I don’t know if many outside the UK have even heard of Jimmy Savile. A flamboyant DJ and television presenter with a fondness for jewellery and garish tracksuits, almost always seen puffing on a cigar, the eccentric do-gooder raised millions for charity (estimated to be in the region of £40 million). He died last year, a bachelor, aged 84.
I didn’t know him, never met him, just watched him on TV as a child and marvelled, not at Top of the Pops, but at how he always ‘Fixed It’ – on Jim’ll Fix It – for children who wrote to him – on paper, those were the days when children knew how to write letters on paper – asking if he’d make their dreams come true and arrange it for them to dance with Shakin’ Stevens or pick pockets with Mark Raffles. When I saw re-runs of Top of the Pops, sure, he came across as a bit slimy, but then, so do many other people. Not for me to dismiss someone just because I feel a man of a certain age shouldn’t accentuate his eccentricities by having long, straggly hair and large pieces of gold hanging around his neck.
At the height of his fame as a TV presenter, he is accused of grooming girls as young as 12. Up to 10 women claim they were sexually abused when they were teenagers, including one who says she was raped at 15 when on a work experience placement at the BBC.
People who knew him and worked with him are now coming out, unhelpfully and rather awkwardly, saying they heard him brag to friends that he was beyond reproach. Some even saw things they wish they hadn’t. They did nothing. How many heard his sleazy remarks? How many turned a blind eye? How many buttoned their lip for the sake of a quiet life and comfortable career progression? Shame on them all.
It makes me feel quite sick in the days after a schoolgirl who ran off with her married teacher is brought home, from France, distraught that their lengthy tryst is over. More so after an official report into the systematic abuse of vulnerable teenage girls, published last week, reveals that a mountain of evidence was dismissed because the children were from the wrong side of the tracks and therefore their predicament presumed to be more a matter of lifestyle choice than organised, repeated sexual exploitation by a gang of old perverts. Does being below the legal age of consent not matter if you’re a bit rough around the edges? (Or, in the case of some of those that Savile is claimed to have preyed on, girls from a boarding school labelled as being ‘for intelligent, emotionally disturbed’ girls. How nice.) It seems to matter a great deal if you’re well-heeled and leave the country, albeit willingly, using your mother’s stolen passport.
Savile’s former PA (who would have tried to stop it had she known about it, of course) believes his accusers are star-struck fantasists. I accept that many young girls did, and still do, hang around celebrities, and acknowledge that his accusers speak of a time when DJs were themselves celebrities, with “as many groupies throwing themselves at them as there were for the pop stars.” I have some sympathy for his family, having to deal with this now that Savile is dead and has no means of defending himself from hurtful allegations and cannot sue – again – for libel. His family must be distraught.
Likewise the family of Megan Stammers, the respectable middle class girl who ran off to France with her teacher. How very embarrassing for them.
And the parents of the Rochdale girls, those poor wretches, given fake names and an actress to speak their words on TV. How must they feel?
The parents who failed to report their daughters’ allegations of abuse at Savile’s hands to police at the time let these girls down, too.
We are entitled to criticise police and social services for failing children (again), just as we are Megan’s school for not acting on tip-offs from pupils. We curse the cowardice of Savile’s self-pitying colleagues for whom recent media speculation has not come as a surprise and shake our heads in disbelief that nobody thought it warranted intervention at some level. Yet speak out sometimes and you can often find yourself ostracised, your career stunted, your colleagues forever distrustful. Nobody takes too kindly to a whistleblower when everyone’s doing just fine as things are, thank you very much, and enjoying the spoils of their sacred cash cow. Not a huge shock, then, than people push things to the back of their minds and convince themselves that somebody else will come forward. A huge disappointment, but not exactly a surprise.
I can’t help but feel we are all partly at fault, as a society, for allowing children to dress, speak and act much older than their years. Some parents tart their little girls up and send them off to beauty pageants where they parade in next-to-nothing and they think nothing immoral of it. Is there a more distasteful sight than a baby in make-up? The sexualistion of children is disgusting and disgraceful. Another thing: how many reality TV shows are there now where the poor sods freely admit that they aspire to nothing, have no ambition and simply choose to go plodding, lemming-like, down a path of embarrassment and humiliation, on a producer’s whim, in order to get laughs from an audience watching in comfort and pity. But the vacuous, made-up bimbos teetering on the highest heels seem to be doing alright for themselves these days. They are the role models for young girls for whom being a doctor or a teacher is an implausible dream. They’d rather just marry a footballer and have a good time, then lots of babies to dress up inappropriately. And so the vulgarity continues. We made that happen. We also created the cult of celebrity which would make it easy for the likes of Savile to exploit his position and get away with multiple abuses.
BBC production staff now say his sleazy behaviour was something of an open secret. The BBC even launched a two-month investigation into allegations about his inappropriate behaviour mere days after his death, but executives pulled it from the TV schedules at the last minute, preferring to broadcast a nice programme about his charity work instead.
He was interviewed by police over child abuse allegations in 2007 but no charges were brought due to insufficient evidence. The accusers never took out private prosecutions.
Savile is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but how we enjoy trial by media. It’s also our very nature now, it seems, to complain about everything, to hurry to the press and be rewarded for doing so, selling stories, no matter how tedious or tawdry, and pointing the finger of accusation at someone, anyone, in order to achieve five minutes of fame via the front pages.
Speaking out now that he’s dead does leave the women open to accusations of crawling out of the woodwork. Should it take 30-40 years to come forward? Ideally, no, but I’m not qualified to judge. I would hope that even the coldest hearts can understand girls doubting that anybody would believe them, fearing his reputation, opting instead for silence. Would you waive your right to anonymity if you were lying, knowing that the press and public will condemn you if it is found that you lied? I should hope not.
If the claims are true, even though they cannot lead to a conviction nor prevent further abuses, why shouldn’t they speak out? If they feel they can now that he’s dead, now that he won’t force them to experience courtroom humiliation, if they are sick of hearing about this saintly figure, repulsed to learn that he was buried in a gold coffin which crowds queued to pass at his wake, and this brings them closure after decades of silent shame and regret, let them shout about it from the rooftops. It takes great courage to speak up – but the same has to be true for Savile’s suspicious colleagues who said nothing.
Of course, the trouble is that everybody is all too quick to talk now, now that it’s too late; when all that can be achieved is the tarnishing of a reputation and the healthy generation of money (by media, mostly for lawyers).
As for Megan Stammers, there’s still much talking to be done. I don’t know the details, don’t want to know them, will probably soon know them and will feel uncomfortable about knowing. We’ve already seen her bucket list, for goodness sake, it’s only a matter of time before we know all that happened in France. But the age of consent in France is 15, not 16, as in the UK. Indeed, the French media has portrayed the case of the missing schoolgirl as a tragic love story. They had eloped. Her teacher’s only crime was to fall in love with his pupil. My first reaction to this was to reach for a bucket to throw up into, but now I find myself thinking they have a point, if only to drown out the noise that stops us from hearing much more important things.
I’m not of the view that the schoolgirl is ‘the victim’. The girl’s friends knew about the relationship, as did the school. Two other things annoy me: the first is that lots of taxpayers’ money has been spent finding the silly loved-up couple who spent eight days on the run, while back in the real world, the poorest are now dependent on food banks due to government cuts; the second is that we’d all be fed a quite different view had Megan been a ‘Suzie’, a poor, working class girl from a run-down estate, skipping a school that doesn’t take trips to Los Angeles.
He will lose his job – quite rightly – and face charges of child abduction, having publicly humiliated his wife and family; she will sell her story in a few years, most likely saying what a fool she was and how she’s now found real love so everything in the garden is rosy. Maybe we’ll be spared wedding photos in a glossy magazine before that, then the bitter divorce and custody battle. Or maybe they’ll just defy everybody and live their lives happily ever after. Now that she’s safe, I really don’t care. But I do care that Jimmy Savile might have been a child abuser and I certainly care that society is so skewed that what happened to ‘Suzie’ could happen again – on a night when a five-year old girl, abducted from outside her home in a quiet rural community, is still missing after more than 48 hours and everyone is now seriously starting to fear what a real child abuser might have done to her.
It truly is a messed-up world. And the self-righteous still wail, ‘Where were the parents?’ as if it’s going to fix it.