What I really wanted to do for you this week was uncover a totally new story about a racist paedophile banker — a perfect storm of a story which through the sheer magnitude of the mass national hysteria it engendered actually brought about a lethal fracturing of the earth’s crust, volcanic eruptions, rivers of sulphurous lava etc. ‘I was only 14 when he walked into my bedroom with his huge bonus and called me a darkie,’ my ideal interviewee — the whistleblower — would have begun, at least in my foetid and grasping imagination.
It’s how our minds work, we hacks, I suppose. When I first began in the job 32 years ago, as a reporter for the South Wales Echo, my then girlfriend observed that whenever an ambulance went by with its siren blaring I would immediately look up with an expression on my face which she could only describe as ‘pleased’. She left me not long afterwards. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to do; get in on the act somehow, provoke almost every single-issue pressure group in the country to begin their howling and ensure the police were stamping around the country, knocking on everyone’s door. But instead it’s more Savile; Savile redux, and then redux again, one supposes.
But a bit of a corrective, possibly, this time. I would not for a second wish to counter the prevailing opinion that Jimmy Savile was utterly repulsive and undoubtedly behaved in a criminal manner towards some young women. My own view is that Jimmy Savile was, as has been argued, ‘creepy’ long before these allegations saw the light of day. And one might add self-aggrandising and obnoxious: he was not my sort of entertainer.
I suspect he was not the entertainer of choice of the top brass of the BBC, either, which may partly explain why the corporation pushed on with its decision to run tribute programmes to the man at Christmas last year. Much in the manner that they buggered up the coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations through a sort of intellectual snobbery — the plebs will enjoy some air-headed bimbo jabbering inanities as the floats go by, they won’t want any history or seriousness — I think they decided to run the Savile tributes because he was something so far removed from their milieu that they were devoid of rational thought. The untermenschen like the ghastly man, for reasons we cannot comprehend, so no matter how awful he is, we may as well run the tributes. He abused kids? Quite possibly, but the lumpenproletariat won’t swallow that sort of blackening of his name — so run the tributes. That’s what I suspect they thought.
And now we have the police knocking on the doors of pretty much everyone who ever appeared on Top of the Pops between 1971 and 1975, a time when the music which dominated the charts was, for the first time ever, geared pretty much exclusively to the pre-16s and even pre-teens, and especially the girls. Glam rock and the Osmonds and the Bay City Rollers and so on. And further, overtly sexualised music aimed at these kids: Do You Wanna Touch Me? Oh Yeah, came the response, we do, we do. I doubt anyone over the age of 14 bought a Gary Glitter or Bay City Rollers or Sweet record; and sex was the promise that lay behind the songs and sex was, as it transpired, forthcoming when, in some cases, the audience met the performers and their factotums, the ghastly DJs.
Was sex imposed on the screaming hysterical girls, for the most part — or was it only imposed in their minds retrospectively, now that paedophilia has gained the status of iconic crime? This is not to doubt for a moment the undoubted predatory awfulness of some of those who we will see accused over the coming weeks. But it seems to be a case of collective shock at a previous era: that happened? We let that happen? Yes, of course we did.
I would direct you, in another piece of devil’s advocacy, to the website of a woman who posts under the name of Anna Raccoon — I assume that’s not her real name. She claims to have been a resident at Duncroft approved school at the time that Savile was a visitor; she has different memories of the time. She was not abused. She has no time for Savile himself, but she has questioned the latterly made testimonies of some of the former pupils of the institution. One woman who spoke out, for example, had left the school many years before Savile made his first visit, the blogger alleges. She has her doubts, too, about the testimony of Karin Ward, the woman whose interview formed the basis of both the shelved Newsnight investigation and the subsequent Panorama programme which sought to blame Newsnight for having sat on the story. Her posts are calm and rational and well expressed. Are they for real? I don’t know, but I suspect that they are. She also claims to have been contacted by several media outlets, apparently tantalised by the fact that here was yet another former pupil of this school and better still, one who was articulate. But the journalists — including those from BBC Radio 4 — lost interest when she said she hadn’t been abused.
She says: ‘It seems that if you were a resident of Duncroft who claims to have been abused, you must be believed, protected, defended. If you were a resident of Duncroft who was not claiming to be abused — then you can only be “muddying the waters” or “have an agenda to prevent the truth being known” — because such is the power of the media, that “everyone knows the truth”. If only. There is only one story in town.’
The ambulance goes by, siren blaring, and off we run.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 3 November 2012