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“Do we really want to take on…Saint Jimmy?”

[ 87 ] November 2, 2012 |

The emerging story about Jimmy Savile really is quite remarkable in a horrible way:

The confidential file, compiled from 2007 to 2009, contained witness statements and “significant and solid evidence,” according to a former senior officer with the Surrey Police, a force outside London that conducted a two-year investigation into Mr. Savile. Recently, amid allegations by hundreds of women and at least two men that Mr. Savile used his fame and influence as a shield to abuse them as children, Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement that the case was dropped because a crucial witness declined to testify and because there was “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

But at the Surrey Police headquarters, the former senior officer said, those who investigated the case felt that prosecutors were hesitant to confront a man who had spent decades building a cult of celebrity in Britain that few could match. Mr. Savile’s popularity and power rested on his blend of flashy showmanship on top-rated prime-time BBC programs, working-class chumminess and charitable endeavors that attracted powerful friends and patrons in royal palaces, Parliament and the highest ranks of the police.

“Really, it came down to this: do we really want to take on this man, Saint Jimmy, who does all of this fund-raising and knows all of these people?” the officer said.

I was going to call this the British Sandusky, but it seems to be even worse. I don’t think Sandusky all but confessed in his (however inappropriately-in-retrospect titled) biography:

Mr. Savile’s autobiography, “As It Happens,” published in 1974, when Mr. Savile was 48, did not seek to hide his appetites. Years before he became a famous television host, Mr. Savile recounted, a police officer asked him to look out for a young girl who had run away from a home for juvenile offenders.

Mr. Savile told the officer that if she went to the nightclub in the north of England that he ran at the time he would hand her over to the authorities, “but I’ll keep her all night first as my reward.” The girl did go to his nightclub and did spend the night with Mr. Savile, he wrote. A police officer was alarmed, but he said he dissuaded her from bringing charges against him.

[...]

The last page of Mr. Savile’s autobiography described an episode in which five young girls stayed at his home. Around 11 a.m., their mothers came looking for them, but, Mr. Savile wrote, he had left the house and a male friend had hidden in the closet. “To date,” he wrote, “we have not been found out. Which, after all, is the 11th Commandment, is it not?”

He died on Oct. 29, 2011, without ever facing a single charge in court.

This is precisely what makes Roman Polanski apologism — whether it’s documentaries that lie by omission and evasion about what he did, people who describe his victim as a “sex scandal teen,” the countries that shielded him, or people who see people who may face appropriate legal sanctions for raping children as the Real Victims, it’s all part of the kind of unholy mix of rape culture and celebrity culture that can allow serial rapists who don’t even make any particular effort to hide their ongoing assaults to die in wealth and comfort.

A final point — this case also does little to dissuade me that the primary effect of British libel laws is to shield the powerful from scrutiny:

Mr. Savile’s connections and fame made pursuing sometimes hazy allegations against him unpalatable, others familiar with those investigations said. Newspapers, afraid of Britain’s strict libel laws, decided not to publish their suspicions, although several had conducted their own investigations over the years.

NY Times v. Sullivan was right.

Comments (87)

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  1. commie atheist says:

    I don’t get it. He admits to having sex with underage girls in his autobiography, and everyone just ignores it? WTF?

    • TT says:

      People ignored it probably because, with two apparent exceptions, his victims were girls and not boys. As a result, his reputation among media, financial, philanthropic, and political elites was probably that of an affable rogue and cad, not a predatory monster. The attitude among many of his protectors at the BBC and elsewhere (a few of whom had probably indulged in some nasty sex harassment themselves) might have been something along the lines of “Well, that’s Jimmy” or “At least he’s not a homo”.

    • Karate Bearfighter says:

      Steven Tyler carried on a 3 year relationship with a girl that started when she was 14 and he was 27. He convinced her parents to make him her guardian, got her pregnant, got her hooked on heroin, and then dumped her for another underage girl. He wrote about her in his autobiography under a pseudonym.(He blamed his drug addiction on her getting an abortion.) IIRC, all of this was public knowledge when Fox put him on American Idol.

      But you know … Rock-n-Roll!!!EleventyOne1!!

      • SatanicPanic says:

        IIRC Iggy Pop had a 14 year old girlfriend in the 80′s and everyone knows about The Nuge, conservative icon.

        • Jon H says:

          Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.

          • rkd says:

            Don’t forget Bill Wyman. 50 or so when he dated & had sex with 14 year old Mandy Smith. He married her when she turned 18. A son from his first marriage then married Mandy’s mom, IIRC.

            • Jim Lynch says:

              Stray Cat Blues
              Songwriters: JAGGER, MICK / RICHARDS, KEITH

              I hear the click-clack of your feet on the stairs
              I know you’re no scare-eyed honey.
              There’ll be a feast if you just come upstairs
              But it’s no hanging matter
              It’s no capital crime

              I can see that you’re fifteen years old
              No I don’t want your I.D.
              You look so rest-less and you’re so far from home
              But it’s no hanging matter
              It’s no capital crime

              Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
              Oh yeah, don’tcha scratch like that
              Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
              Bet your mama don’t know you scream like that
              I bet your mother don’t know you can spit like that.

              You look so weird and you’re so far from home
              But you don’t really miss your mother
              Don’t look so scared I’m no mad-brained bear
              But it’s no hanging matter
              It’s no capital crime
              Oh, yeah
              Woo!

              I bet your mama don’t know that you scatch like that
              I bet she don’t know you can bite like that.

              You say you got a friend, that she’s wilder than you
              Why don’t you bring her upstairs
              If she’s so wild then she can join in too
              It’s no hanging matter
              It’s no capital crime

              Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
              Oh yeah, don’tcha scratch like that
              Oh yeah, you’re a strange stray cat
              I bet you mama don’t know you can bite like that
              I’ll bet she never saw you scratch my back

          • Halloween Jack says:

            Hell, Elvis used to pick up Priscilla after school, in his convertible, at the Catholic girls’ high school that she attended. I’ve talked to one of her classmates, and there was no small amount of resentment that they’d get written up for what basically amounted to flirting, while the King’s lady got a pass to go straight to Graceland (her parents were still in Germany, where Elvis had met her while he was in the army; she was living at Graceland, allegedly “chaperoned” by Elvis’ dad and stepmom).

    • Jon H says:

      There are tons of stories of underage groupies. Without the girls’ side of the story people would probably assume the girls were willing participants since he was part of the music industry.

      • sparks says:

        Underage groupies are still underage, and unless they were giving rockers knockout drops and dosing them with Viagra, I can’t say said those rock stars are anything less than guilty.

        There are a hell of a lot more stories like this from the era (hey, I lived it), and somehow those “heroes” are blame-free.

    • Josh G. says:

      I get the distinct impression that public attitudes towards sex with underage girls were very different in the 1970s than they are now. You’ve got the Polanski case, the Savile case, the Steven Tyler case, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. At the time, no one seemed to give a damn about any of them. Today they strike us as horrific.

      • LeeEsq says:

        IMO, I think that during the early part of the Sexual Revolution people did not want to seem anti-sex in anyway because they thought it would be giving a victory to the the anti-sex forces. Now that the Sexual Revolution is kind of victorious in most of the developed world, we can look at these issues with a bit more common sense.

        • Halloween Jack says:

          This, although I think that it’s a bit premature to declare victory in the Sexual Revolution, particularly WRT how teenagers are treated. I think that at first the availability of contraception was seen as a cure for teen premarital pregnancy, probably the pre-eminent potential scandal for middle-class American families (the possibility of having an LGBT child not even being on the radar for almost anyone, yet), and there was a painfully earnest effort to get the facts of life out to teens in the most efficient and straightforward manner possible, Judy Blume’s bibliography being particularly didactic in this regard.

          Unfortunately, this education, while being frank about the shortcomings of various types of contraception and symptoms of STDs, didn’t warn about skeevy dudes (the spiritual ancestors of today’s PUAs) who, faced with the possibility of having to treat a sex partner as an equal, sought to maintain a power imbalance by telling the high school chicks that, while their classmates may listen to the same music, they were the ones with the groovy vans with the paintings of the naked valkyries riding unicorns on the side. This rarely, if ever, ended well (except in porn movies, of course).

      • sparks says:

        This is so. Underage quail was considered quite a delicacy and men in glamorous positions gorged themselves on it. It’s one of the reasons why the pitchfork and torch reaction to Polanski from moral scolds is something I consider either naive or hypocritical. His crime was so utterly banal in that era. Especially in California.

        I was a teenager and I really resented the men in their twenties and thirties “dating” young women my age. Nothing I could do, it was the culture of the time.

        • Karate Bearfighter says:

          It’s one of the reasons why the pitchfork and torch reaction to Polanski from moral scolds is something I consider either naive or hypocritical. His crime was so utterly banal in that era.

          Speaking as one of your naive, hypocritical moral scolds, I have to say that I don’t care how “banal” Polanski’s crime was. Polanski the rapist could be forgiven; his victim apparently did, long ago. Polanski the martyr cannot. Even if you think raping a 13 year old was “banal” in California in the ’70s, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve come to take rape much more seriously over the last 30+ years. Polanski never has. What little contrition he has shown has consistently been mixed with enormous self-pity, and he has spent the last 3 decades hiding behind excuses and privilege. When he returns to America and faces the court, you’ll have a point about people who greet him with torches and pitchforks. Until then, seriously, WTF!?

          • Karate Bearfighter says:

            And having posted this, I realize this comment was unfair:

            I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve come to take rape much more seriously over the last 30+ years.

            Your earlier comments on this post show that you obviously do take rape seriously. I just don’t understand how you can believe that the commonplace nature of his crime is a mitigating factor.

          • sparks says:

            He’s no martyr to me, just one of the crowd. I can’t get boiled up about one man because it was so damn common.

            Worse than that, I’ve heard later in life from women who romanticized such liaisons (when they were 13 even) and thought it “cool”. I expect it was rationalization.

            Continuing on this, even around a decade ago while riding on a bus, I overheard a high school boy talking to his friends about his affair with a much older man. Go figure.

            • Halloween Jack says:

              How big of a list do you have of women in your life who were drugged and forced into sex against their will when they were 13 and still romanticized it as “cool”?

        • Xof says:

          His crime was so utterly banal in that era. Especially in California.

          I was a teenager in Los Angeles in 1977, and I assure you that forceable anal rape of a 13 year old girl was not banal at that time.

      • Ken says:

        There’s a (pretty good) movie, The Last of Sheila, made around that time. Part of the plot involves a game in which the players have to figure out who has what secret in their past – a shoplifter, an ex-convict, and so on. One of the crimes was “child molester.”

        So yes, I’d have to say it was a somewhat different era.

  2. For those of us who don’t know squat about British celebrities, is there an American whose public notoriety and reputation are roughly analogous to Savile’s?

    • Richard says:

      Not really. He was a deejay/television personality sort of equivalent to Dick Clark in popularity but more flamboyant in his dress and manner.

    • Bart says:

      You need to watch him on Youtube. I don’t believe we had such a celebrity whose career was so very long and who was as tacky.

      Close might be Jerry Louis who was wacky and did charity work.

      • Richard says:

        Except much more ever present than Lewis. He had weekly television and radio shows for over forty years.

      • LeeEsq says:

        The problem is that Jerry Lewis had a sense of morality as far as we know and never slept with underage kids. Lewis was probably one of the more ethically sane famous people if a bit annoying.

        Saville is just a creep and the BBC and NHS let him rape children because he was famous. And worse, not only were his victims children. They were especially vulnerable children, the physically and psychologically ill. Lots of people deserve to go to jail on this one and be locked up for a very long time. This is decades of abuse.

        • Richard says:

          I agree. I think there are similarities between Lewis and Savile in their public personas as zany guys who did a lot of charity work and Savile and Dick Clark as grown ups who spent their adult lives as emcees of teen culture but both Lewis and Clark were decent men with no hint of scandal

          • JoyfulA says:

            Hmm, Lewis and Clark.

            Anyway, Dick Clark had the payola thing. He got off the hook, but he was guilty.

            • Richard says:

              Clark was guilty of payola but it wasnt illegal at the time. Once it was made illegal, he was very careful to make sure he didnt violate the law. And Payola is a lot different than pedophilia or rape. I knew Dick Clark a little. In his position as the king of teen, he could have had any number of young women or girls. He avoided any situation which was even remotely compromising

  3. david mizner says:

    That Times piece didn’t mention that the director general of the BBC at the time, Mark Thompson, is now chief exec of…the NY Times. But Joe Nocera, to his credit, covered it.

    Soon after his death, a BBC current affairs program called “Newsnight” began an investigation into Savile’s sexual proclivities. Yet despite getting at least one woman on tape who said she had been molested by Savile, the piece was killed. Then, earlier this month, a BBC competitor, ITV, ran a devastating exposé of Savile. The ITV investigation raised subsequent questions about whether the BBC had covered up Savile’s wrongdoing.

    Plainly, the answer is yes. What is far less certain is how high the cover-up went. Thompson first said that he never heard the rumors about Savile, and that he didn’t learn about the “Newsnight” program until after it was canceled. Given the byzantine nature of the BBC bureaucracy, these are plausible denials.

    Here is where it gets a little less plausible. Thompson now says that at a cocktail party last December, a BBC reporter said to him, “You must be worried about the ‘Newsnight’ investigation into Jimmy Savile.” Soon thereafter, Thompson asked his underlings about the investigation and was told that it had been killed — for journalistic reasons. He claims to have inquired no further, not even to ask what the investigation was about.

    A few months later, the news broke in the British press that the BBC had, as The Daily Mail put it in a headline, “shelved Jimmy Savile sex abuse investigation ‘to protect its own reputation.’ ” Given the seriousness of sexual abuse allegations — look at what it did to Penn State — you would think that Thompson and his underlings would immediately want to get to the bottom of it. But, again, they did nothing. Thompson winds up appearing willfully ignorant, and it makes you wonder what kind of an organization the BBC was when Thompson was running it — and what kind of leader he was. It also makes you wonder what kind of chief executive he’d be at The Times.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/30/opinion/nocera-the-times-gets-a-new-ceo.html?_r=0

  4. Leeds man says:

    One worrying question raised by this case: What/who else has been kept under wraps for decades?

      • Leeds man says:

        Thanks for that Mike.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        An interesting article to say the least–I had no idea about Joe Orton, although all I know about Orton, really, is what I got through Prick Up Your Ears–but I found the bit about Enid Blyton at the beginning to be a rather annoying head fake.

    • guthrie says:

      There’s rumours online of at least one famous person definitely being involved, but there isn’t quite cast iron evidence to prove it so nobody dare publish for fear of being sued to death.

      Allgedly the actual name is available online as well, but being British in Britain I couldn’t possible comment.

  5. Just Dropping By says:

    Not to particularly defend Savile, but those excerpts from his autobiography just reference “young girls,” not that they’re “underage” (which I think is 16 in the UK). Given that you can easily find news reports describing girls in their mid to late teens as “young girls” (for that matter you can search “Monica Lewinsky” and “young girl” and find people unironically referring to her as such).

    • Anonymous says:

      And as that, in itself, is a problem, what’s your point?

      • Donalbain says:

        I think the point is that having sex with girls over the age of consent, even if they are described as “young girls”, is not a crime.

        • DrDick says:

          And the report clearly indicates that the girls were underage since it was a criminal investigation.

        • Craigo says:

          The drive by commenter is either trying to muddy the waters or didn’t bother to read any of the multiple stories published in the British press over the last few weeks, describing multiple sex crimes against not only underage victims but the institutionalized as well.

          “But but but the autobiography didn’t explicitly give the age of every single girl that he molested” is inane bullshit.

          • Bill Murray says:

            his comment may have been in reply to the statement of commie atheist, who at the top says

            “I don’t get it. He admits to having sex with underage girls in his autobiography, and everyone just ignores it? WTF?”

            Drive by’s maybe don’t know about the reply button — remember the Donalde or one of the other trolls that could never get the hang of the reply button.

            But our Jimmy wasn’t exactly singing Gary Puckett and the Union Gap there either.

          • Just Dropping By says:

            I’m rebutting Lemieux comment that the passages from the autobiography could be construed as a confession.

        • LeeEsq says:

          You know even if a person is over the age of consent, it still might not be a really good idea in an ethical sense to have sex with them. Like if the person is still relatively young and in position of vulnerability and could easily be exploited than you don’t have sex with them.

        • Jon H says:

          Sex with girls at a hospital or institution might well be, even if they’re of age, if the perp is in some way an ‘official’ of the institution, as I believe Saville was.

    • blowback says:

      16 is the age of consent in the UK for men and women and it is almost universal – i.e., there are no age restrictions on the other partner as I believe there are in some American states except where the older partner is in a position of trust with respect to the younger partner.
      The lowest age of consent in Europe is 13 in Spain and most countries use 14 or 15 with further restrictions on people in positions of trust over the younger partner.
      There is little or no pressure to raise the age of consent.

  6. PSP says:

    I still have no idea who Saville was, but the necropillia allegations take it to a whole different level of WTF.

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/jimmy-savile-dj-claims-he-was-a-necrophiliac-who-had-sex-with-underage-subnormals-8222948.html

  7. Bitter Scribe says:

    this case also does little to dissuade me that the primary effect of British libel laws is to shield the powerful from scrutiny:

    On a tangential note, I vaguely remember reading about six months ago that some American lawmakers were rumbling about not enforcing British libel judgments in the US. Anything ever come of that?

  8. LeeEsq says:

    I think the Saville case is much worse than Sandusky. Saville committed his crimes for decades more than Sandusky was and his victims were a lot of more vulnerable. They weren’t just children, they were institutionalized children, children suffering from a great deal of problems before their encounter with Saville. And worse, Saville was pretty much allowed to have his way with them. The supposed protectors turned the victims over the the rapist and then covered it up.

    • Anonymous says:

      But, as discussed previously, the victims are female, so (a) they had it coming, (b) they’re lying, (c) what’s the problem?, (d) something something victim-blaming evo psych horseshit about dudes and their needs, (e) England is practically Europe so: European values v. American puritanism, (f) women in the middle east/Africa/southeast Asia desperately need our attention, and there’s only so much interest one can muster in pesky girly issues, (g) digging up something about Saint Jim’s background that makes him the real victim. &c to the end of time.

    • JoyfulA says:

      Sandusky’s victims were from a charity for poor boys from broken homes.

  9. Josh G. says:

    Last time the Roman Polanski case was in the news, I was surprised at the overall difference in attitudes between people who had lived through the 1970s as adults, and people who came of age later on. Even the prosecutors who went after Polanski were seeking a sentence far lighter than we would today consider appropriate for this kind of sexual abuse. And the Polanski case was not an isolated incident: the Steven Tyler incident also comes to mind, and many of Savile’s offenses seem to have been committed at about the same time.

    Admittedly this is anecdotal, but I have a theory as to why public figures in the 1970s were able to get away with this kind of stuff. The old (Christian-based) sexual ethics had died in the late 1960s, as societal advances and effective contraception made them obsolete. But there was, as of the 70s, nothing yet to replace them. The feminist movement, from which we get our modern sexual ethos of informed consent, still hadn’t picked up much steam. So there was a state of anomie, and things devolved into a state of nature: powerful men could do whatever they wanted sexually to less powerful women.

    I’d be interested to hear from people who lived through the 1970s: was it really as much of a sexual anarchy as it appears in retrospect?

    • LeeEsq says:

      Like I replied above, the 1970s were early enough in the Sexual Revolution that the pro-sex side did not want to admit that there are still ethical and moral issues to consider when it comes to sex. Admitting this would be seen as conceding a point to anti-sex side. This allowed for a lot of really immoral behavior in the name of sexual freedom.

      I remember once on a usenet group I participated in there was a very passionate debate about the age of consent. A woman there who lived through the Sexual Revolution was adamant in insisting that there no adverse side effects when children and young adolescents have sexual encounters with adults despite all evidence to the contrary. She was so into the idea that sex is good that she could not admit that anything bad could possibly occur from any sexual act. Otherwise the prudes will win or something.

      • Jon H says:

        Apparently in the UK in the 70s there were some NAMBLA-type lobbying groups that had a surge in activity, partly due to this sort of conflation.

        Part of their lobbying was for a reduction in age of consent for same-sex intercourse. But, the age of consent for that was higher than the age of consent for hetero sex, so to an extent it was justifiable. I mean, I suppose a gay teen in the UK in the 70s might have found it difficult to find out guys of his own age, with guys a bit older being more likely to be out? But those relationships would be legally risky due to the age of consent for gays.

        But as it happens I don’t think they quite left it at that, and may have pushed for even lower, or no, age of consent.

        (I was reading up on this recently, because some prominent Labor politicians were in an ACLU-type group at the time, that was for a period in some sort of coalition with groups that included one or more of these NAMBLA-type groups. And of course conservatives were bringing that up.)

    • Jon H says:

      I suspect it might have been more common for people to marry young. My mom married her first husband in 1948 when she was 15.

      If a 15 year old girl marrying is acceptable, then if sex before marriage becomes okay, then a 15 year old having sex may seem somewhat acceptable, even with an older man or rock star. It’s less of a commitment than actually getting married, after all. Especially if the 15 year old’s age group are reputed to be all about free love and backstage bacchanalias and whatnot.

      Maybe we just consider childhood to last longer than it used to, and the 1970s was an inflection point?

      • LeeEsq says:

        The average age of marriage in the UK was mid-twenties for men and women from the 17th century to the mid-1960s. Very few people married young. In the United States, I think early twenties was the norm.

        • Jon H says:

          That’s an average, though.

          Early 20s may be the norm, but what I’m getting at is that 15 might well have been common enough that it wasn’t seen as bizarre or scandalous (unless the bride was visibly pregnant at the wedding.)

          • LeeEsq says:

            About at least a third of the brides were pregnant at the time. We know this from comparing marriage dates to the birth date of a couple’s first child. An unusually high number of children were born less than nine months after the date of their parent’s marriage. Winston Churchill was one of them.

            Jewish couples were the exception, Among Jews the idea of no sex until marriage seemed to be rather strong from the assimilated to the Orthodox until the mid-20th century. At least as much as can be guest. Jewish couples had the least number of children born out of wedlock and the least number born less than nine months after their parents marriage.

        • John Revolta says:

          There are economic reasons behind this. In old agrarian societies a man typically wouldn’t marry until he had taken control of the family farm. In many cases this mightn’t happen until he was in his 30s. This would tend to skew the averages.

    • bob mcmanus says:

      Yes, for my blue-collar crowd 1969-73. For those who were not monogamous this week and could get laid, everybody and anybody were available. Not me, I didn’t work at it very hard, but floating around my freak group of early twenty-somethings were three under-16s and three over-35 marrieds with husbands in the service or prison. Two prostitutes and two gays. Recently divorced neighbor across the alley had all five of us guys in a month.

      14-yr-old friend spent the summer with a 25-yr-old Vietnam vet tunnel rat. The next summer she went through four guys.

      What do you want me to say? I stopped a hookup once. But I wasn’t going to call the cops and she was on the pill and thought she could take care of herself. Her parents were long gone, raised by her 25-yr-old sister. Married at 17 and then three kids. I was long gone. I never touched her, the kids freaked me out.

      I don’t remember much love or romance. Just a kinda indifferent friendship. And of course we were swimming in drugs.

      The college kids were only slightly less free, they had a degree to get.

    • John Revolta says:

      Look up “Pretty Baby”, a 1978 Louis Malle movie
      starring a 13 year old Brooke Shields. It
      could never get made today………at the time
      though, it was really no big deal.

    • sparks says:

      Yes. It was a lot different, though I don’t know if I’d use the word “anarchy” because extreme age differences (say, 15 with 40+) were mostly kept sub rosa by the older party, anyhow. The tide turned quickly in the ’80s.

      You had to see fortyish men openly displaying David Hamilton coffeetable books to understand how different it really was.

  10. Bloix says:

    In law school in the late 70′s, I had a crim law professor who suggested, when we were studying the case of a teacher who had abused a number of male students, that the students had not been harmed and that criminalization of sexual relations between boys and men was a vestige of outdated norms. This was a highly respected professor at what we now call a “top-tier” school.

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