Tuesday, 9 October 2012



The sexual abuse of underage children by a person in a position of assumed stature is arguably one of the most viscerally loathed crimes by right-thinking members of the public. As more and more interminably scarred victims emerge reluctantly from the shadows, the chorus of indignation at a once-loved - even revered - public figure is reaching a deafening crescendo. Jimmy Savile is undergoing a kind of posthumous indictment that has rarely been seen before. Based on the testimony of witnesses who independently provided sets of facts displaying a chilling amount of consistency (over time and various locations), one is forced to say: Savile’s reputation is receiving the desecration it deserves. But though the testimonies which have been published and broadcast in the last week have been unspeakably shocking, the most lugubrious aspect of the whole affair is the fact that many people who knew or worked with Savile (though often claiming ignorance of specifics) have said they were not surprised. We knew he was a bit weird right? So he was bound to have done something like this.

Savile was a man who had the dubious distinction of being an anachronism almost from the moment his popularity became widespread. He was unmarried, showed a conspicuous fascination with children, and lived a nomadic existence in a caravan that was generously described as ‘quirky’. His charity work (raising an eye-watering £40 million during his lifetime) was the sword of respectability which Savile could rely on to combat any salacious rumours that swelled around him. This was something so publicised, it almost served to censor the British public at source; curtailing the formation of negative or accusatory thoughts in the mind, before they could ever be spoken. 

The British are prone to elevating often morally-suspect individuals to a position of eternal imperviousness to criticism; whether it’s the drunken-racist Winston Churchill, or more recently, the monumentally entitled and self-serving Royal Family. Certain personalities become long-established pieces of furniture that adorn the living-room of the British psyche - and once they are in place, they can be neither moved nor critiqued. We in Britain may espouse sanctimonies of Muslims for their inflammatorily unflinching reverence of the Prophet Mohammed – but let’s be fair; we have created a few ‘Mohammeds’ ourselves. To criticise Churchill or the Royal family (particularly if you are an ethnic minority like myself) causes hateful and jingoistic rebuttals; similarly, criticism of someone like Savile would be met with the suggestion that the person dispatching the criticism is so cynical as to be unable to see joyous, unconditional philanthropy for what it really is. Unconditional philanthropy, or the notion of ‘greatness’ on the international stage: if you have achieved any of these things, it is likely that you can live out your life as indecorously as you wish without ever having to fear the wrath of the British public. Sadly, historical accuracy is not the victim most damaged by this folly; it’s the people who suffered heinous crimes in silence and anonymity, and have to live out the rest of their existence with the consequences.

When I look back at images of the ‘Carry-on’ -culture of Britain in the 70s, it is often difficult to find instances where sexism, racism and general unpropitious attitudes are not glaringly obvious. Savile’s seedy-uncle act was but one of a number of equally perverted personalities that graced prime-time TV screens across the nation. This was the era of Benny Hill chasing women half his age, vying for a quick grope; this was the era when Babara Windsor’s contribution to the then zeitgeist was providing cleavage for avuncular gawping; this was the era when Savile and Glitter could stand side by side on TV – both clutching an uncomfortable looking teen - and joke in a macabre fashion about ‘giving too many girls away’. I still find it shocking that this didn’t cause offence at the time and it is sad reflection on British popular culture that sexism and paedophilia appear to be crimes of a recent inception. All this from the country that was ‘Great’ and had spent the last two hundred years ‘civilising’ vast swathes of the planet. In 70s Britain, the hubris hangover of an empire-now-lost created a permissiveness of debauched attitudes, which parodied the depravity of the last days of Rome.

I find it impossible to believe that Savile’s abuse and exploitation of young girls was a unique crime in its occurrence. What has been a reprehensively consistent trait of the evidence regarding his abuse that has been disclosed thus far, has been the fact that most victims spoke of how Savile’s actions at the time were widely-known, and rather than being condemned or challenged, were merely joked about as a kind of quirky idiosyncrasy of a much-loved rascal. Savile’s lecherous and wanton designs were both allowed and enabled by the very people that should have been stopping them. I’m not talking about the authorities here – I’m talking about us, the British public.

Tolerance is a virtue that British people have long since prided themselves on. It is a tribute to the country that its celebrities can display a myriad of personalities, sexual preferences and ethnic backgrounds. But let us not forget that this is the Britain of today and we haven’t always been as tolerant as we purport to be – whether sincerely or not – right now. Also, we should never again underestimate the propensity for the ugliest traits in humans to manifest themselves, even in the people that we have long since adored.

The crimes that Savile has allegedly committed have left a tenebrous legacy to a career once so vaunted. The institutions that he worked for and with, will forever be tainted by the accusation (whether or not it can be proved) that they harboured and enabled a serial abuser. However, the most shameful revelation is that Britain and its people perpetuated a culture whereby it was impossible for Savile’s victims to come forward, and it was equally impossible for Savile’s sordid designs to be viewed as anything other than the jaunty mischievousness of a harmless old codger. This is a shame that we all must live with; the same way that Savile’s victims live with the haunting memories of his abuse.

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