With my stomach churning, I watched the ITV ‘Exposure’ documentary on Jimmy Savile. The detail of abuse alleged by women who were young girls when they say the BBC star abused them was horrifying.
Watching as story after story unfolded detailing graphic sexual encounters was a bit like watching a car crash. You see the car speeding, you have a feeling it might hit a tree, and then it does. It was all so sadly predictable. I was never a fan, technically, Savile had his heyday before I was into watching Saturday evening tv. When I did see him on TV, I always thought he was at the top end of the weird scale - seems I was right on that one then.
Two things amaze me about the Savile appeal.
Firstly, that there was any appeal at all. Maybe someone can enlighten me? Were viewers in the sixties and seventies so starved of entertainment that an arrogant, cigar smoking, shell suit wearing, bleached headed ‘eccentric’ passed for a good night in in front of the telly?
Secondly, the attitude that seemingly existed within the BBC at the time which made Saville untouchable. It’s too easy looking back to dismiss things, and it happens too easily. We’re not talking about the Victorian times here, it was the 1970’s and Saville operated in a business staffed largely by very well educated workers and executives, many of whom did nothing to stop him having reign over, it seems, practically every young girl that came his way. There was gossip and speculation, but ultimately he was treated a bit like an overly familiar slightly creepy uncle.
And so now, it appears, he went on for years, unbothered, stealing the innocence of potentially hundreds of young girls.
There were witnesses. In one case a young female production assistant walked in on Savile in a highly compromising position with a very young girl. In another case, a producer was having dinner with Savile. He was disgusted that Savile had brought along a 12 year-old girl as a dinner companion. He told the ITV documentary crew that the morning after the dinner, when he called Savile in his hotel room, the girl was with him and spoke to the producer on the phone. Decades later, the same producer claimed that it was widely accepted that this was “what Jimmy did”. This producer seemed almost proud of the fact that he could pinpoint the exact age of the girl in question because he had two daughters himself. Yet he did absolutely nothing at the time. He told absolutely no-one, and as a result absolutely nothing changed for Savile or the girls he preyed upon.
The most damning part of the documentary came near the end when BBC star and Childline founder Esther Rantzen watched the testimonies of the women at the centre of the abuse storm. All independent cases, all telling stories that mirrored one another with their disturbing subject matter. With her face in her hands and genuinely upset, Rantzen was heartbroken. She seemed devastated at what the women, then vulnerable young girls, had gone through at the hands of a man she ultimately labelled a child abuser. I have no doubts Rantzen was genuine, but what she was not, was a woman who had been shocked by the accusations. She admitted that she and many of her BBC colleagues had heard whispers, they’d suspected that something wasn’t quite right. She admitted that nobody had acted on it.
Before watching the programme, I had considered it a bit of a leap to expect the Beeb’s current director general to apologise. I had imagined the abuse to be the responsibility of Savile who I presumed had acted out his heinous fantasies in his own private, twisted world. Now it looks like some of the alleged incidents took place in BBC studios. The organisation must take at least some responsibility, not for the kind of man Savile was but for not acting to protect children. Paedophiles depend on silence. It is their very oxygen. So many adults who should have known better gave Savile the power he needed to ruin the lives of vulnerable young girls. He’s now disgraced forever, but the BBC, too, must bear a portion of the blame.