Who fixed it for Jim?

October 31, 2012 1:32 pm

Jimmy Savile was a prolific, high profile television personality, fundraiser and knight of the realm, celebrated and widely adored – if a little tongue in cheek – by millions. He was also, it seems, an abuser of underage girls. Jim fixed it alright and it seems like he fooled everyone. The abuse was physical in its manifestation but as much as anything, it was an abuse of trust. People trusted Jimmy Savile. They believed he was a good person. Now we are confronted with the simple reality that he perhaps wasn’t as good as all that gold.

We are also confronted with a national institution which has compromised its own integrity. The BBC, having begun an investigation the Monday after Savile’s death, effectively shelved it the day after the Christmas schedules were released. By December 2011 the BBC’s Newsnight had investigated Savile’s depravity and had some idea of the depths to which it had sunk. An apparent lack of communication meant the Christmas tributes went ahead, culminating in a Boxing Day re-launch of Jim’ll Fix It.

The BBC’s reputation has subsequently been harmed by this decision. Almost certainly more so than if it had run the story. It is hard to imagine that people would blame the BBC for Savile’s behaviour. Questions remain about exactly how much was known and this must be established before any blame can be attributed to the BBC directly. But the reasons for the decision to shelve the investigation perhaps reveal something altogether more troubling. Is it not possible that the decision to shelve the investigation was taken in order to save the BBC from making a very difficult decision about its Christmas schedule? By early December tributes had already been commissioned and a Boxing Day special edition of Jim’ll Fix It was the culmination of the corporations farewell to one of its stars and one of the pearly kings of British entertainment. Before these revelations, Jimmy Savile was perhaps the nations greatest in-joke. No one took him seriously but everyone thought him harmless. It made sense for him to be celebrated.

The Newsnight investigation suggested quite the opposite. The Christmas programming suddenly became impossible. It was surely clear that the two could not co-exist. However, it was very late – and potentially expensive – to be changing a fundamental part of the Christmas programming and really, with all the cheer, glitz and general bonhomie that goes with Christmas, how could it be the right time to accuse Jimmy Savile of pedophilia?

Perhaps that sounds weak, and cowardly, and shameful looking back now but how could it not have been a consideration? It is perhaps a little hard to admit, but we really wouldn’t want to hear it at Christmas. It might seem unthinkable that we would be so morally capricious but it cuts to the heart of what makes the revelations about Jimmy Savile so troubling. It was easier for the BBC to look the other way on our behalf. There is no reason to think that the BBC intended to shelve the investigation indefinitely, and this I think is an important point. But at the time, and in the circumstances it was easier not to confront it.

Perhaps then the reaction to the Savile revelations is as much as anything a national revulsion at the culture which existed decades ago, painfully resurrected recently, of turning a blind eye. If we accept that no-one knew the severity of what was going on behind closed doors (or caravans) then we are still left with an uncomfortable truth. Not so long ago the objectification of women was endemic and ignored. A cultural and social acceptance of what might now be called sexual harassment in pubs, clubs and offices across the country existed.It was this tolerance of overt philandering that allowed Savile’s fiction to exist in plain sight and for his abuse of trust, even if the full extent of it was not known, to go on unrestrained and undetected.

There remains much to be established about what motivated the decision to shelve the Savile investigation. The suggestion here that it was motivated by concerns for the Christmas schedule can only be conjecture until more is known for sure. Whatever the reality of the inner machinations of the BBC, the revelations about Savile show how dangerous it can be to look the other way. The facts have obliterated a dangerous and long standing fiction.

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