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Why the BBC is still selling Savile A gaudy male is more interesting than a female victim

People forget he was hard to read. All psychopaths are. Credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images

People forget he was hard to read. All psychopaths are. Credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images


January 10, 2022   5 mins

In 2006, I took the lift to the penthouse of a pale modernist block on Roundhay Park in Leeds to listen to Jimmy Savile. The reason was the end of Top of the Pops. I didn’t know then, of course, that he only became a TV star to have access to children’s bodies; that paedophilia was his vocation, and fame was his enabler and disguise. I had heard the rumours. Lynn Barber told him in 1990 that people said he liked (she meant used) little girls. I didn’t believe it. I was credulous, and he deceived me.

The flat was thickly carpeted, and fusty. I admired his trinkets. I wrote that they blinded me. I noted he appeared to live on sweets. He recited his patter for the Dictaphone. I had heard it all before: pit boy, youngest of seven, then a terrible mining accident, then a glance at a Rolls Royce that changed everything. “And I was filled with a great joy because from where I was standing to where that kid was driving [the Rolls Royce] was only 25 feet. It was there. It wasn’t far to go. It had to be possible.” The patter was his first defence, because it was indecipherable, like smoke. Here is an example: “I don’t do anything for any reason. I do it because I do it. I do what I do and always have done. Just don’t offend nobody. So there.”

We spent a lot of time discussing why he didn’t marry. “You get trapped,” he told me. “You never get anywhere, and you are quite happy to wake up, open your gob, stick food in, close your gob and then die and leave everybody everything. I don’t want to get used to that kind of life because the life I’ve got is much better than that.”

He also said, “I fell in love with them all. I fall in love every day, even now.” He said he had 60 million friends, which, of course, means he had none. “I owe them nothing,” he said, “they owe me nothing.” He had enablers though, among whom I now count myself.

I have since read Dan Davies’s superb In Plain Sight, in which he recounts following Savile for years, trying to understand him. (No one would publish it in Savile’s lifetime.) Davies says that policemen came to the flat each week to drink coffee. Of all the institutions that protected Savile, the police, the NHS, and the BBC were the guiltiest because they knew. They received letters from his victims.  One 12-year-old, raped in a hospital day room, wrote a note to doctors on the page of a bible after a nurse told her to keep quiet.

The BBC is no longer protecting him, but they are still selling him. No crime is exempt from the possibilities of mediocre art. They have commissioned a drama called The Reckoning starring Steve Coogan, whose best work until now has been the DJ Alan Partridge. Coogan is an uneasy man who has used prostitutes, but he is not stupid, and his inhabiting Savile is obviously an act of self-exploration and, perhaps, self-hating vanity. Some of Savile’s victims were invited to the set to meet Coogan in costume. The Reckoning’s writer, Neil McKay, who also dramatised Fred West in Appropriate Adult, said: “They wanted to do it, they’re fully prepared, so it will be interesting.”

I think they would do better to dramatise the experience of his victims. But this is not the way. A gaudy male is more interesting than a female victim: in this sense The Reckoning is, though obliviously, an extension of Savile’s real life.  It is a tribute to his tactics of deception; his trust that women will be ignored. Why not dramatise how the 2011 Newsnight expose by Merion Jones and Liz MacKean was spiked because the evidence was, in the words of Newsnight’s editor, “just the women”?

There is already a definitive BBC portrait of Savile on film, by Toby Jones in season 4 of Sherlock, though he is called something else. He played a philanthropist — Savile raised £40 million — haunting hospitals to watch people die. Savile told Joan Bakewell he had to rush away from a broadcast: “I should make the hospital by one a.m. They don’t start dying till two.” He told the Daily Mail in 1972: “I find I’ve got an aptitude for dead people. When I’m holding somebody that has just died, I’m filled with a tremendous love and envy. They’ve left behind their problems; they’ve made the journey. If somebody were to tell me tonight, I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, it would fill me with tremendous joy. Sometimes I can’t wait.”

Our interview in Roundhay Park was transactional, and we both knew it. He was charming: not for me, because I am sure I did not exist for him, but for the readers of my story. He told unfunny jokes, philosophised and flirted courteously, as if I expected it. He said he still had my Jim‘ll Fix It letter from 1979: “But you didn’t enclose a stamped addressed envelope, you cheapskate.” I told him he had met my mother at Leeds in the Sixties: “I know, I’ve still got her earring.” Of course, I was, at 31, far too old for him. He dropped women at 18.

In a profile of Liz MacKean by Poppy Sebag Montefiore, a senior executive described MacKean as, “a very ordinary journalist. She wasn’t ambitious or sharp-elbowed. She didn’t fill the screen.” Sebag Montefiore said: “I put it to him that MacKean’s talents for listening to sources were one of the qualities that made her extraordinary. He considered this for a moment and said: ‘Listening wasn’t a quality we gave much credit to back then’.” Savile filled the screen. I give him that.

I did sense his dislike of adult women. He mocked and traduced them, pretending to be a twittering widow talking about her husband’s coffin: “My Harry, he loved pine and we gave him the pine box.” Or an old woman desiring a younger man: “He’s a bit of all right, that bus driver, ooh.” It was parody.

I knew he had a secret. That was obvious. In his ludicrous red tracksuit, he was wrapped like a parcel. I thought he was gay, and liked adult men, which was tough in Leeds in the Thirties. I wondered if the loathing he incited was about class. He sensed this and he talked for a long time about his deprived childhood. It incited my pity.

Psychopaths are hard to read. Even so, I know now, reading my original copy, that he told me a tale that didn’t add up. He told me he loved, “the freedom of the world outside. Up in the dales sauntering along you don’t need anyone else.” So why raise £40 million for charity? I wonder if, in that obvious contradiction, lies his sanctification: the one that seems so bitter now. We assumed perhaps that it was love. I wrote, “Jimmy needs people to be delighted to see him and I suspect it is gratitude that drives him — for the recovery from the accident and for the miracle of his wealth.”

He did give me clues, but they were impossible to read amid the smoke. For instance: fame “was just a means to an end”. As I left, he said that if I pinched his jewellery, he would kill me. “I’m ruthless,” he said. I now think it is entirely plausible that he killed people. “Tied them up, put them down in the boiler house until I was ready for them,” he said of the Teddy Boys at his Manchester club in the Fifties. “They’d plead to get out. Nobody ever used to get out of my place 
 I was judge, jury and executioner.” One man told Davies he saw Savile take a man’s eye out in a street fight.

The newspaper I worked for wasn’t interested in a portrait of ageing isolation and tepid misogyny, which is the best material I had. So, I wrote him up as a national treasure, though wistful. “He needs to be needed,” I concluded. The opposite was true. I couldn’t wait to get away. That should have told me something.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

TanyaGold1

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Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

It sickens me when people just refer to the “organisations” that ignore or shelter paedophiles.
It has always been “individuals” with names and jobs that lacked the moral courage to make the (often small) sacrifices needed to stop the ongoing rape of children.
Whether its Saville or Rotherham, individuals are to blame – and there is no justifiable place for them to hide their complicity.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

I am surprised that Tanya does not mention either Irvine Welsh or Jerry Sadowitch.

Welsh wrote a novella “Lorraine goes to Livingstone”, which was published in 1996, around the same time that the movie version of his book “Trainspotting” emerged as a smash hit. Did no one at the BBC read “Lorraine” and notice that its loathsome character Freddie Royle was plainly Savile?

Freddie is a lovable TV star and tireless charity fundraiser who delivers loads of money to Saint Hubbin’s hospital. The managers at Saint Hubbin’s love Fred and don’t ask any awkward questions about what he might be doing with the young patients or the bodies in the morgue (described in horrible detail).

https://dangerousminds.net/comments/irvine_welsh_on_jimmy_savile_was_savile_a_necrophiliac_then_or_what

And the merciless and courageous Jerry publicly reviled Savile for years, declaring that the charity work was just earning credit for when his case came up in court.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Murphy
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Clues lay all about us, and yet if we have been told enough that they mean nothing we do not even see them

Like covid – that natural immunity was not allowed to equal the vax showed it all was Nothing to do about Health, that the vax passports, and all else were a sham. That Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, and about 30 other re-purposed drugs were forbidden to be used or even studied (except in some trials set up to fail) Because if there was treatment it would cause Vaccine Hesitancy – as All Must Get the Vax was the rule from above…That lockdowns did not work as Sweden, Florida, South Dakota showed, but instead they were lied about in the MSM…That whole nations paid the forced lockdown people to not work with borrowed $Trillions, leaving debt the young will be destroyed by – and the super ritch had their wealth double by these $Trillions…. This shows it all was some vast conspiracy.

I wonder about Pedophilia too – Epstein became a Billionaire, but no one knew how. That he had Bill Gates, Clinton, Prince Andrew, and more and more exceedingly important people as his ‘Guests’ is known openly. Also that he was a notorious pedophile, and sex was everywhere when he was around. And that he had everything recorded and filmed….

I think once people achieve a point of power and wealth normal pleasures no longer satisfy them, they are jaded. They have to have more and more extreme things to give them pleasure. I think from things here and there, rumors and such – that pedophile may run in the corridors of power. There is evidence of it throughout history.

And so, I wonder of Q too…. WWG1WGA, is it so unbelievable? Not Pizzagate, but that deep in the vaults of real power are degenerate people who are capable of anything. That Savile was so obviously totally Evil is obvious now, it shouts out – but even back then we could see he was wrong – I remember how creepy he was – and everyone did, yet he succeeded, somehow. He and Epstein….. and all the stories of the real power…. Just something of the WEF, Davos, the ultra wealthy, they just seem creepy.

Pil Grim
Pil Grim
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Franklin Scandal late 1980s Omaha Nebraska


Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The clues were so obvious that even my mother saw it. I remember when Jim’ll fix it came on TV she would shout at whoever was watching to turn it off; as it was not exactly something in which I was interested I quickly obliged it I were watching. One time I asked her why she wanted it switched off and she said that Savile is the creapiest man that she’d ever seen, there was something wrong with him and she wouldn’t let him anywhere near any kid of hers.

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago

I was 19 when the show started, and I felt the same, but I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me about him. I was only dimly aware of paedophilia because a man made off with my sister as a child (she broke free and could run faster).

I was also bothered by some of Stuart Hall’s comments on It’s a Knockout

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Your poor sister. At least she got free, nothing like keeping fit.

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago

Before I upticked you had a downtick 🙁

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Thank-you Rodney. I sometimes don’t understand the down-ticking, as often they don’t say why and, as I’ve said before, this is frustrating as it stops any real debate on the site. I never down-tick without saying why I disagree, I think that I owe it to a contributor who may have spent some time getting together his or her thoughts and putting them down here. In fact, I rarely down-tick even if I don’t agree, but I will up-tick to give moral support to a view that I agree with.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

They may have thought you were being flippant.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Maybe, but I don’t know.

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago

I think there should be a protocol that allows you to uptick anything, but only downtick if you provide a response, too.
That way we’d know whether the respondent thinks the post is factually wrong, or correct but they regret the fact.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

Why have upticking or downticking at all? What is this? Facebook? Twitter? Those vehicles prove that debate is influenced by what the majority think rather than people thinking for themselves. I never understand why UnHerd has Most Voted as the default sorting of discussion posts. Surely reading in chronological order makes more sense for the claimed philosophy of this vehicle.

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago

You have won me over. I’m going to stop downticking without a comment.

In fact, a large + or – tick number is really meaningless. A bunch of people with a similar view point may have read the comment, and those with a different perspective may have missed it.

I sometimes get a bit upset by a large negative, but I should just ignore it

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

I find it hard to believe that knowledge of at least some of his activities were not widely known in the entertainment industry and in particular at the BBC

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 years ago

They were. Truth is that lots of musicians back then regularly had sex with young girls, probably a fair few in the back rooms of the BBC. A blind eye was turned because they were all at it. They probably just thought Saville was like the rest, the phrase ‘liked them young’ actually covered up things that would be immediately investigated now.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

My mother too. In fact my first memory of Saville is him on TV and my mother expressing her loathing. Totally out of character for her too. My fathers hatred of him was equally visceral. Working class people don’t mince their words.
Did some kind of bizarre tolerance, some mistrust of all healthy instincts, allow us to be taken in.
We may not have all known what he was doing, but he had creep written all over him. Who would trust such a man?

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Double bluff – he was so obviously and publicly creepy, that everyone assumed that he was OK really: just a wacky entertainer.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

“Everyone”.
Not in our house Tony. Working class people lack that nuance, and thankfully, so they say it as they see it.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Exactly. As one commentator said, he was a paedo disguised as a paedo. And he was so famous for so long that people thought any dodgy stuff would have emerged years ago. Well, of course it had emerged, but the powers that be were wilfully blind.

I met him on a couple of occasions at charity dinners in London. He was dressed in smart business clothes and I got no sinister vibes off him. Nor did other people involved in the charity. Fortunately his involvement with the charity was limited and I don’t think he had access to the very vulnerable people we helped.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

Check out Andrew O’Hagan’s fascinating 2012 article. Savile was not the only famous molester funded by the licence payer.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v34/n21/andrew-o-hagan/light-entertainment

In the comments at the bottom, Billy Smart notes the audience revulsion to Savile even in 1964. As Smart is from the University of Reading, I suspect that he checked out the BBC written archives, which are stored in a very ordinary building at Emmer Green on the north side of Reading.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

As a child I was aware that we lived close to where his family still live on a council estate in Leeds. My older sisters were into dancing knew of him from their visits to the Mecca in Leeds where he was a manager, and often warned me to stay away from him. I followed their advice and did, and won a scholarship to a grammar school, and that was my ticket out of there. Many were not so lucky. My sisters, – level-headed working class girls who could spot a phoney at one thousand yards.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Let us not forget that the Royal Marines were much in awe of the revolting Savile, awarding him with the coveted ‘Green Beret’ and providing an honour guard/burial party at his funeral.

Whist his gently putrefying carcass was paraded, as in a Roman Triumph around the Yorkshire settlement of Scarborough, the aforesaid Green Beret was placed upon the coffin, resplendent for all to see.
Day of infamy indeed.

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
B Pritchard
B Pritchard
2 years ago

It has always amazed me that at the same time that Savile was presenting the awful ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ Esther Rantzen was campaigning for children’s rights and establishing Childline elsewhere within the confines of the same institution. To use a modern idiom, could nobody ‘read the room’?

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago

Should we retain and explain any statues of Savile, with plaques detailing his horrendous sex crimes?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Great question – let’s erect one outside Broadcasting House – with room on the plinth for the names of those who knew and did nothing.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I might vote for that!

I was asking to get my head around the whole statue issue. Does the passage of time make a difference, etc?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

Maybe “statues of contrition” should be erected and stay outside the HQ of relevant organisations until they are wound up – then the statues should be moved to museums.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  rodney foy

I can’t recall any statues of Savile. His name was hastily erased from the cafe at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. And from a footpath. And his grandiose triple width headstone was removed and utterly destroyed. And his newly published official biography quickly vanished from bookshops.

But fragments of his broadcasting career are out on the Internet. And there is more than enough easily available information on his grotesque career. I wonder if his 1970s autobiography is still obtainable. It apparently contains the shameless boast of bedding 2,500 women. Plainly it was no obstacle to getting a knighthood from the Blessed Margaret and another from Pope St John Paul II.

L Walker
L Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

I’d probably give a pass to John Paul II. Margaret was just doing what she was told was okay. Don’t know, I never heard of him until just before he died and I’m in the states so my opinion is probably worthless.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago
Reply to  L Walker

Margaret repeatedly entertained Savile at Chequers. He was one of the few showbiz people who was openly Conservative. And she kept pushing for him to be knighted in the teeth of opposition from civil servants. Given John Paul II’s blindness to the paedo scandal, including the infamous Marcial Maciel, there is no way I would give him a pass. Though, in the case of Savile, he would probably have taken the word of the English hierarchy, especially Cardinal Basil Hume.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

But why would anyone watch it?

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

Why would anyone read yet another book that’s come out about Hitler ?

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
2 years ago

I met Savile when the youth club I was working in did some kind of show with him. In all my 70plus years I have never seen such cruel, blank eyes. I never understood, even at 27, how anyone would have chosen to watch him.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago

Jimmy Saville needs to be ignored.

I lived in Aylesbury where the hospital sold their souls for money from sexual deviants’ money.

I hate the NHS because their management dismissed all complaints, and, somehow, never got the damages they deserved.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago

The BBC and ParaOlympics protected Saville!

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
2 years ago

WHERE is the evidence for the “rape” claim made in paragraph five?

Where? Certainly Gold will never come forth with it.

Anyone truly curious to get beyond tne hackneyed agitprop of Ms Gold will need to go no further than the vast devotion put into the work of one who actually cares for truth
http://jimcannotfixthis.blogspot.com/?m=1

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
2 years ago

Posting this again because Unherd, quite incredibly, instantly drop any real dissent to the very bottom of the comment stack:

WHERE is the evidence for the “rape” claim made in paragraph five?

Where? Certainly Gold will never come forth with it.

Anyone truly curious to get beyond tne hackneyed agitprop of Ms Gold will need to go no further than the vast devotion put into the work of one who actually cares for truth
http://jimcannotfixthis.blogspot.com/?m=1

Last edited 2 years ago by Don Lightband