Friday, November 9, 2012

The Devil Takes Many Forms

I've resisted blogging about the Jimmy Savile scandal in the UK, even though if you follow me on Twitter you'll know it's occupied my thoughts for some time. However, this week I was approached by a tabloid journalist because he thought my tweets suggested I have some inside information about it all - I don't - and the case is taking so many fascinating and ridiculous turns, and provokes so many questions, I feel my head is about to explode so I need to set it down somewhere, so I hope you'll indulge me.

First of all, a quick precis for those in other countries who might not be aware of what's gone on. Jimmy Savile was a DJ and television presenter. He has was wrestler, a dancehall owner and DJ, who rose to national prominence in the 1960s even though it was clear he had little interest in the music he was playing. He was that dreaded thing: a 'personality.' He looked weird, dressed strangely - gold lame tracksuits, lots of jewellery - had a funny way of speaking with lots of catchphrases ('Now then, now then guys and gals', 'As it happens...'), chomped on a cigar which was rarely lit, and carried an aura of 'otherness' which he played to the max. He is perhaps most famous, at least for my generation, for hosting a ludicrously popular programme called 'Jim'll Fix It' which ran on the BBC for the best part of 20 years. Children wrote in asking for their dreams to be made real and Jim fixed it for them. My sister wrote in on our behalf when I was four, asking that be whisked away on an adventure with Peter Pan. Jim didn't fix it; though given what's been revealed I'm surprised he didn't turn up at our door dressed as Peter and take us to Never Never Land aka Scarborough, where Peter lived in a caravan.

Savile was also famous for his charitable works, most famously as patron of Stoke Mandeville hospital, and he was knighted for his services. He ran marathons until he was well into his 80s to raise money, and he was closely, um, involved in several prisons, hospitals and care homes. His fundraising and profile brought him close to senior politicians and royalty. He used to spend the odd Christmas or night at Chequers with Mrs Thatcher and he was such a good friend of Prince Charles that he tried to broker a reconciliation when his relationship with Princess Diana was breaking down. He died in 2011. Last month it was reported that he was a paedophile who had abused hundreds of children, mainly young women, aged between 13 and 15, many of them in the same institutions for whom he was also raising funds. The BBC suppressed a report into his abuse after he died and has come under intense criticism for it, but now stories of Savile's abuse and the appalling extent of it are in every newspaper every day.

What a shock, you must think? To have such a saintly man exposed as probably one of the most prolific child abusers in British history? To discover that a man who was famous for hosting a kids show that made children's dreams came true, was actually destroying the lives of thousands of vulnerable kids. What a terrible, awful surprise eh?

No. While the extent of Savile's evil continues to surprise and there are elements of the story that stretch credulity - which I'll come to - the simple fact is that there have been rumours about Savile going back to the 1950s. My parents worked in TV and tales of Savile's predilections were legion: one of them, which I used to delight in appalling people with, was that the reason he volunteered as a night porter at Leeds General Infirmary was that it granted him access to the morgue and he was a necrophiliac. It turns out that rumour was almost certainly true and has been reported in the mainstream press. There were also stories about him having a caravan in Scarborough where he would take underage girls. Again, these rumours were true. In Leeds, where I grew up, he was viewed as a sort of Bling Bogeyman, a showbiz monster, a Child-Snatcher in crap trainers, but the world seemed to love him - he was a friend of Prince Charles and Mrs Thatch and a knight of the realm! -  even if you would struggle to find someone who didn't think he was a creepy weirdo.

So, Savile's behaviour was such an open secret that 19-year-old no-nothing numpties like me were spreading stories about him. He also featured in songs by The Smiths ('The Leeds side-streets that you slip down...the provincial towns that you jog round...Hang the blessed DJ') and Half Man Half Biscuit:

Down at Stoke Mandeville I bumped into Mr IQ
I said “Hey albino, this is not 1972
Stub out your King Edward and get that small boy off your knee
And melt down your rings and things and get yourself off my TV”

Jim could you fix it for me
To come down and suck out your kidneys?
I’ve got this young brother, you see
Who wants to stay alive to watch Bilko. ”

That was written in the 1980s. Ever since Savile's death countless celebs and TV folk who worked with him or knew him have crawled out to say they knew there was something dodgy about Jimmy, and tell lurid tales involving him and young girls. It's a disgrace that none of them came forward at the time. Savile, they say, was seen as untouchable: he knew a lot of powerful people, he could hire expensive lawyers who were able to use Britain's libel laws to keep stories out of the newspapers, and he was a nasty piece of work, who knew some nasty folk, and people were wary of crossing him. So theres rumours built and built, and Jimmy carried on abusing and abusing. Evil things happen when good men do nothing and so on.

But this is where the story gets truly sinister. If the stories about Savile were so rife that idiots like me were telling their friends at uni about them, and obscure indie bands of the 1980s were putting them into song, then how the hell did Savile get to be so friendly with so many senior Tory politicians in the 1980s? Why was he friends with Prince Charles? We can say nothing was proven, the newspapers were scared, but we also know how ruthless politicians are, particularly successful ones. They make friends according to how it will affect their perception and popularity, and if an adviser or someone tells them that even the faintest of scandal has attached itself to someone they know then that person is cut dead, for fear of what emerge. I can't for a second believe that no one at Tory Party HQ in the 1980s was not aware of the rumours and allegations that surrounded Savile. So why was he allowed to move in those circles and why were they so eager to greet him? There were no votes in it.

Even worse, he was not just allowed to gladhand with the great and the good. The great and the good gave him the keys to the asylum. Literally. Broadmoor is a psychiatric hospital. It's high-security because many of the inmates are violent criminals, and in other wings there were other patients, many of whom were mentally-ill teenage girls and boys. Savile was 'entertainments manager' there for many years, a self-appointed role. In the 1980s he was appointed by the Tory Government to be part of  taskforce invesitigating reforms of Broadmoor, even though he had no knowledge of expertise in the field of psychiatry. One of Savile's friends was appointed to a senior job on the board of the hospital, and later resigned in rather murky circumstances. Meanwhile Savile  - he was referred to as 'Dr Savile' by some even though he was no doctor - had his own flat just outside the grounds and his own set of keys so he could come and go as he pleased. Our press have been more interested in kicking the BBC for canning their report into Savile's behaviour than they have in finding out why and how Savile was given access to so many troubled young people by the actions or inaction of leading politicians and prominent health and prison officials. 

Was it money? He was very wealthy; reportedly worth £40 million at the height of his fame, and left an estate of approximately £4million when he died. At one point he owned 13 houses or flats and a fleet of cars, despite bragging that he charged the BBC the minimum for his services - £6.50 an hour - so the accountants would never think he was too expensive and consider getting rid of him. So where did his money come from? He admitted using his charity events to make himself money, but £40 million? He also admitted that he was paid in houses and cars because 'the taxman can't work out what's a quarter of the car.' But if the BBC were paying him minimum, as he admitted, and they were his main employer for most of his life, then who was giving him houses and cars? Could they all have come from personal appearances, nightclubs and opening record shops? Nothing adds up. There have been dark murmurings on the wilder shores of the Internet about Savile being involved in institutional abuse at children's care homes in North Wales and the Channel Islands, and the involvement of senior political figures, but we're in the realm of conspiracy theories. However, the question needs to be answered about what Savile actually did to earn his prominence, and I suspect the houses and cars leave a trail to whatever it might be. Did he also donate any of this money to the Tory party? 

Finally, and most surreally of all, there's the growing evidence of a link between Savile and the Yorkshire Ripper, a notorious serial killer I wrote about here. I have read a lot about the Ripper over the years, but I missed the connection between him and Savile. The first seemed slightly tenuous. Sutcliffe's  third victim Irene Richardson was found very near Savile's flat in Leeds. A simple coincidence surely? Then someone brought up this picture:

It shows Sutcliffe, an inmate at Broadmoor (!) shaking hands with boxer Frank Bruno. In the background, a certain cigar chomping Mr Savile. The accompanying story talked of how Savile had 'befriended' Sutcliffe at the hospital. Why? Savile's thing was children. Sutcliffe murdered prostitutes. All very strange, but still we're in the realms of coincidence. Jimmy was a weirdo and it seems that over time at Broadmoor, when he wasn't abusing the kids there, he came across Sutcliffe. Except that's not the case. I found an extract from a book written about Sutcliffe, in which he's interviewed and speaks about his friendship with Savile. How he would come to his cell and joke about them being two 'Yorkie Puds.' But this was not in Broadmoor, it was in Parkhurst before he was moved to Broadmoor (a place he was desperate to move to because he was being given such a hard time by other prisoners in Parkhurst, including attempts to kill him.) This begs many questions: what was Savile doing in a high-security prison like Parkhurst in the first place? Why did he seek out Britain's most notorious murderer shortly after he had been sentenced, or had Savile and Sutcliffe known each other before the latter was arrested? Did Savile play any part in Sutcliffe's desired move to Broadmoor, given his influence there? Who else did Savile encounter in Parkhurst? This week it was revealed that Savile was questioned as part of the Ripper inquiry. No surprise there, so were thousands of men (including my dad) and one of the victims was found outside his house. Then it turned out the police had taken a cast of Savile's teeth because two of the Ripper's victims had been bitten during the attack, so there was a bit more to this than mere routine. The newspapers have finally taken up this line of inquiry and are looking into the nature of Savile and Sutcliffe's friendship. It may well be a ghoulish sideshow to more serious allegations, or it might not. But again, if he was visiting high-security prisons and making friends with Britain's most notorious criminals - he claimed to know Ian Brady, one of the Moors Murderers who abused and killed young children in Manchester in the 1960s - then this would have been recorded and known. Likewise at Broadmoor. Either his links visits to Sutcliffe were suppressed by prison authorities - in which case why? - or they were were known and the prominent people who courted and befriended Savile were prepared to turn a blind eye once again. In which case - why?

With all these questions, it's hard not to be sucked into a web of bizarre theories and conspiracies. My first instinct is to recoil from wild allegations out there that involve paedophile rings at heart of power, or Satanism, Zionism, Freemasons, the Illuminati and people who are really lizards or whatever. However, there is something at extremely dark at the heart of the Savile case. It may be no more than complicity and complacency of power, but that in itself is enough. The focus needs to move away from the BBC and to those institutions and people who granted Savile the access to sate his appetites. It's one thing to allow Savile to present TV programmes, quite another to allow him free rein to to prey on his victims in places where they were supposed to be protected.

For more on this and the other connections and madness surrounding the Savile case I urge you to go to this terrific blog, which emerged, as Archie says, after we shared a few lighthearted tweets. He knows his stuff, and seems to be the sort of guy who would ordinarily steer a million miles from conspiracy theories and wild speculation, but sees that facts emerging here are stranger than anything a novelist could possibly imagine.


Dan - Friday


  1. As someone who spent his formative years in the UK in the '60s, I was floored when this story came out. Jimmy Savile was a huge name. Everyone I knew watched Top of the Pops. The music that brought so much happiness and was so much a part of that period in the UK is now somewhat tainted for me. The fact that so many people knew, including the BBC and several police departments who ignored the complaints, is the truly shameful part of this story.

  2. Hi Max,

    I don't think you're alone in that. Many institutuions didn't just ignore the complaints, it actually looks like they were complicit with the abuse..

  3. There is a still in the news American version of this tragic tale of institutions turning a blind eye to pedophiles. That one has child exploiter-rapist Jerry Sandusky in prison for life, brought great shame to Penn State University and forever tarnished if not destroyed the reputation of its college football coaching legend and once national icon, "Papa" Joe Paterno.

  4. A fascinating post about a bizarrely repellent, but fascinating story. You raised many excellent questions. Speaking as someone from the U.S. who barely knew of Savile before recently, what stuns me the most was not that he was a monster--monsters are hardly a rarity in this world--but that practically everyone in the UK (or at least, everyone who was anyone) seems to have known that he was a monster.

    In a sense, I find his actions less disturbing than the fact that these actions were evidently sanctioned at some very high level. Precisely who sanctioned them...and why?

  5. I grew up near where Jimmy (why does just writing the name make me shiver ?) lived, yet I never heard the rumours. I always knew he was a little odd, but put it down to him being one of those 'characters'.

    When the first story came out after he died, I thought it was someone just trying to have their 15 minutes of fame -how guilty I now feel that there's over 400 cases now being investigated !

  6. Excellent piece of journalism on your part. Sexual abuse is so pervasive in society it is unbelievable in more ways than one. Ask any nurse, doctor or psychologist. It is a bigger picture than most people think or choose to believe. Part of the problem is I think many of the victims want to forget and many do think of it in a dream like untruth. The memory of sexual abuse for the victim is very complicated.
    Thank you for educating the public. (Although, I do not think Satanism and Zionism stand side by side...)