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The Spectator's Notes

Was I abused by Jimmy Savile?

He had the opportunity – and for that matter, so did Cyril Smith

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

‘Twenty-six million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?’ asks the Ukip poster for the euro-elections, beside a Lord Kitchener-style pointing finger. Obviously, Ukip thinks the answer is ‘Ours’. But this isn’t true. Twenty-six million people are not looking for British jobs, but for jobs in general. And even those who do want jobs in Britain are not trying to take jobs from people who have them (though this might sometimes be the effect): they just want jobs. If Ukip is opposed to unrestricted EU immigration, it should direct its anger at the politicians who support this policy, not at the blameless people who, like most of us, want work. The poster illustrates a psychological problem for those of us — myself included — who would instinctively prefer not to be in the EU. The good reason to feel this way is because we want to govern ourselves once again and be a freer part of a wider world. Ukip has recently produced a respectable pamphlet along these lines. The bad reason is because of hating foreigners. In a referendum campaign, it will become clear which reason dominates the ‘Get Out’ side. If it is the latter, it will lose, and deserve to.

Adverts go out inviting people who think they were sexually abused by the late Sir James Savile to claim compensation. On the BBC, Alison Millar, a lawyer at the firm Leigh Day, explained that, to be paid: ‘You will need some evidence to show that you were in a situation where Savile will have had the opportunity to abuse you.’ If that is all you need, I reckon I am in with a chance. I met Savile only once, at the director-general’s BBC election night party in 1987, when I was the vulnerable 30-year-old editor of this magazine. Obviously, others were in the room, but we have heard from many accounts that Jimmy was resourceful in getting his way. I don’t think I shall bother to try to get the money, which is capped at £60,000 a head, but I mention it because, if evidence of proximity is all that is required, this is not justice. By the way, I also met the future Sir Cyril Smith when I was an 18-year-old delegate to the Liberal Assembly in Scarborough in 1975. If the Times and the Daily Mail are to be believed, the Liberal high-ups culpably ignored Smith’s abuse. Perhaps I shall sue them.

Unlike almost everyone I know, I was always very fond of the staple school puddings of my childhood — rice pudding, semolina, and anything with custard (all of them nicer with skin on the top). I was inspired by these dishes to find their grown-up equivalents which are generally better cooked; so now I eschew Bird’s custard but love the real thing. On Easter Day, my niece Anna, who like many teenagers today is a brilliant pastry cook, produced an Italian dish called pastiera napoletana di grano, sometimes known as ‘Easter pie’. Its whole, boiled wheat grains symbolise new life concealed. Cooked in ricotta, these grains had a taste which gave me a Proustian recall of my favourite school pudding, tapioca. The revival of interest in ‘nursery food’ is deserved, not merely because of this nostalgia effect but because it is really more exciting than people noticed at the time.


A relation arrived late for Easter lunch because he had suffered a flat tyre. He has a new car. Environmental rules forbid a fitted spare tyre, because its weight endangers the planet by increasing fuel consumption. Since the RAC drove round half of Kent seeking the right new wheel for him, the total carbon tyre-print must be far higher than if the makers had been allowed to include the spare in the first place.

I was recently interviewed by a brilliant young man called Luke O’Sullivan for his brainy new internet magazine called Quadrapheme, which may yet save civilisation. In his article, O’Sullivan takes up the word ‘transparency’, so loved by public figures today, and puts his finger on why it is suspect. Bureaucratic transparency, he points out, such as being told what has been done by whom, does not tell you much. What one is really looking for, he argues, is ‘transparency of motive’ i.e. why something is done and to what end. This can never be knowable unless the organisation has ‘concrete beliefs’ about what its work is for. In this sense, most public institutions today are more opaque than ever.

Last week, I mentioned the search for the Stonegate hedge-fund manager guaranteed anonymity if he paid the railway company the full £43,000 he owed it for cheating its fares for five years. Despite extensive inquiries by neighbours and press, his trail seems to have gone dead. The thought is now spreading that the super-cheat does not exist: he has been invented by Southeastern to draw attention to his supposed method (‘tapping out’ his Oyster card and then embarking on a much longer journey) and strike fear into the hearts of real, live cheats, whose numbers may extend even beyond the hedge-fund community.

Tommy Crossan, a former commander of Continuity IRA, was gunned down on Good Friday in the Peter Pan (‘to die would be an awfully big adventure’) light industrial estate in Belfast. Afterwards a spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said that Crossan was ‘known to the police’, but condemned the murder ‘no matter what his lifestyle was’. Good sentiments, but how all-embracing that word ‘lifestyle’ has become that it can include a career in terrorism. ‘Death-style’ might be better.

Latest Startling Fact about the Great War. The first shot by forces of the British empire was fired on 4 August 1914, in Melbourne, Australia. An artillery shell was launched from Fort Nepean against the German vessel Pfalz. The first shot from the same forces in the second world war also came from Fort Nepean, also on the first day of the war (3 September 1939). Chance, or an attempt to achieve a record?


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