“Sir, are you married?”: the unlikely connection between Queen’s Brian May and punk band X-Ray Spex

Queen in the early 1970s and X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene onstage in 1978
Queen in the early 1970s and X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene onstage in 1978 (Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images/Gus Stewart/Redferns)

Classic Rock 316 front cover

(Image credit: Future)

Queen’s relationship with punk runs deeper than many would imagine. Freddie Mercury and co inadvertently gave the British public their first real taste of the nascent punk scene when they cancelled an appearance on TV news show Today on December 1, 1976. Scrambling around for a last minute replacement, the show’s producers parachuted in a new group named the Sex Pistols, who arrived in the Thames Television studios with their entourage. The subsequent profanity-laced interview caused tabloid uproar and cost presenter Bill Grundy his job.

Not that the Sex Pistols seemed especially grateful for the leg-up. Several months later, while Queen were recording their News Of The World album, the two bands found themselves in the same studio. It was there that a famous, and possibly apocryphal, exchange took place between Freddie Mercury and Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. “Are you still bringing ballet to the masses?” sneered Sid. “We’re trying our best, dear,” replied Freddie, who may or may not have referred to Vicious as “Simon Ferocious” (“I’ve heard [the story] a million times, each time slightly different, Queen drummer Roger Taylor told Classic Rock in 2021).

But writing in the brand new issue of Classic Rock, Queen biographer Mark Blake reveals a more obscure, and much sweeter link between the rock icons and the generation that came after them.

In an in-depth cover story on the making of the band’s iconic 1973 debut album Queen, Blake reveals how, in the Spring of 1972, guitarist Brian May took a job as a student teacher at Stockwell Manor School in South London while he worked on his PhD and the band waited for their big break. One of the pupils in his maths class, Marianne Elliott-Said, later recalled the kids teasing the would-be rock star.

“Brian was a very good teacher,” Marianne said decades later. “But he used to come in with his long hair and holes in his shoes, and we used to tease him.” According to Marianne, a favourite wind-up was asking him if he was married: “Sir, if you’re married, why doesn’t your wife iron your shirts?”

May’s time as a teacher only lasted until September 1972. When Queen’s then-managers put the band members on wages of £20 a week, the guitarist handed in his notice, though not before one of his senior colleagues tried to talk him out of it: “You’re giving it up for a pop group?”

His decision paid off. Queen released their debut single, Keep Yourself Alive, on 6 July, 1973, with their debut album following a week later. A year after that, May’s former pupil Marianne Elliott-Said ran away from home to attend a music festival and travel around the country. She was living in a squat when she saw her old maths teacher wearing a cape and throwing shapes on Top Of The Pops. “I thought: ‘That looks good for a laugh,’” she said.

Within a few years, Marianne would change her name to Poly Styrene and form the punk group X-Ray Spex, releasing the classic singles Oh Bondage Up Yours! and The Day the World Turned Day-Glo, as well as landmark debut album Germ Free Adolescents.

After X-Ray Spex split in 1979, Poly went on to become a devotee of Hare Krishna. She died of breast cancer in 2011, but some years earlier she had recalled bumping into her old teacher when he was parking his car near the Radha-Krishna Temple in Soho, Central London.

Poly revealed the two of them had spotted each other immediately, though ‘Mr May’s shirt was now ironed and his shoes didn’t have holes in them, even if his hair was still long. As the guitarist walked towards her, he made the joke before she could: “Sir, are you still married?”

You can read the full story of Queen’s early years and the making of their classic debut album in the brand new issue of Classic Rock. Order it online now and get it delivered straight to your door.

Classic Rock 316 - front cover

(Image credit: Future)
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