Sometimes you read a book and you just have to unburden yourself- so here goes. I had seen this book on various Books Of The Year and when I saw it on the shelves of my local library I found myself checking it out.
I was never a huge fan of Jimmy Savile. I never minded him taking his turn presenting on “Top Of The Pops”, I did use to quite regularly listen to his Sunday afternoon radio shows, most often the old chart countdowns but occasionally the talk shows, “Savile’s Travels” and “Speakeasy” with its “Yakety Yak” theme tune. I did, however, find “Jim’ll Fix It” a little disturbing. There was always something slightly menacing and inappropriate in Savile in this family friendly show. Maybe it was the “oddness” which Savile always proclaimed he had but I suspected something more and there were always playground rumours which suggested there might be something else about this man that we weren’t seeing on the BBC. I wasn’t the only one to think so. As a child, Dan Davies was thrilled to go to watch a TV recording of “Jim’ll Fix It” but after watching Savile presenting the show and the way he interacted with the children Davies came away greatly unnerved and disturbed. This turned into, over the years, an obsession with the author making files out of interviews and news reports in a search for evidence that this man was not quite the shining beacon he was made out to be. Now a journalist he was eventually commissioned to interview Savile and get to see how this man operated at close hand, carrying out a number of interviews in the aging DJ’s twilight years. He stayed with him, went on a cruise with him and just about began to change his views on him.
When Savile died there was a public outpouring of grand tributes which for those who had other experiences of this man started to bring this travesty into closer focus. Davies is very good at outlining the sequence of events which shattered the Savile illusion and his reputation once and for all. Savile was a master manipulator who “groomed” virtually the whole country – politicians, royalty, the Church, local authorities, the BBC were all taken in by him- a man who is likely to have committed in excess of 1000 sexual offences, mainly on children. When Davies was researching this book there were still people who knew and worked alongside Savile who proclaim his innocence. The power base he built up in his life was incredible – trustee of secure mental hospital Broadmoor with his own set of keys and apartments both there and at Stoke Mandeville hospital; trusted adviser on the NHS for Margaret Thatcher; marriage guidance for Prince Charles and Princess Diana; broker of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland- the list goes on. He would regularly speak and write about his predilection for young girls. It was a sign of the times that this aging unattractive man could talk about his dalliances with “dolly birds” without too much controversy. He didn’t actually of course state that they were often twelve or thirteen years old but by putting it out there he created a smoke-screen which was both effective and calculating. With hindsight, you do not have to read between the lines too much in some of his weekly “Sunday People” columns but at the time it washed over most people. A blind eye was turned because he had people fooled, or intimidated or because he was such a huge source of publicity for good causes and for his fundraising. Savile often mentioned some kind of divine balance sheet as motivation for his charity work, stating that as long as the good outweighed the bad he would be alright. Nobody realised quite how bad his debit side was.
It can never and surely will never happen like this again- the rumblings of the Police Operation Yewtree may continue for some time as it strives to erase the era in British history when the notion of celebrity gave some kind of right for someone to rape and molest patients in their hospital beds.
I didn’t really follow the Savile case when it was unfolding – the daily revelations and intrigues and blame for cover-up were too much for me on a daily basis, so a lot of this was particularly eye-opening if not unexpected. Davies handles this sensationalist subject with a lot of sensitivity and thoroughness. The subject matter is difficult but demands to be read and it is engrossing stuff. I think now I’ve got all this out I can draw a line underneath it, move on from the disturbing tale of this hideous man and take the book back to the library.