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Behind the imagery of “Anarchy in the UK”

One of the most, if not the most, defining images of the 1970’s Punk era is the Sex Pistols poster for “Anarchy in the UK”. A ripped and torn Union Jack is adorned with safety pins, office clips and “ransom note” cut out letters.

The poster was the work of English artist and anarchist Jamie Reid. An early revolutionary he was influenced by the Situationists and together, with later to be the Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm Mc Laren had staged a sit in at Croydon Art School. One of his early works was the “Suburban Press” – a political zine which was produced in old school cut and paste with a typewriter. It was in this publication that Reid first experimented with the “Ransom Note” typeface.

Suburban Press

The ransom note, a regular prop in crime movies, was made up of randomly cut letters from newspapers and magazines. They are arranged into words and sentences, providing the ransomer anonymity as there was no way of identifying the handwriting. The sinister, random and anarchic outcome was a perfect font for the punk movement.

anarchy in the uk 3
anarchy in the uk 3
Ransom Notes at work for the Sex Pistols

Reid designed the artwork for poster of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” in November 1976. The torn flag was seemingly held together by the cheap safety pins, and the words Anarchy in the UK (in the now trademark ransom note font) were attached to the flag with some repurposed office bulldog clips. Together with the artwork for “God Save the Queen”, it came to represent the visual identity of the punk movement in the UK in the second half of the 70’s.

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