Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Giving voice to the victims

A few weeks ago, I went to a pop-up cinema in Leytonstone for a screening of a film called The Deep End. Made in 1971 by a protégé of Roman Polanski, it told the story of a 15 year-old boy in the East End who gets his first job in the local swimming baths. Forgotten for years, but recently rediscovered and remastered by the BFI, the film offered a compelling time capsule of London life in the aftermath of the decade of free love. But what was most telling, aside from the fact that in the seventies swimming centres still had private bathing rooms for people who lived without indoor plumbing, was the way the interaction between a local games teacher and his female students was portrayed. Watching the film through 21st century eyes, the audience was shocked to see a man in a position of authority happily playing grab-arse with his charges; even pulling down the top of their bathing suits to peer inside. During the film’s melodramatic denouement, a young Jane Asher condemned the teacher for his unprofessional conduct, but in reality she was more concerned with the fact that she’d lost the diamond from her engagement ring.

A couple of days after viewing the film, the Jimmy Savile scandal exploded all over the news. Throughout the last couple of decades of his life, Savile had become something of a dark joke. Dogged by insinuation and innuendo, the stories of his inappropriate conduct with young girls had become so widespread that it was like the world’s biggest open secret. I used to work with a copywriter who’d written British Rail scripts for him during the eighties. She once told me that the first time she’d met him, he’d shaken her hand and, rather dexterously, managed to tickle her palm with his finger while he was doing it. To hear her tell it, this was a man who’d perfected the ability to hide his predatory leanings in plain view.

But everything changed when ITV aired the documentary by Mark Williams-Thomas, as victims of Savile’s decades-long campaign of abuse and molestation finally came forward and shared their story. Rather than being met by shock and disbelief, the response on Twitter might best be described as grim resignation. A nation shrugging disdainfully in 140 characters and hashtagging #toldyouso. There’s no denying the horrific scale of Savile’s alleged crimes, or the fact that there were countless people who turned a blind eye to some shockingly inappropriate conduct. However, what concerns me now is how a complicit media is rushing to portray the BBC as being a giant community of abuse enablers. Other former BBC names are now being mentioned, as though the sexual molestation of minors was endemic across the BBC, and pederasty part of the Corporation’s formal training programme.

It’s no surprise to see that the ringleaders of the attack are prominent right-wing papers, salivating at the prospect of the BBC self-flagellating in an orgy of liberal guilt. This reached its apotheosis the other night, as BBC News reported on a Panorama programme that investigated the decision by Newsnight editors to pull their own Savile investigation. If, as David Quantick once said, ‘pop will eat itself’, then the BBC will also bend over backwards to auto-fellate.

Here’s an organisation so hogtied by its own fairness and equality mandate that its opponents barely need to lift a finger. Meanwhile, the likes of Paul Dacre can just sit back and count the days until another debate about the Licence Fee pops up on the parliamentary agenda. And at this rate, he won’t have too long to wait, since questions are already being asked about whether the Savile scandal ‘raises issues of trust in the BBC.’

With the facts of the matter now common knowledge, it’s time for the attention-seekers to start crawling out of the woodwork. In the last twenty-four hours, both Max Clifford and Kerry Katona – two opposite ends of a short but no-less noxious continuum of celebrity insight – have weighed in on the subject. Clifford, in particular, deserving particular scorn for invoking the PR equivalent of the Hippocratic oath, by implying that he knows of countless other child molesters in media circles, but is sworn to protect their identity. I give you Albert the Butler, but with a Rolodex full of kiddie-fiddlers.

Interestingly, no-one’s rushing to hang Clifford out to dry for his own dereliction of duty – even though he clearly believes that reputation management is more important than protecting youngsters from abuse. But then we should hardly be surprised, since Savile isn’t the master villain as far as the scandal-mongers are concerned. He’s merely Rosa Klebb to the Director General’s Blofeld. And like Blofeld, it doesn’t matter who’s occupying the giant leather swivel chair – the faces may change but the evil intent remains the same. 

Of course, this is all anti-BBC bullshit of the highest order. The way the press are spinning it, they’re going after the manufacturer rather than the dealer. However, suggesting that the BBC is in some way culpable for the behind-closed-doors misconduct of those in its employ, when no charges were ever filed, is pure nonsense. And by pursuing their agenda of propaganda and misinformation, they’re also doing the real victims a disservice.

When a child is abused by one parent, the other care-giver is seldom prosecuted for their awareness of the crime. Similarly, neighbours aren’t hauled into court for having long suspected that something dubious was going on behind the curtains that were closed at lunchtime. And teachers aren’t summarily sacked for neglecting to involve social services, just because they had an inkling that something wasn’t right at home. In the end, nothing can be done until a victim comes forward with a complaint. And if nothing else good comes from this whole tawdry and upsetting affair, at least we can be thankful that victims can feel more supported and empowered in naming and shaming their abusers than ever before.

At the time when Savile was at his most prolifically predatory, the general  public’s understanding of what constituted non-consensual sex, paedophilia and statutory rape was woefully lacking. Not only did this make it harder for the victims themselves to identify and articulate any wrongdoing, it would have been nigh-on impossible for the casual observer to intervene with the confidence of any legal backing. It’s also worth considering the fact that many of the people who’ve subsequently come forward with their own eye-witness accounts were, at the time, junior employees within the organisation. So the notion that, in less informed times, they would have felt able to come forward and point an accusatory finger at one of the country’s most recognisable faces, is asinine at best.

The battle has been brought to the BBC’s door. And it has a duty to stand up and fight for its future. That means silencing the innuendo, and putting a stop to the apologies for things over which it had no control. If it’s in any way culpable for Savile’s history of abuse, then we all are. Ours is a society that took too long to listen to the victims, and was content to look the other way rather than get involved. In the end, the BBC has a mandate to give every sector of society a voice – and if that gets silenced, then everybody loses.   


  1. Hear Hear! No doubt they'll be trying to work out where in TVC the BBC kept the dead bodies that Sir Jim'll practised the necrophilia that Gambo alleges. Or maybe, just maybe, that took place in a state-run organisation, like a hospital or secure psychiatric hospital. Who knew?

  2. Very interesting perspective, it was as they say a different time, smoking was allowed in hospitals, expectant father were puffing away in the baby ward, steaming alcoholics were just "the life and soul of the party."
    What Jimmy Savile did as disgusting and unforgivable then as it is now but people looking in from 2012 can't hold to account those on the perifery, including the BBC with 1960, 1970 and 1980 sensibilities.