Note: it’s late, so this will contain inconsistencies which may or may not be fixed. How’s that for honesty? Note two: don’t get used to it…
If I was in a position of responsibility at the BBC right now and of the age where I remembered Jimmy Saville during the peak of his career, I’d be shitting myself (need to catch-up on the story so far? Do so here). If I had anything to do with the Newsnight show which never aired, which formed the nucleus that the rest of this evening’s BBC bloodbath centred around, I’d already be packing my bags. Not that I’d feel too bad about it. In fact, I’d be proud. Watching BBC journalist Liz MacKean gutsily speak out about her role in the shelved-show was the best thing about the entire thing. As for almost everyone else who appeared, I largely hope they’re ashamed of themselves, but somehow, considering all the lies and the vague and deliberate weak answering of questions, I doubt they have that capacity. Now they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them, it feels a lot like the wolves are moving in.
In the hours and minutes leading up to the intriguing BBC 1 expose What The BBC Knew: A Panorama Special, I was as dubious about an authentic investigation as I could be. Like everyone else in the country, I’d heard all the rumours, and like everyone else, I couldn’t begin to imagine that this programme, produced by and for the BBC, would be anything but biased. And, as far as I can tell, I was largely right, although not entirely. Yet in another way, tonight’s show was a televisual first for me (hardly surprising, I know, being a youthful 32). On the surface we had a documentary that seemed to go in for the kill in an almost unprecidented way, telling it straight, but look a little deeper and things got confusing fast in perfect mirror image. The resulting debacle may have gone some way to reveal how Saville was allowed to go about his sordid business for so many years — that abuse now seems a certainty, even if much entirely solid evidence never surfaces — but at the same time, it’s also presented one hell of a lot of further questions. I look forward to next Monday, when I feel safe in predicting that I’ll be watching Panorama: An Investigation Into What the BBC Knew: A Panorama Special.
For anyone who missed the show, let’s do a re-cap (and don’t worry – this won’t ruin thh show for you. In fact, it may aid your viewing and iron a few things out. There’s a lot to get our heads around)…
It began with the basic arguable facts of all this, with many of them familiar, having been reported excessively in the last few weeks: firstly, that over 200 people have now come forward to claim they are victims, and secondly that this, according to one senior BBC individual, is the worst crisis at the BBC in 50 years. So the worst crisis in BBC history, then, really, if we’re being honest (don’t read too much into that). Next up, we had various BBC employees, past and present, saying how they were uneasy and not happy with what they had heard about Saville, followed by the beginnings of the Newsnight programme which would ultimately be shelved and elaborately – but conversely quite boringly – lied-about on a grand scale. This was where Karin Ward came in. Then aged 14 and suffering from cancer, she confessed to Newsnight reporters and researchers in November last year of some very grizzly goings-on in Saville’s dressing room. The viewing was compulsive, sickening and completely absorbing, as Karin spoke of other girls who had been abused by Gary Glitter, too.
It was around then that the tone changed…subtle to begin with, then more obvious. And the tone said this: something had always been wrong at the BBC and many people knew about it and nobody was really able to deny it anymore. If Monday morning was bad today, then Tuesday is looking one hell of a lot worse for numerous high-up people. The staff canteen is likely to not be the place to be.
By now, the show had covered the general grasp of the claims in enough detail that it was extremely difficult to believe that Jimmy Saville had ever been anything but one of the planet’s most enthusiastic sex-pests. The tone then darkened some more — yes, really — as it was revealed that just at the time the controversy was beginning to mount, the BBC decided it would be a really good idea to do an ode to Jim ‘L’ Fix it in 2011, attracting some 5 million people. Not only that but a radio eulogy and 3 more television tributes, too…because, why not? Except it turned out that the BBC had had far better ideas. Namely all of them, even the really really shit ones.
From that point on it was a surprising/incredible character assasination on a monumental level, with an impressive range of awful BBC attributes being pointed out: first the BBC were made out to have turned a blind eye to years of Saville’s abuse, with the revelation – you can cough now – that there was, du-du…another side of him. Next in line it was revealed by a very open and honest Paul Gambaccini that he believed the BBC was now in the hands of a much younger, Saville-oblivious generation, and that here-in lied a place of blame. This turned out to be the beginning of a massive game of blame somebody else quick! with so many different fingers pointed during the rest of the show that, at one time, I almost hoped that loads of mums would descend on the show, hellbent on sorting it out.
Fortunately, even though the BBC can’t contain a conspiracy for love nor money, they can make a riveting programme about their own imminent demise.
The next part of the story concerned ITV and how they ran an Exposure programme on October 3rd 2012 which used the same information gathered from the aborted BBC Newsnight programme. Headed by a private investigator, I didn’t watch it, but I suspect it covers almost everything I am writing about here. Great reporting, right?
Poor George Entwistle. He was up next in this feast of savage bollocking, announcing 2 enquiries concerning Saville: one general one and one about how the hell this Newsnight debacle ever came about and was allegedly dropped for editorial reasons (er…there’s a good chance it wasn’t. Or it was. I lose track).
Duncroft was to feature heavily in the next part of this story. A home for intelligent, emotionally disturbed young women, it came across as a strange and weird place – mainly because it was called this several times, as we didn’t see much actual footage from there – where Saville and his nastyness were frequent visitors. If all the claims can be believed, which you have to think they surely nearly all can.
Here, now, the documentary had me transfixed. Previously convinced it was to be a big pile of carefully-woven nonsense, I had been intending to switch over to Channel 5 at 11:15pm to watch Vacancy starring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, as I had heard it was average-to-quite-average and had always before managed to somehow miss it. Thing is…when that time came, it turned out I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Much as I am a fan of crap unoriginal horror tripe (films) and I could watch this later on iPlayer, it occurred to me that this may not be the case this time. If the BBC went down, iPlayer would surely be a gonna, too. That alone was a huge worry.
I paused on that thought, sad for a while, and then I got over it and moved on. I would always have 4OD.
Deep into this mess now and with no turning back — think Titanic nancy director’s The Abyss, when they go off the cliff, shit! — the people on TV now were on about how they had found multiple girls who had been abused at Duncroft, before it quickly moved onto Jimmy Saville and how he had been suspected of abuse in the 50s and 60s and loads and loads of people had known about it but done precisely nothing for reasons which, obviously, only made sense if you’d had several parts of your brain expertly removed. It was only at this point, for me, having been born in 1980, that I really understood – or believed I did – how powerful and famous a clearly seedy individual Jimmy Saville was. But then, why should anyone at the BBC have suspected? It wasn’t like there were many really obvious clues.
That was a joke, of course.
Oh…how there WERE clues. Many thousands of them. Literally everywhere, like a reverse game of Where’s Wally where you’d be sick of Wally’s face because it was bloody everywhere. It was then, amusingly, that a number of key ancient one-time-but-now-conveniently-retired-and-absent-minded BBC top figures appeared on-screen covering their elderly arses in every way you could possibly imagine. Excuses ranged from the poor/feeble (“I didn’t report it because I didn’t think it would be believed,”) to the inexcusable and utterly reprehensible (Derek Chinnery, previous Controller of the BBC, saying how there was no real proof so he didn’t see reason to quiz Saville further. Almost believable…until you took into account that he had asked Jimmy Saville about his behaviour and Saville had denied it. Which surely would have been the point when anyone in their right sensible mind, let alone a fat controller, would have said, “now look here Jimmy, are you lying to me? Because it seems like you very much fucking are! I mean, I have about a hundred people with eyes and faces and brains saying you’re a massive pervert…so come on, let’s have this out, shall we?”).
If it had been bad before, there was much, much worse to come. The run-down:
1: Old men cover their arses some more with varied success. Success used lightly.
2: How the BBC bought into Saville’s sexually suggestive style to increase viewing figures — call me a cynic but I choose to believe that this was no accident — including awful footage of the man himself fondling young girls on TV, in front of millions of people. Ugh.
3: More ashamed old men who had probably poured more emotion out over spilled milk. And I do mean that literally. In fact, it’s just a shame they didn’t do this on the documentary, so that we could have seen a genuine comparison.
4: Karin Ward, again — prepare yourself — saying how, in Saville’s dressing room, boys and girls were only there to be used. The inevitable mention of Gary Glitter, who was a regular guest on Clunk Click, which was offensive enough by name, let alone the abuse going on behind-the-scenes.
5: How Saville raised as much as £40 for charity. Sorry, add a million to that. He didn’t just do a fun-run and get a few mates to sponsor him. Jimmy Saville was ridiculous.
6: Saville’s work at Broadmoor…and how this work involved him randomely putting his hands between young girls’ legs without even looking at their faces.
7: How, despite the BBCs claims, many reports were made about the man but no action was ever taken. Yes, we are going round in circles, only this one has been battered into the shape of an egg, warped as it is with all the contradictions.
8: Me wondering Could this actually be the end of the BBC? And morning the iPlayer again.
9: About how not all the victims were girls. Saville abused young boys, too, and was, if the evidence is dependable, involved in a BBC paedophile ring. Yes, you did just read what you thought you read.
10: How, in 1972, he was awarded an OBE. Oh, the torturous shambolic shame…
11: Jim ‘L’ Fix It and how it took off massively with as many as 20 million viewers, making This Is Your Life look moderately successful by comparison (it was mega successful).
12: A boy called Kevin. Now an adult, he spoke with his wide back to camera about how, as a boy scout — we saw footage of him as a boy scout — he had been told by Saville that to get a badge of his own he would need to do…things to him, which he did. Such as rub his penis. Very nasty, bad TV that will remain with many of us for a very long time, I imagine. Saville also touched him and hearing that was pretty horrible.
After all that, watching an expose by The One Show about why goldfinches are dying is going to be more than a bit boring.
Hungry for more and riveted by the fascinating spectacle of watching the BBC rip itself apart from the inside-out as if possessed by some evil intellectual monster, I was now finding myself watching a former producer of Jim ‘L’ Fix It on TV saying how he felt he never had reason to do anything and hadn’t heard any rumours. Convenient sprang to mind. But it wasn’t just me who thought it was crap all round. More BBC employees came out of the wood-work and started saying how he’d hoodwinked everyone…with Paul Gambaccini leading the honesty brigade by saying how Saville had various police forces, the NHS and the entire BBC under his spell. Along with the crap hairdresser who did his wispy cotton-wool-hair, who I wouldn’t be surprised if he or she has already been shot.
Moving outside and away from the BBC, for once, we were now told that in the real-world, where actual people see things and think normal conclusions such as That man is probably really abusing countless young girls and boys people were doing precisely that. Here, a few seconds were devoted to BBC director Kevin Marsh bringing out the much-trusted “others shared responsibility too, including the press” dig, that, believe it or not, I had seen coming and you might have, too.
Cue Saville on camera addressing the concerns of people like Louis Theroux by lying his massive white face off, and saying that if he was going down then he would bring others with him. The words of an innocent man, then…
It now seems highly unlikely.
The rest is history, and you can watch the debacle unfurl again and again if iPlayer still works later today, and tomorrow. The basic idea, if you can’t be arsed/iPlayer goes down permanently, is that the Newsnight team had the go-ahead to do a thing on Saville as a massive paedophile and then suddenly didn’t because of emails that may or may not have been sent and lied about, etc. You’ll lose track. Other aspects of the disaster included one half of the BBC preparing to do odes about him for Christmas 2011, and the other half believing that if they had all this info then the right thing, now the man was dead, would be to do a documentary — see what I mean about going round in egg-shaped circles? Peter Rippon, Newsnight Boss, was at the heart of it, you see, and he’s now gone because of it. He hadn’t watched any of the footage concerning Karin Ward, and suggested that for editorial reasons, the Newsnight show should not go ahead…
Too. Many. Eggs.
But the saddest thing for me about all this was the worrying wave of opinion that seemed to suggest that because Saville is now dead, the story is, essentially, over. In producing this documentary, I suppose the BBC hoped they might be able to brainwash a few million people into believing that they were doing the decent thing once and for all. Except it didn’t come across like that, really, or it did — the brainwashing, I mean. In a world where abuse of any kind should be the critical discussion over anything else surrounding it, millions of people have, instead, just watched a show about how the BBC forgot what it actually means to be a human with feelings. And remember: George Entwistle had only been in the job a month when he had this massive pile of horse manure piled on top of him. He may not have handled it as well as he could have done — he handled it CRAP — but be under no illusion: there are plenty of people still living out there who have a hell of a lot more to answer for.