Feature

United Kingdom: The child molester at the BBC

The cover-up is of Sir Jimmy Savile's sexual abuse is of monstrous proportions.

The cover-up is of monstrous proportions, said The Times in an editorial. Sir Jimmy Savile, the BBC television host who died last year, may have abused as many as 300 children, mostly young teenage girls, over his 53-year career. Many of his colleagues knew about or suspected his proclivities, and some of them allegedly participated: Convicted pedophile Gary Glitter was arrested last week on suspicion of raping a girl in Savile’s BBC dressing room. Yet “if the BBC had been left to its own devices, the world would never have known” of Savile’s abuse. The BBC’s Newsnight investigated the allegations last year, but top brass killed the show before it aired. They said there was a scheduling conflict with several planned tribute shows honoring Savile’s career and claimed they didn’t realize they were burying explosive allegations about one of their own. That seems implausible at best.

But this isn’t about the BBC’s news judgment, said Suzanne Moore in The Guardian. Yes, it made an error in killing the story and is rightly under investigation. But the scandal is about “an environment of abuse, how it flourished in plain sight, how supposedly ‘good guys’ did nothing to stop it.” It is about how nobody listened to the girls, some as young as 13, who said the lecherous beast raped them. Sir Roger Jones, who headed the BBC charity Children in Need, has admitted that Savile was, in his words, “a pretty creepy sort of character” who didn’t belong “anywhere near the charity.” But he said nothing. Other BBC execs have claimed that since it was “just the women” complaining, that wasn’t enough evidence of wrongdoing to investigate.

It’s not just the BBC that turned a blind eye, said Neil Tweedie in The Daily Telegraph. Many instances of Savile’s “sexual assaults of amazing rapidity against unsuspecting victims” were the stuff of gossip across London for decades. As the presenter of Top of the Pops, Savile was a celebrity who partied with rock stars and aristocrats. Yet this man “who flaunted his friendship with the royal family, who gave marital advice to Charles and Diana, who spent Christmas at Chequers with Margaret Thatcher, who posed for a photograph with Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was, in all probability, one of Britain’s most prolific pedophiles.” Did none of them notice? In his own autobiography, Savile boasted of groping a protesting young woman “on the terrace of the House of Commons in full view of MPs.” He bragged about taking a teenage runaway to his flat overnight and even demanding that girls be brought to his van as the price for his appearance at a fundraiser.

The truth is, we are all complicit in these crimes, said Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books. “The public made Jimmy Savile. It loved him. It knighted him.” In the Benny Hill era, we laughed at his eccentricity and his outrageous admissions of lusting after young girls, seeing it as silly skirt-chasing. We should all be chagrined, “not because we didn’t know but because we did.”

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