Sunday, 7 October 2012
Why I'm Glad Jim Didn't Fix It For Me
When rumours first began surfacing shortly after his death last year, I thought 'How ridiculous - someone is obviously out to claim a few quid from his estate'. Though certainly I found it odd that a TV legend of such fame and riches had died alone, possibly several days before being found. Did the man not have a housekeeper to take care of him at the very least? But having seen and read so many authentic-sounding and cross-referencing accounts of the horrors he allegedly visited on young innocents in the past few days, my cynicism and disbelief has turned to belief.
With little to do in my village in Northern Ireland, no one tried harder than yours truly to get onto the 'Jim'll Fix It' show with various childish dreams detailed in finest handwriting on finest Basildon Bond, but I'm starting to feel more than relieved that the little kid from Ulster didn't catch his eye.
In the same week I read a pop star's candid confession that he probably bedded scores of underage girls in his 70s heyday, but if they threw themselves at him and looked old enough to know what they were doing, he didn't tend to ask for an ID card.
But Sir Jimmy was no handsome young pop idol in the early 70s, but a middle-aged, cigar-smoking, wackily-dressed oddity with a big nose, yellow hair and teeth to match. I find it hard to believe that he could have been the genuine object of any teen fantasy. What he did have going for him and what we all bought into was his ability to make a child feel special. Important. Particularly if they came from a household where they received scant attention from adults except in my case to be told to 'get out of the way' or 'stop being a nuisance.' That red chair and that 'Jim'll Fix It' badge, with Jimmy congratulating you in his deep self-assured Northern accent and making you feel you were the most important kid in the world on national television, (and let's not forget with only 3 or 4 channels to choose from in those days - half the nation really WERE watching including all your schoolmates, family and teachers), was the next dream you had if you hadn't won a Blue Peter badge or got a painting into the Take Hart gallery.
It never occurred to us to wonder about his private life and if we did, it was of course filled with charitable endeavours. He had no time for anything else. Naturally he loved the LADIES as he took pains to make clear at every opportunity, but he had marathons to run and programmes to present.... And if I briefly wondered as an adult, I probably concluded he must be asexual. An eccentric, happy to be so, though in retrospect now, it is easy to see that even at his most charming and charismatic, there was something unnerving and a little creepy about gimlet-eyed Jimmy in his latest novelty shell suit, something which we chose to believe was just our imagination, rather than a gut feeling.
I have read he was the originator of public charity marathons in this country, now more popular than they have ever been, invented discos, and raised over £40m for charity over the course of his lifetime, so perhaps he had a few achievements that no one can take away from him. He was also Mr Clunk-Click, warning us to 'belt up' on every trip as the seatbelt law was brought in, so he undoubtedly saved a few children's lives, amidst the children's lives that he ruined.
At the beginning of the week, I wondered how he reconciled the evident dark side of himself with the Saint Jimmy myth? Mid-week it occurred to me that perhaps he took the view that the amount of good he did outweighed the bad and that's how he lived with himself. Now I wonder if the whole charity thing was a giant cover to make him 'untouchable' on top of the evident boost to his legendary ego, and he didn't have a conscience to be accountable to, though it would be appalling to think that there was no sincerity whatever in his charitable works.
Some commentators have observed that we are judging him by standards which didn't exist in the 50s, 60s and to some extent 70s. But I can't agree with this. Since when has child abuse or rape been acceptable, let alone legal? And 16 has been the age of female consent in England since 1885, so Sir Jimmy couldn't pretend he didn't know. Indeed one of his victims stated, the first question he asked was her age so he knew she was 14 before he assaulted her. Sure previous generations used to try and pretend child abuse didn't exist and bury their heads in the sand, but that didn't mean it was any more acceptable (or legal) in those days, just that it was harder to get yourself listened to, or action taken, and because no one wanted to believe it was true, not least when a famous person was involved, a child was liable to be branded a fantasist or told to stop telling lies, not necessarily because they weren't believed, but because that's what it suited the parents and/or authorities to believe. And perhaps if they'd survived a war, they particularly didn't want any further emotional traumas to contend with or spoil their vision of a post-war utopia.
In the reality TV era, it really is impossible to convey how exciting the idea of getting onto your favourite TV show was in the late 70s/early 80s. But that oft-anticipated journey from the sweet exhilaration of being CHOSEN to dance on Top of the Pops or have your greatest dream fulfilled on Jim'll Fix It, only to be utterly soured by the horror of finding out what you'd actually been chosen to experience doesn't bear thinking about, much though I don't suggest it happened to the majority of participants. But the story of how this happened to Claire McAlpine, the young Top of the Pops dancer who committed suicide, apparently as a result of her experiences at the hands of Savile (and others), was particularly heartrending. Nor had I previously realised that she and some of the other dancers were so young. They had always looked much older to me watching ToTP as a child.
The other story which shocked me was of the girl taken out of a children's home for a 'treat' ride with Savile in his white Rolls Royce, who kind of expected she'd have to pay for it in some way and wasn't particularly surprised by the 'payment' demanded, even though she didn't want to. In her world there was evidently no such thing as an adult being nice to you if they didn't expect something in return. And no choice about what form that reciprocation would take.
Since the revelations, there have been calls for a BBC investigation, calls for Savile's former bosses to be held to account, though some key individuals like Douglas Muggeridge (controller of Radio 1+2 1969-76) are now dead, with other voices demanding; 'What criminal proceedings can you possibly bring against a dead man?' (ie what's the point?)
Well I suppose the point of an investigation is so that Savile's victims finally have acknowledgement and possibly some sense of justice or closure to see the truth come out and lessons are learned for the future. That is, that no celebrity is ever allowed to be 'untouchable' or beyond reproach ever again, no matter how much time he or she devotes to charitable works. Not that it would be easy in any case in this mobile phone era where future celebrity abusers are likely to be snapped in action pretty quickly by the humblest children's home inmate.
And if he post-humously loses the 'Sir' and his charities are forced to drop the Savile name, that too will serve as some kind of satisfaction that he got comeuppance. In addition his estate (or the BBC) may choose to offer some token of compensation and rightly so in my view. In response to the protest 'It's unfair to accuse a man who is no longer alive to defend himself', ordinarily I would agree. Except that in this case it has become increasingly evident that Sir Jimmy would have made sure that no victim stood a chance of coming forward and being believed whilst he still walked this earth, and if public denials and charities vouching for him weren't enough, he could access and afford much better law than any of his victims could. His victims wouldn't have stood a chance in any courtroom and they knew it. Even newspapers would have risked damages they could ill afford or a dramatic drop in circulation if the public were unready to believe any hidden truths about such a popular figure who had done so much for 'charidee'.
In truth, part of my sense of shock stems from the fact that if the allegations are true, Sir Jimmy has betrayed all children who ever looked up to him or loved his shows.
As a lighter aside, there is an amusing story about how gentleman actor John Le Mesurier (he of Sergeant Wilson fame in Dad's Army) was walking past a giant poster hoarding of Jimmy Savile at a railway station exhorting 'This Is The Age Of The Train' from a British Rail poster in the mid-70s when he shocked his companion by exclaiming 'C**t! in a very loud voice. Did he know something we didn't...?