LONDON — Jimmy Savile, the pedophile British children’s television presenter, was considered “too important to the the BBC” to be “required to observe the rules and values which applied to everyone else,” and as a consequence was able to get away with years of sex assaults on men, women and children, according to a new report (PDF).
The investigation into Britain’s worst celebrity pedophile scandal, published today, found that a “culture of fear” was so prevalent at the BBC when it came to top talent, that not one formal complaint was ever lodged against Savile, despite the fact that he assaulted at least 72 women and children while working at the corporation.
Senior managers at the BBC, when questioned by the inquiry, all claimed to be unaware of Savile’s activities, despite press allegations, and the fact that dozens of senior employees were aware not only of those rumors, but of stories about necrophilia.
“Black” jokes about Savile’s predeliction for “young girls” were common currency at the BBC.
As an example, the journalist Mark Lawson told the report that when he and his wife had difficulty finding a babysitter, they would joke, “Looks like we’re down to Jimmy Savile or Michael Jackson.”
Damning though it seems, lawyers for Savile’s victims slammed the report today as “an expensive whitewash.”
Liz Dux, at the law firm Slater and Gordon, who is representing 168 of Savile’s many victims, said, “With 117 witnesses giving evidence of concerns and rumors, it’s implausible to suggest that this did not reach the upper echelons of the BBC.”
The youngest confirmed victims (a boy and a girl) were just 8 years old, and three of the most serious incidents of rape and attempted rape actually took place on BBC premises.
Savile died in 2011 without ever having been seriously challenged about his pedophilia by the BBC.
Douglas Muggeridge, controller of Radio 1 and 2, who has since died, interviewed Savile over the allegations once in 1973. Muggeridge had heard “disturbing” rumors of Savile’s behaviour and set up a meeting between Savile, Radio 1’s head of programs, and an executive producer. But Savile said there was no truth in the rumors and was believed. No further enquiries were made.
Dame Janet Smith, who conducted the BBC inquiry, says: “I am surprised that [Muggeridge] closed the book quite as completely as he appears to have done,” noting that she would have expected some “lingering anxiety” about the rumors and their potential damage to the BBC’s reputation.
“Had discreet enquiries of BBC radio staff been made, a number would have come forward with information which would at least have given significant cause for concern about Savile."
Savile eventually was knighted and became a cornerstone of the establishment. He was friends with Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles. He was feted with hagiographic obituaries after his death. But a documentary exposing his pedophilia was broadcast a year later, and a tsunami of allegations against him rolled in. A police investigation found that he abused more than 500 victims in total.
Although no formal complaints were made against him at the BBC, eight informal complaints were made against Savile. The dismissive way in which these, along with other rumors and stories about Savile, were handled is one of the most troubling features of the report, representing, as they do, missed opportunities to stop Savile in his tracks.
Dame Janet Smith writes that in one of these cases, a BBC employee who complained to her supervisor that she had been sexually assaulted by Savile was told, “Keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP.”
Smith writes, “The employee did as she was told.”
In 1969, after Savile “grabbed the breasts of a studio manager,” the reaction of one of her supervisors “was to suggest that it would have been more surprising if Savile had not tried to touch her. The complaint went no further.”
One witness, who worked in BBC Radio 1, describing the BBC culture of the time, said there were lots of “wandering hands, comments about your body...chaps just felt it was perfectly fine to put their hand on your bum...and other places.”
Another blamed “a culture of fear” for the reason why they “didn’t say anything,” adding, “one word from a presenter and you would be in trouble.”
One of the most anguished testimonies comes from the BBC presenter Esther Rantzen, who set up the child abuse helpline Childline. In the report she is quoted as saying, “We all blocked our ears to the gossip... I feel that we, in television—in his world, in some way colluded with him as a child abuser, because I now believe that’s what he was.”
Rantzen’s personal experience of Savile was that he was “repulsive in the way he kissed or, rather, licked her hand and up her arm when they met.”
The report found that Savile used his celebrity status and his connections with other stars as “bait with which to draw young girls into his sphere.”
Of the 72 victims, 57 are female and 15 are male; 21 of the female victims were under 16 and 36 were 16 and over; 13 of the male victims were under 16 and two were 16 and over.
Eight victims were raped (six female and two male) and one female victim was the subject of an attempted rape; 47 victims were the subject of indecent/sexual assault excluding rape (34 female and 13 male).
The majority of victims (44) were assaulted in the 1970s, 10 in the 1960s and 17 in the 1980s.