The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

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The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJulien Temple
Written byJulien Temple
Produced byDon Boyd
Jeremy Thomas
StarringMalcolm McLaren
Steve Jones
Paul Cook
Sid Vicious
Johnny Rotten
Mary Millington
Irene Handl
Narrated byMalcolm McLaren
Music bySex Pistols
Distributed byVirgin Films
Release date
  • 15 May 1980 (1980-05-15)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, also known as The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, is a 1980 British mockumentary film directed by Julien Temple and produced by Don Boyd and Jeremy Thomas. It centres on the British punk rock band Sex Pistols and, most prominently, their manager Malcolm McLaren.[1]


Guitarist Steve Jones plays a shady Private detective who as through a series of set piece acts as uncovers the truth about the band. Drummer Paul Cook and bass guitarist Sid Vicious play smaller roles, and the band's manager, Malcolm McLaren, is featured as "The Embezzler", the man who manipulates the Sex Pistols. Fugitive train robber Ronnie Biggs, performer Edward Tudor-Pole, sex film star Mary Millington, and actresses Irene Handl and Liz Fraser also make appearances. Singer and frontman Johnny Rotten refused to have anything to do with the film, stating that it was "a pile of rubbish" and "Malcolm's vision of what he believed as not true in any form".

The movie tells a stylised fictional account of the formation, rise and subsequent break-up of the band, from the point of view of their then-manager McLaren. In the film, McLaren claims to have created the Sex Pistols (in truth, they were already formed, and Jones and Cook asked him to be their manager), and manipulated them to the top of the music business, using them as puppets to both further his own agenda (in his own words: "Cash from chaos"), and to claim the financial rewards from the various record labels the band were signed to during their brief existence as EMI, A&M, Virgin, and Warner Bros. Records.



The title of the movie was inspired by an article written by Skiffle musician Lonnie Donegan in the 1950's titled "Rock and Roll – It's a Swindle". A copy of the article resides in the Jamie Reid archive at the V&A.[2]

The footage was filmed in early to mid-1978, between the departure of singer John Lydon from the band and their subsequent split. The movie was finally released nearly two years later. Lydon (who was listed in the credits as "The Collaborator") and original bass guitarist Glen Matlock only appear in archive footage — Lydon refused to have anything to do with the production.

The film was shown at the wake of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis after his 1980 suicide.[3]

The 2000 documentary The Filth and the Fury, also directed by Julien Temple, re-tells the story of the Sex Pistols from the perspective of the band, thus serving as a response to and rebuttal of McLaren's insistence that he was the driving creative force of the band.

Home media releases[edit]

"The Swindle Continues in Your Own Home" was the tagline on the original 18 certificate UK VHS release from Virgin Video in 1982. Warner/Reprise Video released the film on US home video in 1992.[4] In 2005, the film was released on DVD by Shout Factory.[5]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[6] Gold 7,500^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 5 January 2024.
  2. ^ "Jamie Reid archive | Reid, Jamie | Unknown | V&A Explore the Collections". 10 September 1977.
  3. ^ Nice, James (2010). Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records. London, England: Aurum Press Ltd. p. 121. ISBN 9781845136345.
  4. ^ "Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle". 10 September 1992. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  5. ^ "The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle - DVD - Shout! Factory". Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  6. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2005 DVDs" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 17 December 2021.

External links[edit]