I tried to watch last week’s documentary about Jimmy Savile but was very tired and found it all a bit much.
The revelations about his love of young girls were hardly a surprise. More than ten years ago I heard stories about how Savile had lived in a camper van parked outside BBC TV Centre during the 60s. The detail from the story that stood out was that the van was always full of school girls ; this gem was related to me by a dancer who knew him for a programme called Sounds of 69. Now there’s an unfortunate title…
Savile was obviously a pretty shocking character and I think it’s only right that his behaviour should be condemned. However, it also scares me when I read stories like this:
I guess his family are anticipating vandalism and attacks from those caught up in the moral panic surrounding Savile. And I don’t blame people for recoiling from his activities – which seem to be almost endless. But I think it is a mark of a civilised society to respect the dead and allow people to rest in peace. Savile may have been monstrous during his lifetime but that does not mean his grave should be desecrated.
I guess I also find the witch hunt hard to cope with because I met Savile on numerous occasions during my TV career and found him extremely likeable. Deeply eccentric and rather disturbing but likeable nonetheless. He was a ‘good turn’. He also had the uncanny ability of being able to remember voices. If I ever phoned Savile, he knew it was me before I even introduced myself and would answer by saying: “Is that the Lucy of Reese”.
You can call it creepy if you like but I found it pretty impressive. And this was after meeting him maybe once or twice.
Before you worry for my moral well being, I was in my mid 20s when I first encountered Savile and probably in my early 30s when I last saw him. Definitely not under age!
Savile popped up on the numerous daytime and entertainment programmes I worked on in my 20s and then was a regular fixture on the ‘list shows’ I made in my 30s. Basically the sort of shows where a series of talking heads make comments like ‘look at the silly trousers’ about bits of archive and tell a few funny stories. You can call it sanitised history for the masses (if you’re wearing a Marxist hat) or a bit of fun if you’re wearing your TV hat. I switch from hat to hat so I call it both.
Anyway, just over 10 years ago I was making a programme about boy bands or teen idols or something like that and we ended up interviewing Savile. In his flat in Leeds. It was just after the Louis Theroux programme When Louis Met Jimmy
So Jimmy was very much in the public consciousness again.
The Theroux documentary is superb – watching Theroux draw out Savile by acting the innocent is compelling viewing. Highlights include Savile talking about being a wrestler, beating people up when he worked in clubs in the 60s and obviously his mother, who he referred to as ‘The Duchess’.
But nothing could beat the moment when Savile revealed that he kept all of the Duchess’s clothes, lovingly preserved in dry cleaner’s plastic. It was both sad and freaky at the same time.
So going to Savile’s flat near Roundhay Park in Leeds was quite an experience. I went there with a colleague of mine (now an executive at Channel Four) who was literally fizzing with excitement. Even the crew were thrilled by the prospect of going inside Savile’s lair.
The building was a fairly non descript block from the 60s or 70s and reminded me of the place my grandparents lived in in their declining years. A safe place for the elderly. Savile’s apartment was at the top and the lift came directly into the flat – very 70s bachelor pad.
In fact stepping into the flat was like stepping back in time. To the 70s. The decor, the furniture and Jimmy himself seemed trapped in the decade of my childhood. Pictures of 70s bands, a giant platform soled boot and basically nothing that might suggest that the world had turned since I was at junior school. It wasn’t scary or sinister – just very, very dated. It was like Jimmy lived in a museum.
I think we got what we wanted from Jimmy and obviously we all dined out for months on our trip to his flat. But thinking about it makes me wonder if Jimmy’s real problem was that he was just trapped in the past.
We all eulogise the 60s as this amazing period when our society changed for the better – when we all became free and finally threw off the shackles of our Victorian forefathers. I basically agree with this perspective and am glad that I was born in 1970 rather than 1870 or 1925. Yet with the freedoms that we all celebrate came some slightly less desirable behaviour – such as drug addiction and sexual exploitation. Take away the restrictions and life becomes more fun but also more dangerous. And throw in power and celebrity – Savile was a very powerful and famous person – and you have the potential for all sorts of abuse.
At the end of the day what Savile did was disgusting and morally reprehensible. But I still stand back from totally joining in the witch hunt. Why did no one stop him – especially since by all accounts he was totally shameless? It is easy for our culture – and the tabloid press – to point the finger at one deeply peculiar individual; less easy to explain why we tolerate (and even excuse) the bad behaviour of someone labelled a ‘celebrity’.