There’s a lot going on in the world today. Israel and Palestine are doing their best not to find common cause, the US has the small matter of a general election in a few days time and Europe is still facing the mother of all financial crises. Here in Indonesia, a new governor is making the right noises in Jakarta while recent arrests throughout Java tell us the terrorist threat is still out there.
News is fairly homogenous these days. The headlines in London and Washington will be pretty much aped around the world. But one story that has been dominating the TV and print media in the UK in recent weeks has yet to take off globally. It’s not a business story, it’s not about politics and, for once, it’s not about football.
It’s a story about a dead disc jockey.
Jimmy Savile was a typical British eccentric. A silver haired gent with a penchant for brightly colored track suits long before most of us knew what a chav was, Savile was a man ahead of his time.
As a DJ in the 1960s he carved a niche for himself as a tireless self-publicist who did good things for charities and hospitals that looked after children. Long before MTV generation got into music through the radio and live concerts, Savile was at the forefront of an emerging entertainment industry.
He effortlessly slid from radio to TV, his well-known voice and mannerisms already familiar to millions. His public service announcements just broadened his appeal as he told the country to “Think again, take the train” or to “Clunk Click Every Trip” encouraging a skeptical population to wear seat belts in the car.
In the 1970s he was undoubtedly at his peak. It was the glam rock era of bands and artists like Sweet, Gary Glitter and Slade. Exaggerated costumes, open chest shirts, big collars and flared trousers were the order of the day and Savile was the King of Bling presenting these bands on the weekly “Top of the Pops” where the nation’s best selling records were mimed to in front of a studio audience.
Middle Britain was shocked by the ostentatious exhibitionism expressed by Savile and his ilk, but his charity work softened the blow and his frequent fundraising marathons, run with an ever present smile on his face and cigar between his lips, softened the crusty middle ages who had seen their world end when Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley had been overtaken first by the Beatles and The Who then by T-Rex and Marc Bolan.
Glam faded, replaced by a much more cynical punk rock, but Savile was still there on our TV screens. He hosted a weekly show called “Jim’ll Fix It” where he would arrange for children to have their dreams come true. Gap-toothed pre-teens flooded the BBC asking to feed elephants or see how ice cream was made, a simple formula that kept the show running for almost two decades.
However, behind the bonhomie and glamor was another, far shadier, side to Savile that is only now coming to light and is causing Britain to ask deep, searching questions of itself and its relationship with the cult of celebrity.
Various police forces are looking into allegations of sexual assault dating back to the 1950s involving Savile and young teenage girls. Not just dozens of allegations but hundreds — and the numbers continue to rise. Jimmy Savile was appearing on our TV screens hamming it up for the cameras surrounded by an adoring child audience, little suspecting the nightmare that would soon be visited on them.
Over the years there had been a number of attempts by media and police to get to the bottom of the allegations which were hinted at but never made public. Looking back it seems odd that a national media that has delighted in printing salacious gossip about celebrities and royals were so hesitant to go public about Savile’s serial abuse of minors.
One story suggests that Savile was approached by one media outlet that was considering publishing the allegations only for Savile to reply that if they did they would be responsible for hospitals and charities losing his support in the future. It is hard to believe today any editor being so weak and feeble-minded to fall for that.
Investigations are ongoing and this being Britain we can look forward to a number of committees being set up to find out what happened, why and why the hell it was all hushed up for so long.
Savile was a powerful man in an era when celebrities were few and far between. It seems he could and did manage to keep things quiet through his lifetime causing untold suffering for the victims condemned to a life of silence. Who, after all, would have dared to take on Jimmy Savile.
Society became enamored with the persona he carefully cultivated. He was a fundraiser and a popular face on TV whose address book listed the great and the good of the country. He was untouchable.
Savile is dead and will escape any form of justice. Others won’t be so lucky as we can expect to see some big names from the past get caught up in investigations.
But underlying the whole sorry tale lurk several uncomfortable questions that the British public will need to face at some time. Isn’t it time to end the unhealthy obsession with celebrity that affords too much respect to people with average talents hiding behind a superficial fame?
If children are our most precious resource, what type of society are we when the innocent are left to take care of themselves while the rich and famous perpetrators use their power as a license to commit more foul and sickening acts.