London’s Curfew Fiasco: Sir Paul, The Boss, and Exception Ethics

It was the stuff of legends, the kind of moment that onlookers would cherish and tell their grandchildren about. American rock icon Bruce Springsteen was on a roll before a huge Hyde Park crowd, and suddenly he was joined on stage by Sir Paul McCartney. The two giants of rock and roll began spontaneously jamming, and then some bureaucrat who worked for the concert organizers pulled the plug, cutting off power because the concert was running over its permit allotment and a local sound curfew.

Good ethics can require knowing when rules and even laws should be stretched, amended, finessed, or even ignored. This takes some skill, of course, and some character. It is much easier, and certainly entails lower risk, to just go by the book, and permit no exceptions. It is also lazy, uncaring, and leads to needless fiascos like this one. Whatever mindless, soulless drone pulled the plug on the Boss and Sir Paul was the same breed of human as the Bank of America teller who refused to cash a man’s check, because the bank required a thumbprint from non-depositers and the man had no thumbs. The Hyde Park plug-puller is kin to the TSA employees who terrify mentally-challenged travelers, make elderly fliers remove medical appliances, and pat down the genitals of screaming two-year-olds. He would be a cherished employee at the Safeway that had the pregnant mother arrested because she ate two packaged chicken sandwiches when she felt faint while shopping, and then forgot to pay for them at check-out. He would Employee of the Month at Jeff Ellis Management, which earlier this month fired a life guard for rescuing a man on a neighboring beach that wasn’t paying for the lifeguard’s services, and then fired other lifeguards for saying that they would do the same thing.  He would have his photo on the wall at Crane Interiors, which fired a mother for taking a personal call during work hours, even though it was from her son on the front lines in Afghanistan, and it was Mother’s Day. And, of course, he has a real future as a public school administrator in the U.S., where enforcing strict “no-tolerance” policies means suspending a six-year-old for sexual harassment, punishing a grade-schooler for chewing his pizza slice into the shape of a gun, and expelling a teen for blowing a tiny plastic pellet at another student.

In some respects, I think the damage done by the Hyde Park curfew-keeper may be worse than any of these. What makes life vivid, exciting and worth living are spontaneous moments of joy like the one cut short that night.  Two geniuses of popular music were blending their talents into a historic event that would have enriched thousands of lives, and they were foiled by someone who didn’t possess the perspective, courage and sense to let magic happen.

How many other potentially immortal moments have been aborted this way? I am afraid to speculate, for the answer must be unspeakably sad.



Graphic: Steeler’s Universe

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

16 thoughts on “London’s Curfew Fiasco: Sir Paul, The Boss, and Exception Ethics

  1. I am reminded of the way Andy Griffith kept things going as sheriff of Mayberry. Rules were bent here and there with the underlying motive of being civil, practical and keeping the peace. Is it partly the result of a more convoluted, complex world we live in where people are afraid of lawsuits that drives some of this knee jerk behavior?

      • Sometimes it’s pure spite but I strongly believe lawsuits are part of it.

        Not just torts.

        If permit requirements were enforced with too much discretion, it could give cause to an civil rights claim alleging violation of equal protection.

  2. Outdoor venues, particularly those close-in to upscale neighborhoods, are typically subjected to very strict noise curfews. It isn’t a matter of being sued later, it’s being subjected to a fine, right now. The municipality often has the right to fine the promoter, organizer, association or whoever, on the spot. This varies from a few ‘don’t do this again’ dollars, to thousands per minute. So, a decision to let the show run late may well have been a $25,000 or more decision. Moreover, the cost would have been assessed not on the person who failed to pull the plug, but the organization responsible for the show, which may well have been a non-profit, ill able to afford the ‘let the show go on!’ decision.

    It appears that whoever pulled the plug did their job, and by doing so, kept the concert from violating the agreed terms of use at Hyde Park, and probably saved their employer a substantial monetary penalty. This sure doesn’t look like some idiot blindly following some stupid rule to me.

    • It does to me. I am confident that a fine, properly publicized, would have been covered by the performers, and possibly the public as well. They had already gone 30 minutes over—why pull the plug now? Do you not think that the PR downside of this has monetary costs too?

      Ask CBS about “Heidi.”

      • I don’t know about there, but when I get a permit in Alexandria I have to sign a form stating that I am personally responsible for any violations and fines even though I am pulling it for my boss’s company. Guess what? I make sure my guys never violate it.

        What should have happened is that they should have been done on time and or the people who had to enforce the fine should have let it be known that they wouldn’t be enforcing it.

      • OK, at the risk of being too ‘inside baseball’, I will endeavor to make my position clear.

        1. “a fine, …covered by the performers,”. That simply is not they way it works. Particularly with performers of Mssrs.. Springsteen and McCartney’s status. I would pay good money to see the promoter bring this up with their management.
        2. Hyde Park is currently under fire from nearby residents and has had to reduce both the number of shows and the maximum size of the audiences. Any PR that would result from letting the show go later would be negative, and be used as one more example of the venue being disruptive.
        3. The cost example I cited is the tip of the iceberg. The fine would make headlines, the costs for police and emt overtime, crew overtime, caterers, private security, garbage, etc. are potentially staggering. Say the muni requirement is 100 cops @ 8hrs per for the show, at $500 a shift, there’s $50,000…but you ran late, so the cops have to stay on duty. Minimum extra duty is 2hrs @ time and half,, promoter owes another $18,750.
        Extrapolate this reality across all services, and the numbers can become really big, really fast.
        4. Every single person involved in that show, from the stage manager on down knew the exact time frames for this performance. There was no exception for:’unless they’re really rocking!’ This isn’t 1969.
        I understand everyones disappointment. I would have like to have seen it too. And, I would have given the order to stop.

      • This raises another ethical question. Is it better to ignore a trivial mistake that doesn’t affect the point being made or should you point out the error to the author?

        Yes, it is a trivial mistake, but the author may repeat the error in a more formal environment that would lead to greater embarrassment. Perhaps the best way is to hide the correction in a boring comment that no one will read far enough to get to the correction. 😉

        Sorry, Mr. Marshall. It was NBC. I will give you an excuse. It was an AFL game (Jets at the Raiders). In the current television contact, that game would be on CBS.

        • Answer: No, it’s not unethical. It is kind, helpful and generous, and I am grateful more than you know. So many commenters here notify me of my too-frequent typos, and errors like the one you flagged. I am indebted to every one of them.

  3. “They had already gone 30 minutes over—why pull the plug now?”

    Jack, it sounds like you are veering awfully close to excusing bad, and dare I say, unethical behavior, simply because a) they’d already entered violation territory 30 minutes ago and b) someone can pony up enough money to pay the fine. If you believe that, do you mind if I drive over the speed limit or run red lights, providing I can pay any tickets I may receive? Yes, I know that a concert that goes over the agreed ending time is not likely put others in harm’s way like a speeding vehicle but I’m curious if you believe it’s okay to go against the social good and expectations because you “can afford to.”

    Are you so caught up in the “PR” ramifications and the good vibes of the show that you’d excuse their continuing the performance past the curfew? If anything, the responsibility for the PR downside falls squarely on the shoulders of the tour management. (It would be helpful to see what the contract stipulated. It could have stated that the city/neighborhood officials reserved the right to pull the plug after curfew was violated.)

    For the record (and Jack knows this): I’m a guitar player who loves loud, raucous music and fun-loving moshing so you’re not reading the finger wagging of a pearl-clutching prude. I’m just asking if The Boss and Sir Macca get a free pass because they have more fans. (BTW: I would have loved to have been at the show.)

    • If both the performers and the audience were unaware that this might happen, the responsibility is squarely on the concert organizers. Springsteen is known for playing all night—if you can’t accommodate an artist, don’t book him. There were almost 8000 people there. They were cheated, and not by Bruce.

      In my view, an employee who refused to pull the plug in the interest of music and art would have been a hero. The Hyde Park tweeds could go to be a few minutes late.

  4. I read elsewhere that the permit went until 10:30 and the plug was pulled at 10:43. I have not seen any indication that anyone made an attempt to say: “Hey, we’re running long. Wrap it up in five minutes, OK?” Cutting off the power in mid-song without warning is the act of a mindless drone or of a particularly sick-important jackass. I’m with you on this one, Jack.

  5. “Anybody who knows me can tell you I’m a Book man…” (Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg, the notorious Captain Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny”.)

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