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The Savile Culture of Shame
A plethora of media commentary currently surrounds the Jimmy Savile case and, although the subject has already been explored from numerous angles, I feel compelled to add my two pence worth.
First of all, I don’t believe for a second that the BBC has ever been blissfully unaware of the scenario concerning Savile and young girls. Of course, there has been a giant cover-up going on for decades.
As an avid ‘Googler’ of various controversial topics relating to popular culture, along with thousands of other internet users, I first viewed material about Jimmy Savile’s unsavoury predilections, ooh, about a decade ago. It is easy to find internet forums discussing these topics, clearly visible in the public domain, and dating back several years.
Back in 2006, online rumours appeared about “Jimmy Savile necrophile”, regarding his activities at Leeds General Infirmary, where he worked as a volunteer porter. The online e-zine, Popbitch, claimed to have been approached by someone who had evidence regarding this rumour but later “lost” the contact concerned. The mind boggles as to whether there’s fire behind this particular smoke… I suspect that time will tell.
Going further back to 1999, an infamous “outtake” transcript from ‘Have I Got News for You’ focuses on Savile’s activities with underage girls. Although the transcript was later discredited as a fake (and well it might be), ISPs whose servers hosted it were, at the time, forced to take it down, under threat of legal action.
Even if the earlier outtake was a fake, other footage from ‘Have I Got News for You’, hinting at Savile’s nefarious activities – with pointed jokes about runners on a TV programme running away from his suggestion of “how’s your father” - appears in 2007.
And, on a BBC outtake of unverified credibility, publicised on YouTube this week, Savile is heard cavorting inappropriately with a young girl. Someone clearly had that footage stored away.
It seems to be that it wasn’t just a badly-kept secret; it wasn’t a secret at all.
In an interview with Bizarre Magazine, when Jimmy was still alive, he was asked which animal he would select, if he had to have relations with an animal (admittedly not the most tasteful of interview questions). His answer – rather tellingly – was: “It would have to be an 18-year-old Eastern European girl orphan that doesn’t speak much English.” When challenged by the shocked interviewer, Savile added: “We’re all animals. It’s a joke.”
There was also Savile’s inappropriate defence of Gary Glitter. He is on record as saying “And of course… what’s Gary Glitter done wrong? Well nothing really. He’s just sat at home watching these dodgy, dodgy films. He was like that but he wasn’t public and he didn’t do anything.”
Savile’s own 1974 biography, ‘As it Happens’, relates tales of having close shaves with the parents of young girls, and of keeping a runaway girl from a borstal overnight for his own entertainment, before handing her over to the WPC who was seeking her in Leeds. So his tendencies were hardly well-hidden from Aunty Beeb and the public-at-large, were they?
Whether it was his threats to have victims’ arms broken, his connection to unscrupulous underworld characters such as the Krays, or his public image as a charity “saint”, Savile created a thick but not particularly convincing smokescreen. I imagine that it worked on a proportion of the population that doesn’t conduct their own Google research or read the more anarchic of news blogs.
Personally, I find it surprising that Jimmy’s obvious wrongness could pass scrutiny at all. Harking back to being a teenager in the 80s, while watching ‘Jim’ll Fix It’, I thought there was something seriously amiss with the man. Anyone who watched the infamous ‘When Louis Theroux met Jimmy’ documentary back in 2000 must have heard alarm bells ringing re Savile’s attitude to women and his strange fixation with his deceased mother, ‘The Duchess’. He clearly held unhealthy opinions about the opposite sex… and he had to be getting his kicks somewhere.
According to recent reportage, Douglas Muggeridge, controller of BBC Radio 1 in the early 70s, asked for a report on Savile’s unsavoury activities, and if they were likely to appear in the news. In those days, with Savile a valuable commodity, whether or not he would receive bad publicity was clearly the overriding concern. Of course, the answer proved to be “no”.
And, now then now then, what we must also remember: during the permissive 1960s and 70s, there wasn’t a pervasive ‘moral panic’ about paedophilia in UK society. This is in sharp contrast with today’s society, where parents cannot take a snapshot of their own child in a public swimming pool for fear of reprisals, swimming teachers cannot enter the water with their pupils to assist them, for fear of the ‘wrong sort of breast stroke’, and kids aren’t allowed to play out in the street for fear of molestation. We live in a culture that focuses on hunting down the paedophile.
In today’s climate, as an up-and-coming celebrity in the public eye, had Savile behaved inappropriately with under-aged girls, he would quickly have been rumbled by ‘News of the World’, arrested and placed on the Sex Offender’s Register. Back in the 1970s, however, the mauling of under-age girls by middle-aged TV presenters and pop stars was, clearly, something that received a widespread blind eye. That doesn’t make it right but, realistically, was the BBC the only workplace where blatant sexism, exploitation and harassment of women occurred? I think not.
One victim of Savile, who was sexually assaulted following a spinal operation in Leeds General Infirmary, says: “In the 1970s, if you tried reporting rape or sexual assault or something like that, you were accused of making it up. It was the age when short skirts were in fashion and you were accused of leading the man on; that you were asking for it.”
She adds: “People must have known the truth. People who worked with him must have heard one rumour then another – it would have been enough for something to have been done and investigated. There was a duty of care.” It seemed that the “duty of care” was buried in the culture of the time; and it stayed that way.
The mother of one of my close friends, who lives in Brighton, was mauled by Jimmy Savile in Devon in the 1960s, while she and a friend were driving him from her family home to a local gig. He had formed a friendship with her parents, possibly as another one of his smokescreens. Like many others, this woman didn't speak out about Savile at the time as it “wasn’t the done thing in those days”. Fortunately, she and the friend told him to get off and managed to resist his advances - which involved shoving his hands up miniskirts - and, hence, they remained relatively unscathed. The friend recently said: "He seemed to think it was all a joke - the horrible, disgusting, dirty old man.”
Why was Savile allowed to continue? Was it just to do with his charity work, his status in society as a ‘sacred cow’, or his reportedly “menacing” air? Recent postings on the more outspoken news blogs suggest that paedophile rings have existed, or still exist, in the entertainment industry – in the UK and in Hollywood - at the top levels of society. The implication being that, had Savile gone down for his unlawful molestation of minors, others in high places would have gone down with him… And still they might, if the online rumour mill proves accurate.
In this sorry scenario, vast amounts of people did, indeed collude, in the cover-up. Time will tell if the Savile case exists on its own or if it was the tip of a chilling iceberg.