I can’t pretend I knew anything about Jimmy Savile’s crimes; I just knew him as a very creepy individual who I couldn’t bear to watch. If he was on Top of the Pops, I switched over; if he was on the radio, I’d find another station. His catchphrases were cretinous - “How's about that, then?”, “Now then, now then”, “Goodness gracious”, “As it ‘appens”, “Guys and gals” - even though he was a member of Mensa. For all his mannered eccentricities - tartan-dyed hair, etc - he seemed incredibly boring. If he ever said anything remotely interesting it was never while the cameras were rolling.
He presented Jim’ll Fix It for twenty years, even though he openly admitted he “hated children”. He never owned a computer, so he could “never be accused of looking at child porn” (which is a rather odd reason for not owning a computer). The programme’s premise was to make children’s dreams come true (how sinister that sounds, with the benefit of hindsight). Jim’ll Fix It won an award in 1977, from the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, founded by Mary Whitehouse, for “wholesome family entertainment”.
In a phrase that’s become attached to him, since his death, Savile “hid in plain sight”. His preference for young girls presumably went largely unquestioned at the BBC, where girls would wait, after Top of the Pops, to see the DJs and their favourite stars. As Johnny Walker, another DJ, put it, no-one ever asked to see proof of age, and a girl of 13 could, with make-up, easily pass for 18. A man of 30, fondling young girls in his dressing room, was regarded as lucky, not a paedophile; it was a perk of the job. Problem? What problem?
The estimated £40,000,000 that Savile raised for his ‘favourite’ charities was real enough. Did he start the fundraising as a cover for his abuse of women, children (and some men and boys)? If so, it worked. Despite the rumours over the years, and the isolated complaints about his behaviour, from people at the BBC, hospitals, orphanages, young offenders institutions, and the other places where he gained access, Savile carried on abusing vulnerable people until the end of his life.
After his death, his body lay ‘in state’ in the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds, and crowds gathered to watch the funeral cortege go by. Engraved on his elaborate headstone in Scarborough, was the motto “It was good while it lasted”. The BBC ran a couple of tribute programmes, and cancelled the Newsnight special, which investigated some of the accusations that were surfacing. As late as 2012, the BBC seemed more interested in curating Saville’s reputation than in listening to his victims.
The cancellation of Newsnight proved to be the tipping point. Within weeks the headstone had been taken up, crushed and “sent to landfill” (in the memorable phrase that came from Savile’s family), hundreds of people had come forward to say they had been raped or abused, and Savile’s reputation was in tatters. But he was never punished for his crimes; he got away with it. As Jimmy Savile warned many of his victims, “who are they going to believe, a young girl like you or a big star like me?”…