Review: ‘Jimmy Savile — What the BBC Knew’

If Jimmy Savile thought after he died he was going to rest in peace, he was sorely mistaken. Last night saw yet another programme in this still unfolding saga.

Jimmy Savile.

Under what heading should this Review be filed: Crime? Entertainment? Odd News? Very odd. Certainly one should consider filing it under Fiction, because there is undoubtedly a lot of fiction in the ongoing saga of James Wilson Vincent Savile, alleged serial sex abuser. Note that word, alleged.

It is now taken for granted both that the late Jimmy Savile was a predatory paedophile and that many people at the BBC knew he was one. Certainly the number of allegations against him is impressive, but if truth were decided by a mere vote, the dead would walk, aliens would have landed, and George W. Bush would have been executed for orchestrating 9/11, along with Dick Cheney, several hundred FBI, CIA and Mossad agents and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all.

Last night, the BBC screened a special Panorama programme, which was an investigation into a Newsnight programme about the DJ that was not broadcast. Instead, the BBC opted to run a tribute programme.

Among those interviewed was Paul Gambaccini, who was working with Savile at the time in a generic sense, though he stressed he was then a junior DJ. He expressed amazement that the tribute programme had gone ahead, as well he might, because no one is ever likely to accuse him of abusing young girls.

Broadcaster and musicologist Paul Gambaccini.

The list of Savile’s accusers now runs into hundreds, and for some time there has been talk of some or perhaps many of them suing the BBC, and other organisations. Indeed, some have already consulted lawyers. People may not be able to detect a man abusing young girls under their very noses for years or even decades, but we can all smell money. And the nature of the allegations against Savile is such that some people must have known, in a literal sense, what he was doing, that is if he was doing it.

One woman claims that Gary Glitter had sex with an underage girl in Savile’s dressing room. Glitter is now a convicted paedophile, of course, and therefore an easy target, but it seems strange that this allegation was not raised at the time of his conviction here for possessing child pornography, nor during his troubles in the Far East where he was caught red-handed interfering with very young girls, nor even on his return to the UK.

The most bizarre allegation against Savile was not made in this programme, this is the suggestion that he was a necrophiliac. There is at least one allegation of sexual abuse against a young boy.

So how strong is the evidence against this man that he actually did anything wrong?

The vast majority of the allegations are of the sort that can never be proved either way. If a woman claims she has been raped and has semen in her vagina from her assailant, we can be fairly certain his denial of any sexual contact amounts to an affirmation of his guilt. If however she (or he) makes an allegation of something like inappropriate touching, it is a case of who is the more plausible. This is not a pleasant choice for anyone to have to make, especially as even a convicted rapist may be innocent, as in the case of prison nurse Karen Cosford.

The allegations against Savile relating to Duncroft School appear to have a certain consistency, but appearances can be deceptive.

There was an investigation of sorts by the BBC in 1973; Savile was even confronted over the allegations. The consensus was that the rumours had no basis to them.

There are two allegations dating from 1994, contemporaneous ones by two girls from Duncroft. These or this was investigated by the Mirror, but nothing came of it. Then there is the Surrey Police investigation we knew about already, this dates from 2007 and relates to something that may have happened in the 1970s.

Rather stupidly, Panorama has obscured the faces of some of the children who appeared in historical footage shown in this programme, a sign of the times.

The implication of all the above is that Savile actually ran a paedophile ring at the BBC, but this sort of talk is cheap. What we are being asked to believe now is that not only did Savile abuse girls openly in his dressing room at the BBC, in the presence of others, and that others did the same, but that he had access to emotionally disturbed girls at Duncroft, that he abused patients in at least three hospitals, including Broadmoor Special Hospital, and not only was he given unsupervised access to such vulnerable girls and women, but that the staff of these organisations shut their eyes to what he was doing, or were actually complicit in it.

We have yet to see any hard evidence such as documentation relating to a sexual disease contracted after contact with Savile - as has been claimed - or that one became pregnant by him.

Another claim that has been made is that Savile was untouchable; this suggestion is frankly ludicrous. In Soviet Russia, maybe, but in the West throughout the 20th Century no one was untouchable, even the President of the United States. Indeed, while he was in the White House, Bill Clinton was subject to an intense investigation over his alleged shenanigans in both Arkansas and the Oval Office, and was compelled to testify under oath (which resulted in him perjuring himself). All the same, the worst thing his enemies were able to pin on him was that he had indeed received oral sex from a White House intern - something that should have been of supreme interest to his wife, but to no one else. It was also established that Hillary Clinton had acted for a shady businessman back home, but this was hardly a state secret, and as she was lawyer at the time, so what? When Hillary spoke of a vast right wing conspiracy out to get her husband, that was the way she saw it, because that was the way it was.

The 1994 press investigation is telling; they looked at Savile, and could find nothing of substance beyond his at times admittedly tactile behaviour and his loose talk, which was dismissed as banter. They could have attempted to entrap him, as they did with the MP and closet homosexual Harvey Proctor; they could even have made something up, but they tried that with Elton John, to their cost.

At the end of day, there is only one type of person in these islands who is untouchable, the type who has the privilege money can’t buy, and that only in somewhat narrow circumstances. Should children always be believed, as the well-meaning but gullible Esther Rantzen continues to insist? A point made by two of the witnesses is that we were only emotionally disturbed girls or we were only mental patients, and he was Jimmy Savile. Why would anyone believe us? The reality is that it is not only young girls or Broadmoor inmates who can’t be believed, it is police officers, who not only lie but lie both en masse and in unison, police officers and everybody else, for such is the frailty of human testimony.

The mere fact that hundreds of allegations have now been made against Savile, most of which have been accepted by the police as having been made in good faith, should not be taken as proof that all or indeed any of them are true. At the risk of sounding frivolous, if there are so many flying saucers out there buzzing around the night skies, show us one dead alien, and we will accept the existence of them all.

[The above review was first published October 23, 2012. A couple of very minor edits have been made.]

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