanzine form.

Given that this is a course about punk, you won’t be surprised to hear that its does contain offensive language, obscenities, sexual imagery and extreme political symbols which were all intended to provoke. These are included to ensure we represent punk realistically. Punk had a dark side and this will be addressed in the course, as well as some of its more positive effects.

It’s impossible to write a course about punk without referencing the people! We’ve provided Wikipedia links for those who may be unfamiliar, but we recommend undertaking a more in depth search to find out more about those that particularly interest you.

Taking part

The recommended learning time for this course is 3 hours per week. However, you may need to set aside a little extra for Week 2 to give you enough time to create your own zine. Each Week is split into Activities and then Steps so you can progress in bite-sized chunks or work through the content quickly and then navigate back to sections of particular interest.

We encourage you to take part in the discussions in the course to get the most out of your learning experience. We want to hear from everyone – whether you lived through punk’s inception or are encountering punk for the first time today. Please do remember to be respectful of everyone’s opinions and follow the rules for appropriate public debate. If you find talking online a bit daunting, you can start small. If you see a comment you find interesting, you can let the other Learner know by clicking the ‘Like’ icon. This will help build your confidence and once you feel more comfortable, you can move on to leaving a comment or replying directly to another Learner.

We recommend taking breaks throughout the course. To help keep track of your progress, click on the ‘Mark as complete’ button when you have completed a Step so you know where to resume (you’ll find the icon at the end of each Step).

A quick reminder; this course is ideal for students interested in studying History at university and educators looking for useful teaching resources. It’ll also be of interest to those who were involved in punk subcultures in the 70s, as well as anyone with a broad interest in youth politics or the history of punk.

Meet the team

Matthew Worley is your Lead Educator for this course. He is Professor of Modern History at the University of Reading and teaches a course called ‘Anarchy in the UK: Punk, Politics and Youth Culture, 1976-84’ to third year undergraduates like Rosie, who talks about the impact its had on her thinking in Week 2. He’s interested in all questions of youth and music culture, British twentieth-century politics, communism, socialism and fascism. You can find out more about why he thinks studying history from the bottom up, through youth cultures, is so important in this video, Youth Subcultures: An Alternative History.

The fanzines reproduced in this course have been generously provided by their originators:

Sniffin’ Glue – Mark Perry

London’s Burning – Jonh Ingham

NBT – Lindsay Hutton

Jolt – Lucy Whitman (aka Lucy Toothpaste)

P&PP – Max Gray

Sideburns – Tony Moon

Westway – Derek Gibbs

Shy Talk – Steve Burke (aka Steve Shy)


Matthew will be joined by our course mentor and UoR student Rosie Patten.

During the initial two weeks of the course (from 14 June until 27 June), the course team will guide you through the content and be on hand to support the discussions. They will aim to help where they can but they won’t be able to respond to every post. Don’t let that stop you from asking questions and sharing your experiences though, as you may find that together with other Learners, you may be able to help one another out.

To view comments made by Matthew and his team, click on their names to visit their profile pages and click the ‘Follow’ button. Any comments they make will then appear in your activity feed which you can filter by ‘Following’.


Now we’d like to find out about you! Please tell us who you are, why you’re taking the course and what you’re hoping to gain from it. Scroll through the discussion area to discover who else is taking the course with you.

Course tip

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Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78

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