If my memory serves, the last BBC director General to resign was Greg Dyke, because his staff were too hasty with a story. Now another DG faces the chop because his staff were too cowardly. When Dyke left, the BBC were attacked for lack of journalistic responsibility. They are now attacked for being too responsible. The BBC can never win.
Andrew Gilligan’s famous story of the ‘sexed-up’ Iraq War dossier, and the Hutton Enquiry which followed, not only dumped a fine DG, but also demanded that future stories be cast-iron and watertight before publication. Last night’s Panorama revelations clearly indicate that a lack of nerve was to blame for Newsnight’s decision to shelve the Saville story, rather than sinister conspiracy.
Sir Jimmy Savile (MBE)’s main diversionary tactic was the money. His charites became dependent on him because we were too tight to pay the taxes to buy what the hospitals needed. But he was also massively shielded by the nudge-nudge Benny Hill culture of light-entertainment of the time. The Donald-McGill-Gone-Mad world where all sexual overtures were assumed to be complements, and all rejections of them the act of a miserable spoilsport. All healthy women were gagging for it, and only the frigid and the lesbians would turn down a ‘thrill’ – and in truth, they were the lustiest of them all and therefore their souls most deserved saving from celebacy. ‘Is there not more rejoicing in Heaven for one sinner…?’ etc. The attitude was the equivalent of religious conversion, with Savile as Albert Schweitzer. And therefore the word No came to mean Yes. After that, making serial abuse disappear in the fever of celebrity-worship was simple for Savile. Children will accept as normal almost anything they are told is normal, especially by heroes and other authority figures. And with the most ruthless lawyers at his beck and call to crush any allegations, Savile could sleep easy the sick fuck. (Paedophilia is a sickness, that is obvious, which means it cannot be ‘evil’, and has a cause. And the real question is ‘what are the causes?’ – but that’s another post.)
He fixed it for himself so that nobody would talk.
The BBC stands accused of complicity in Savile’s crimes. Whatever the truth of that, there is a much wider problem to be addressed. Our collective memory of the recent past is being challenged with every revelation of police and state corruption, and their collusion with the media to lie to us on a grand scale. The Murdoch machine’s version of the past is now totally discredited, and with it our versions of the Miner’s Strike, Northern Ireland, the entire city of Liverpool, and now the predatory culture of mass ‘Light-Entertainment’. The entire era from Glam onwards can never be seen again as Just A Bit Of Fun. Just as the real history of the Thatcher era can only now be written.
There has always been sexual abuse in show-business. Almost every dressing room in every theatre over forty years old could tell stories which would now put people in prison. Show-business attracts those kinds of casualties, and creates many more. Savile was merely a pervert in a long tradition of perverts, one which is even celebrated in the public imagination. Dame Nellie Melba’s legendary preparation may not have been sexual abuse, but it would not be tolerated today. Frankie Howerd’s behaviour is not legendary, but a matter of record. I nearly used the word ‘antics‘ there instead of ‘behaviour’, or even ‘assaults’. That’s the effect at work. The culture can be partly explained by the popularity of reworkings of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Little Schoolgirl’.
‘Good morning, little schoolgirl.
Good morning, little schoolgirl.
Can I go home with you?
Won’t you let me go home with you’
Nobody saw anything wrong with that then. But neither did anyone object to explicit murder songs, such as ‘Delilah’, by Tom Jones, and in fact, sang them joyously as if they were cuddly Christmas Carols, and still do.
The Savile affair is yet another example of how our version of the past should always be questioned. If some diligent people had not felt the same way, we would still believe that the people of Liverpool were inherently sub-human, that miners were all bloodthirsty thugs bent on destroying civilisation, and that Sir Jimmy Savile (MBE) was a saint. In some Catholic countries, he would be well on the way to sanctification by now.