Belmont Club

National Treasure

It’s been a bad week for the respectable institutions all around the world. Bill Keller, formerly an editor at the New York Times described the child-molestation scandal engulfing the BBC.

Perhaps you’ve had your fill of these sordid accounts — the celebrity gropers, the pedophile priests, the fondling in the locker room shower, the witnesses who look the other way. But Savile’s case is worth mulling, if only because the institution in which his serial child abuse took place is one of the most respected media organizations in the world, a putative shrine to truth and accountability: the BBC. …

To appreciate Jimmy Savile’s place in English culture, imagine a combination of Dick Clark of “American Bandstand” and Jerry Lewis, maestro of the muscular dystrophy telethon. Savile was the longest-serving host of the immensely popular BBC music show “Top of the Pops,” and the star of another long-running show called “Jim’ll Fix It,” in which he pulled strings to grant the wishes of supplicants, mostly children. … He was Sir Jimmy, confidant — or at least photo-op accessory — of royals, prime ministers, even Beatles.

And now Savile turns out to have been a creep.

The BBC ‘national treasure’ died last year. But the aftermath of the exposures revealed the worst of it. Many in the BBC apparently knew all along. Staff are now coming forward to say they entered this dressing room or that closet to find him in flagrante delicto. Despite the hand-wringing, others are now saying it was an open secret. As Esther Rantzen of the Telegraph put it:

As I arrived at an NSPCC conference last week, a taxi pulled up, and the driver shouted to me. “Esther!” I walked over. “Jimmy Savile was in my cab some years back, with two very young girls he said were his nieces. But they weren’t. What he got up to with them in the back of the cab was bad, very bad. I knew it was wrong. But what could I say?”

For decades, nobody said anything, at least not publicly, not officially. Everyone knew – that is, everyone in the television and pop music industries knew. The rumours swirled around him, that he sexually abused young girls. A journalist friend told me in the 1970s about a little girl with a heart defect. Jimmy had helped her to have the defect surgically corrected. A newspaper heard about his generosity and contacted the girl’s family to run the story, but the family refused to talk to them because they were sickened by what they knew he had done to her to make her “earn” the operation.

There are now reports that “a second ‘national treasure'” referred to for now as ‘Uncle Dick’ and who ran a children’s show will prove another child molester that the BBC had nurtured in its bosom. The question now being asked is how many more? And was there a food chain supplying perverts that went God knows how high?

The problem automatically became a national scandal because the BBC is taxpayer funded. Any time you buy a television device in Brtain you have to pay a fee to the BBC — whether you watch it or not. “You need a TV Licence to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on television, irrespective of what channel you’re watching, what device you are using (TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone or any other), and how you receive them (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or any other way) … We can confirm that we do prosecute people who object to the licence fee in principle.”

Think of it as Big Bird with its own radio DF vans. George Orwell named the infamous Room 101 in 1984 after a conference room in the BBC. They were nothing if not flattered. “When one of the possible original room 101s at the BBC was due to be demolished, a plaster cast was made by artist Rachel Whiteread. The cast was displayed in the cast courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum from November 2003 until June 2004.”

It wasn’t just perversion. It was taxpayer funded perversion.

What shocked many observers — it certainly dismayed Bill Keller — was that the abuse of power had touched the sacred precincts of the fourth estate; it has not been, as heretofore believed, been confined to institutions like football departments or the Catholic Church. There are apparently no exceptions to Lord Acton’s dictum that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. And the BBC had power — power which in large measure rose from its self-ascribed moral ascendancy.

There are now calls to abolish the license fee. But that is still a long shot. The BBC is too mighty, too entrenched, it’s hold on the taxpayer pocketbook is too tight for it to be pried loose.  And yet … how far does it go? Just how high perversion and its enablers go up in the corridors of power was underscored by the infamous Marx Dutroux  case in Belgium. The Belgian pedophile kept children chained as prisoners. But who might have come to see them was the bombshell.

There was widespread anger and frustration among Belgians due to police errors, the general slowness of the investigation and Dutroux’s claims that he was part of a sex ring that included high ranking members of the police force and government. This anger culminated when the popular investigative judge in charge of investigating the claims was dismissed on the grounds of having participated in a fund-raising dinner for the girls’ parents. The investigation itself was wound up. His dismissal and end of the investigation resulted in a massive protest march (the “White March”) of 300,000 people on the capital, Brussels, in October 1996, two months after Dutroux’s arrest, in which demands were made for reforms of Belgium’s police and justice system.

On the witness stand, Jean-Marc Connerotte, the original judge of the case, broke down in tears when he described “the bullet-proof vehicles and armed guards needed to protect him against the shadowy figures determined to stop the full truth coming out. Never before in Belgium has an investigating judge at the service of the king been subjected to such pressure. We were told by police that [murder] contracts had been taken out against the magistrates.” Connerotte testified that the investigation was seriously hampered by protection of suspects by people in the government. “Rarely has so much energy been spent opposing an inquiry,” he said. He believed that the Mafia had taken control of the case.

The allegations of a cover-up engineered from high places was never proved. But this is why the BBC case is so disturbing. If institutionally protected pedophilia can exist in a building full of journalists then where is safe? Who guards the guardians?


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