Top of the Pops
BBC Radio 1
When asked by a reporter in 2001 whether he was concerned if he would be remembered as a “conning pervert and abuser when he died,” Jimmy Savile replied:
‘If I’m gone that’s that. Bollocks to my legacy. Whatever is said after I’m gone is irrelevant.’
The reporter then asked if Savile was ‘into little girls’, to which the BBC presenter replied:
‘I’d rather not even opinionate on this. I’ll leave it to the psychologists to sort out the psychology of child abuse.’
Every day a new allegation emerges about Jimmy Savile. These allegations now cover 6 decades, and include allegations of the rape of children, mentally ill patients and the sexual assault of a disabled girl. The police are currently investigating over 300 lines of inquiry.
Savile’s attacks occurred in hospitals, clubs and the BBC. And it is the latter organization that is coming under considerable scrutiny by the police.
The question is how did the BBC employ such an individual, when there were known allegations against him? And what was the everyday culture at BBC that could allow Savile’s behavior to go unnoticed? Uncommented upon? Even tolerated?
A glimpse of how things were at the BBC can be found in Stephen Fry’s second volume of autobiography, The Fry Chronicles (pages 296-297 of the paperback edition), where he described a meeting with the BBC executive Jim Moir in 1983.
Hugh [Laurie] and I were shown into his office. He sat us down on the sofa opposite his desk and asked if we had comedy plans. Only he wouldn’t have put it as simply as that, he probably said something like: ‘Strip naked and show me your cocks,’ which would have been his way of saying: ‘What would you like to talk about?’ Jim routinely used colourful and perplexing metaphors of a quite staggering explicit nature. ‘Let’s jizz on the table, mix up our spunk and smear it all over us,’ might be his way of asking, ‘Shall we work together?’ I had always assumed that he only spoke like that to men, but not so long ago Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders confirmed that he had been quite as eye-watering in his choice of language with them. Ben Elton went on to create, and Mel Smith to play, a fictional head of Light Entertainment based on Jim Moir called Jumbo Whiffly in the sitcom Filthy Rich & Catflap. I hope you will not get the wrong impression of Moir from my description of his language. People of his kind are easy to underestimate, but I have never heard anyone who worked with him say a bad word about him. In the past forty years the BBC has had no more shrewd, capable, loyal, honourable and successful executive and certainly none with a more dazzling verbal imagination.
Now retired, Moir recently told the Guardian that he had no knowledge of any allegations against Savile during his term at the Beeb, as either exec or as Head of Light Entertainment.
“There is so much talk about rumours, but I can tell you that neither from external sources or internally, neither by nods and winks or by innuendo, did I receive any scintilla of this story whatsoever, or discuss it or his behaviour with my superiors. There was not a scintilla of this either from Roger Ordish, his producer for 20 years.”
Should we be surprised? Not really. But it makes sense that Moir didn’t hear any allegations when it was seen as okay to use sexist, aggressive and offensive language such as ‘Strip naked and show me your cocks,’ or, ‘Let’s jizz on the table, mix up our spunk and smear it all over us,’ on a regular basis. This kind masturbatory boy’s club culture covers up for a lot of unacceptable behavior.
[Moir] said that none of the three BBC1 controllers he worked with during that time – Alan Hart, Michael Grade and Powell – ever discussed it with him. He added that the late Bill Cotton, the former managing director of BBC TV, would “never have turned a blind eye to paedophilia” and Keith Samuel, BBC TV’s chief press officer for 13 years from 1985, also now deceased, had never raised it with him.
Moir added: “I have subsequently heard, round about the time of his funeral, stories about his preferences for young girls, but never about underage young girls. It’s a fact that red-blooded males tend to like younger women.”
Moir said he was bemused that so much predatory activity is alleged to have taken place on BBC TV premises in west London. “As to [Savile’s] time at TV Centre, we made one series of Jim’ll Fix It a year, 13 programmes. He rarely if ever appeared [during] the filming, all he was required to do was take the brief from Roger Ordish and read the links, rehearse late afternoon, and do them. Top of the Pops ran for 52 weeks, but he was no means the main presenter – there was Noel Edmonds and Dave Lee Travis.”
It’s strange that Moir was “bemused” about Savile’s alleged predatory activity taking place on BBC property, as police “interviewed BBC staff over allegations of under age sex taking place in changing rooms” at the Top of the Pops studios in the 1960s, as the Daily Telegraph reports:.
Stanley Dorfman, the show’s producer and director in the 1960s, said he recalled police officers interviewing BBC staff about allegations of under-age sex taking place in musicians’ dressing rooms. Mr Dorfman, 84, said: “They [police] came and talked to everybody because apparently there had been under age girls in dressing rooms. It went on for a couple of weeks or so and then they disappeared.
If the alarm bells were not ringing over the possibility of underage sex taking place on BBC premises after a visit from the police, then the BBC execs and management were not only negligent in their duties, they were complicit by turning a blind eye.
It wasn’t just the rumors that should have alerted the BBC, Savile openly boasted about his exploits with girls in his best selling autobiography As It Happens, published in 1974.
In it Savile claimed “a man could work on stage with a nut and bolt through his neck like one of Frankenstein’s monsters and some girl would fall for him.”
My average attendance figures in the dance halls for a seven night a week stint, where I was overall boss as well as the main disc jockey, was about one thousand, That means at least two hundred girls per night would take kindly to any suggestions I might make. If half of those were a little bold, that means that on any one night at least fifty girls would actually do the chatting up. To be even more conservative, if I only fancied half of the fifty, that left twenty-five super dolly birds actually putting pressure on me, or any of my disc jockeys. With such quite reasonable statistics it follows that trouble with a capital T, pleasure with an equal capital, and just about everything else in between, comes in large quantities. And that’s for personal appearances. Multiply those figures by the millions who watch TV or listen to the radio and life gets interesting or complicated according to your state of health.
Savile also described a brief run-in with the police over a runaway girl from a remand home.
A high-ranking lady police officer came in one night and showed me a picture of an attractive girl who had run away from a remand home. ‘Ah,’ says I all serious, ‘if she comes in I’ll bring her back tomorrow but I’ll keep her all night first as my reward’. The law lady, new to the area, was nonplussed. Back at the station she asked ‘Is he serious?’
It is God’s truth that the absconder came in that night. Taking her into the office I said, ‘Run now if you want but you can’t run the rest of your life.’ She listened to the alternative and agreed that I hand her over if she could stay at the dance, come home with me, and that I would promise to see her when they let her out. At 11.30 the next morning she was willingly presented to an astounded lady of the law. The officeress was dissuaded from bringing charges against me by her colleagues for it was well known that were I to go, I would probably take half the station with me.
That no journalist thought to investigate Savile’s claims or to follow-up on the various rumors, is a highly damning indictment of the British press.
One BBC boss did ask Savile about the rumors of his predilection for young girls.
Derek Chinnery, Radio 1 controller from 1976-85, said he asked the entertainer about “these rumours we hear”.
“And he said that’s all nonsense,” Mr Chinnery told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, adding “there was no reason to disbelieve” the late DJ.
Another BBC producer also questioned Savile about allegations of abuse.
A fortnight ago, former Radio 1 press officer Rodney Collins told BBC News that, in 1973, he had been asked by a previous controller of the station to check whether newspapers were planning to print allegations of Savile having inappropriate liaisons with underage girls.
Mr Collins said Douglas Muggeridge, station controller from 1968 to 1976, had told him “there were allegations about a programme called Savile’s Travels that went round the country from Radio 1 - Jimmy and a caravan”.
Mr Collins added: “There were allegations that there were girls, underage girls involved, maybe, in the caravan.”
He said he reported back that the papers had “heard these allegations” but were unwilling to print them “whether they were true or not” because Savile did a lot for charity and was “perceived as a very popular man”.
Television director David Nicolson has claimed the BBC management were well aware of Savile’s antics.
“Everyone knew what was going on. That includes senior BBC people — chiefs at the highest levels.
“There were always girls in Jimmy’s dressing room. Everyone would have known about it — all the hair and make-up people, the wardrobe, show directors, producers.”
Married David, recalling his reaction when he walked in on Savile and the young girl, said: “I was shocked. I’d gone in to talk business — and quickly got out.”
He went on: “It was a bog-standard changing room in the basement. They both quickly pulled up their pants.
“The girl could have been 16, maybe 15. But she was just one of many — he always had one in the room. He said: “What do you want young man?” and shouted at me to get out of the room.
They both looked embarrassed — but she was not distressed.”
Despite describing the Beeb as having a permissive “sex, drugs and rock and roll” culture at the time he did not hesitate to tell people what he had seen in the hope action would be taken. But none was.
But Jimmy Savile wasn’t the only high profile BBC employee to be caught up in sex scandals. The BBC are investigating allegations against the late John Peel, which claim he had a 3-month sexual relationship with 15-year-old Jane Nevin, who he made pregnant.
Peel bragged about having sex with underage girls, when he was working as a DJ in America during the 1960s. As he told the Guardian in 1975:
“All they wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do….Oral sex they were particularly keen on. I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older.”
The fact that no one in 1975 thought it wrong of Peel to brag about a 13-year-old sucking his dick in, of all papers, the Guardian, says it all.
Another former Radio 1 DJ, Chris Denning is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence in a Slovakian prison for child sex offenses.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Denning worked with The Beatles, discovered Gary Glitter and The Bay City Rollers, and was the first continuity announcer on BBC 2 television. His career came to an abrupt end in 1974 when he was convicted at the Old Bailey for gross indecency and indecent assault. In 1985, he was sentenced to 18-months for “gross indecency with a child”. In 1988, he was again imprisoned this time for 3-years, for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old. In 1996, he was sentenced to 10 weeks gaol time for publishing indecent pictures.
Denning had been good friends with musician, producer and BBC presenter Jonathan King, who in 2001 was sentenced to for 7 years in prison, after being found guilty of 6 offences against five boys aged 14–16 committed between 1983 and 1989. King still protests his innocence, and made a film on his release called Vile Pervert in which he compared himself to Oscar Wilde.
King has touched on a bigger issue which is often studiously ignored that there have been pop and rock stars, who have similarly taken advantage of their underage fans for sex.
But this in no way excuses their actions. These individuals are equally guilty of underage sex abuse.
After originally claiming there was no evidence to suggest that “Director General, George Entwistle, has initiated 3 independent inquiries into Savilegate.
one would look into what happened to a Newsnight report into Savile and examine if there were any ‘failings’ by management over the decision to cancel it. He insisted he knew of the abuse allegations only when reports appeared in the Press.
The second will look into the ‘culture and practices of the BBC’ to establish if they enabled Savile to sexually abuse children at the corporation.
The third will be a broad assessment of the BBC’s harassment procedures, following allegations by stars such as Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig that they were groped and suffered inappropriate behaviour at the hands of male colleagues.
The BBC will name who will run the inquiries next week, but non-executive director Dame Fiona Reynolds will chair all three.
‘The BBC will not avoid confronting the events of its past,’ Mr Entwistle pledged.
Entwistle was Head of BBC Vision when the Newsnight report investigating allegations of Jimmy Savile as a child abuser was pulled. At a press conference on Friday, Mr Entwistle said:
...he knew Newsnight was “looking” at Jimmy Savile but he did not ask further questions to ensure “independence of news and current affairs”. He added he did not want to be seen to be putting any pressure on a BBC investigation.
The media commentator Steve Hewlett, who presents Radio 4’s The Media Show, yesterday said Mr Entwistle’s position that he did not ask about the allegations was “simply implausible”. “The idea that he didn’t know is barely credible,” he said.
David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, said he would have to be “pretty brain dead” not to investigate the programme’s subject matter. He said that Mr Entwistle would not have landed the top job if the allegations had broken when Mr Thompson was in charge.
With more allegations and the possibility of legal action still to come, Savilegate may yet prove to be the scandal that finishes off the BBC.