When I was 13, I went away with the church youth club to a summer camp. I was crazy about a boy called Brinley in the group, but he liked my friend Wendy. His friend, Chris, was 15, and considered something of a catch because of his staggering advanced years. But I was an innocent in the ways of the world and, when he kissed me, I think they heard my screams as far as Offa’s Dyke, which was at least 50 miles away.
On that trip, we were told that we would be honoured with a “celebrity” from the world of TV, and it was none other than Jimmy Savile. I don’t remember being hugely excited and commented to the course leaders that there were no seat-belts in his van, despite his having been the front face of “Clunk, click, every trip” – designed to get people to wear seat-belts before they travelled. I asked then why someone who said one thing and acted the opposite should be believed about anything (yes, I was an argumentative teen).
I remember being on the floor in a circle and sitting next to Savile. He gave me the creeps; that much I remember very clearly. I remember telling the staff in charge of us and also my fellow youth club members that I didn’t like him. I was not one of the kids who asked for his autograph afterwards, and I recall asking many questions about why he was so popular when he seemed so unlikeable. I now like to think I had good instincts.
Fast-forward 20 years. A friend of mine is doing an hilarious impression of a conversation he had with the late and brilliant Anthony Burgess in a BBC dressing room, while being made up for a show. “Jimmy Savile, the most evil man in Britain. Goes the length and breadth of Britain in a sinister charabanc, sodomising children. The BBC have it all, have it all, done nothing with it,” Burgess is alleged to have said. Anyone who ever met the wonderful Burgess, knows that the quote just has to be true.
I was not surprised. Not only had there been stories circulating about Savile’s proclivity for young girls - and boys - for years, there had always been rumours of a cover-up amongst those who employed him. Journalists I knew were always trying to pin the story down but, because of Savile’s charity work, they were, reportedly, always warned off.
A few years ago, I spoke to someone who was part of Savile’s entourage back in his Top of the Pops heyday and he said: “When he dies, it will all come out.” He went on to tell me that he had witnessed dozens of young girls in Savile’s company over many years, and yes, the relationships had been sexual.
You can only ask with wide-eyed incredulity today why no one spoke out sooner. The young people, I can understand: sexual abuse victims can often take decades to be able to speak of their ordeal. But why everyone else?
Reputation of a TV “god” at a time when TV was revered in a way it is not today, perhaps? The desire not to want to believe? The mistaken assumption that anyone involved in doing good works could not have a bad bone in their body? Or, even more frighteningly, that there were people around Savile, including BBC employees, and possibly executives, who colluded in this hideous exploitation and abuse. Lord Patten has this week been vociferous in his determination to find out if this was the case.
I recall telling my mother of the rumours when I first became a journalist and her response was, as was that of so many others: “I don’t believe it; people lie for all sorts of reasons.” There were people who, last week, continued to defend the indefensible, on the grounds that the stories were "hearsay". I don’t think they are in any doubt now that we are not dealing with gossip; we are dealing with facts. And have been for several decades.
The jokes that surrounded the phrase “Jim’ll Fix It” ("Jim'll f**k it" was a well-worn take on it in media circles) went on for years in an industry that, yes, I believe, conspired in a cover-up, because this man was a cash cow not only for the Corporation that hired him, but the hospitals that needed the money he raised. How sad that it was raised on the vulnerability of so many others. And how despicable, how utterly despicable, that nobody blew the whistle when the man was alive to be punished for it.
And now he doesn’t even have a grave that we can spit on.