Too much, too late

There is always more than meets the eye in most British scandals — especially sex scandals — and the Jimmy Savile one, currently convulsing British society, is no exception. To the casual viewer it all seems fairly straightforward if sordid stuff.

By Phillip Knightley (One Man’s View)

Published: Tue 30 Oct 2012, 8:31 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:45 PM

A radio disc jockey turned TV presenter and massive fundraiser for worthy causes died last year aged 84. Because he was a national icon, the BBC devoted a lifetime achievements tribute to him, which it broadcast after his death.

After the programme went out but while tributes were still pouring in, disturbing rumours began circulating. Jimmy Savile was not the saint he had been painted as being. Jimmy Savile had a liking for young girls, some very young. Jimmy Savile had sexually molested many of them. Jimmy Savile used his position as a famous disc jockey to force himself on these girls. And, wait for it, some of these incidents had occurred on the premises of the BBC itself.

As the scandal grew it gathered strength. The rumours, it appeared, had begun with some of the girls, now women, who were outraged that Savile had got away with it and had decided to speak out. New accusations appeared daily. The police got involved and announced that they were investigating. And just when it appeared that it could not get any worse, it emerged that the BBC itself had been investigating Savile before his death, had prepared a documentary in which some of the women appeared and accused Savile, but that at the last minute the editor decided not to broadcast it.

The story now switched from Savile’s behaviour to why had the damning programme been suppressed and the tribute programme broadcast? Was anything sinister involved? Did one part of the BBC not know what another part of the same organisation was doing? And then to: who knew about Savile and when? And why did they not do anything about him?

It seems that just about everyone knew about Savile and that no one did anything about him because he was too powerful to challenge and the girls themselves felt that they would not be believed, which was probably true. Questions have been asked in Parliament, a BBC editor has “stepped aside”, the BBC has appointed two outsiders to conduct an enquiry and police investigations continue. That’s where things stand at the moment.

But let us look beyond the daily news and see if there is indeed anything sinister in these events. Alex Mitchell, an Australian political blogger, says in his view it is no coincidence that the uproar over Savile has occurred now. Mitchell who labels Savile “that peculiar sociological being, a working class Tory”, points out that Savile was a close friend of Mrs Thatcher, attending News Year’s Eve parties at Chequers with the Thatcher family for eleven consecutive years. “Why didn’t Special Branch or MI5 inform Thatcher of Savile’s lust for sex with juveniles and innocents?”

Mitchell says that the affair has been seized upon as a chance to shame and scandalise the BBC in the eyes of the public, to destroy the revered standing of the public broadcaster and the government into slashing or ending the licence fee that pays for the BBC’s staff and programming.

This would enable Murdoch to turn his pay TV network BSkyB, into Britain’s premier broadcaster and make billions from advertising and exclusive TV rights.

Where the truth lies is anyone’s guess. But there is no denying that Savile cheered the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen living in cultural deprivation, and worked tirelessly for charity raising millions for hospitals, making life better for sick and neglected children.

He cannot be forgiven for behaving as a sexual predator on those too weak to resist him. But it is a shame that he is now being used as a pawn in a commercial power play designed to damage the BBC, as much a cherished institution as Savile once was.

Phillip Knightley is a veteran British journalist and commentator

More news from OPINION