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Beware the tsunami of self-righteousness over Jimmy Savile

2012 October 12
by Paul Vallely

I have always thought that Jimmy Savile was very creepy. And I got in trouble for saying so some years ago. I was upbraided by an esteemed colleague – and fellow Roman Catholic – who described Sir Jimmy, as he had just been dubbed, as “a model Catholic layman”. You could see why. The DJ was a prodigious worker for charities, visited approved schools and children’s homes, and did direct voluntary work as a porter in hospitals in Leeds, Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor. And he did so while retaining a happy-go-lucky cheeky-chappie persona completely in tune with contemporary culture.

It was the persona which was the problem for me. I lived in his hometown, Leeds, for a decade. The suspicion had grown there that behind the image of the garish loveable eccentric  “how’s about that, then” tracksuited clown lurked something cold, wilfully evasive, manipulative and even menacing.  Yet when I raised my reservations in private conversation I was told I was being uncharitable and allowing taste to interfere with moral judgement.

Well, the tide has turned on Jimmy Savile. A clear pattern has emerged from a series of allegations which suggests that he routinely and habitually sexually abused underage girls. The accusations have come a year after the man’s death, leaving him unable to offer any defence. But, as with the crowds that bayed at the police van carrying the man accused of the murder of five year old April Jones in Machynlleth, society does not need to wait for evidence to convict. Plaques have been defaced, statues taken down, roadsigns removed and Stoke Mandeville is thinking of renaming its Jimmy’s Café.  The Sun is campaigning for knighthood of the “paedo star” to be posthumously revoked.

For all my long-standing reservations about Jimmy Savile there is something about this wave of self-righteousness which makes me uneasy. Of course his behaviour needs proper investigation. My concern is over what will be learned from the process.

Channel 4 has been running a series of zealous high-minded news items implying that the failure to uncover Jimmy Savile much earlier is the fault of the BBC which last December dropped a Newsnight investigation into the claims.  But anyone with any journalistic experience knows that it is not always possible to turn well-founded suspicion into evidence. Surrey Police found that. So did the News of the World which also could not substantiate the Savile stories.

Men abusing power to take sexual advantage of young girls is not something that was limited to the BBC. The broadcaster Sandi Toksvig reacted angrily to the way her revelation that she had been groped on air by a celebrity during a broadcast in the 1980s was being used: “It’s being used as a stick to beat the BBC, but it was a culture endemic across the whole of radio and television”. Janet Street Porter has spoken about even worse incidents at London Weekend Television in the 1980s. Joan Smith has told similar stories about newspapers.

The truth is that this culture spread far wider than the media. It have been at its most exaggerated among the groupies of pop music but it was then everywhere in the world of industry and commerce. Comic stereotypes like the Benny Hill Show reveal it was not just commonplace but widely seen as something to be laughed at.

Huge changes have been made. Between 1975 and 2005 equality laws have progressively broadened the definition of what constitutes harassing or offensive behaviour but the problem persists albeit more subtly. Jimmy Savile may have been the worst example of the abuses of the past. But holding him up to public outrage is no substitute for rooting out the more insidious ways in which such abuse of power continues today.

The Church Times

One Response
  1. October 12, 2012

    Totally agree with you. Although I thought he was creepy too. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is that every paedophile or child murderer has or had a mother: Ian Brady had a mother, Myra Hindley had a mother, Jimmy Saville once had a mother. What is it like to be the paedophile’s mother (or father?). Who helps and supports you?

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