Most Americans will have never heard of Jimmy Savile, the flamboyant disc jockey, television presenter, and charity campaigner who, by the time of his death last year at the age of 84, had become a legend in the field of what we Brits call “light entertainment.” Savile was best-known for the long-running BBC show Jim’ll Fix It, in which he would arrange for the wishes of youngsters to come true.
Savile was also famous for his gaudy costumes, his jewellery, his mane of silver hair, his cigars, and his numerous catchphrases. He was a bachelor, and managed on the whole to keep his private life private. Perhaps inevitably given his “unusual” lifestyle, and the fact that much of both his charity and broadcasting work involved him being around children, there were rumors of sexual misconduct, and a couple of allegations of indecent assault. Nothing, however, was proven.
So it did not come entirely as a surprise when, shortly after his death, new allegations of sexual assaults on teenage girls as young as 14 began to emerge. But the volume of complaints has grown at an astonishing rate. A few days ago, police investigating the claims described Savile as a “predatory sex offender,” and said they were pursuing 340 lines of inquiry involving 40 potential victims — including young boys — and were dealing with allegations dating back to 1959.
The fact that Savile was apparently able to get away with committing rapes and other assaults for so long is bad enough. But what’s even more disturbing is that most of the alleged attacks were carried out while he worked for the BBC, and in many cases are said to have taken place in its offices and dressing rooms. It’s claimed that senior figures at the BBC turned a blind eye to Savile‘s behavior over the years, and that of other male stars.
And the cover-up continued after Savile‘s death. When the allegations against the star became widespread the BBC’s Newsnight program began an investigation, but the report was never aired. The BBC is investigating both the decision to pull the investigation and the allegations against Savile, and senior figures in the corporation are to be quizzed by a parliamentary committee.
There’s a note of irony about the scandal in which the BBC finds itself embroiled. One reason why, at least in the 1960s and 1970s, Savile‘s bosses and colleagues were able to ignore or excuse his behavior was that it was taking place against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, and the advent of the “permissive society,” which the BBC played no small part in celebrating and promoting (for more on the prevailing “culture” at the BBC, read this eye-popping account by a female presenter). Nowadays, such is the extent to which the corporation has embraced the modern diktats of political correctness, any male employee who so much as holds the lift door open for a female colleague risks being hit with a sex discrimination complaint.
What makes this affair particularly galling for the BBC is that, while any major organization would rightly be castigated for systemically covering up sexual assaults on young girls, none has appointed itself the arbiter of an entire nation’s morals and tastes to the extent the BBC has. It’s by some distance the most smug and self-righteous institution in Britain; in its fervor to impose its liberal-left worldview on the British people (its influence is also growing worldwide) it puts most religious bodies to shame.
But self-righteousness on such a scale inevitably breeds hypocrisy, and the BBC does hypocrisy in spades. This, you may remember, is the organization whose news arm, along with the left-wing Guardian newspaper, hounded Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid The News of the World over the phone-hacking scandal and subsequent cover-up. Their efforts led to the closure of the NoW with the loss of hundreds of jobs, to the resignation of the prime minister’s press aide, and to several reporters and police officers facing criminal charges.
The BBC now stands accused of a cover-up of its own, but there’s a big difference. The only victims of the hacking scandal were celebrities whose privacy was invaded (the most serious allegation, which directly led to the closure of the NoW, was that its reporters deleted voicemail messages from the phone of a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered; that claim has since been discredited). By contrast, the cover-up by senior BBC figures of sex attacks by Savile meant he remained at liberty to prey on victims who should have been spared their ordeal.
But hypocrisy comes easily to the BBC, which believes it is answerable to no-one, and under no obligation to adhere to the standards to which it holds other public bodies and individuals. As Britain’s economy has struggled, its reporters have stoked public outrage over “fat cat” bankers and businessmen failing to pay their fair share of taxes, while the corporation was busy running its own tax avoidance scheme for some of its most highly paid stars, and its executives were filing expenses claims that would make many a banker blush.
And day in day out, in its news and factual output, the BBC — which enjoys a virtual monopoly of TV, radio and internet news provision in Britain — holds itself up as a paragon of objectivity, while bias permeates its coverage of everything from Israel and Palestine to climate change. For the privilege of subsidizing this parade of corporate excess and liberal propaganda, each household in Britain is taxed to the tune of $235 a year, despite that fact that on almost every contentious issue the BBC is at odds with a majority of the British people.
The phone hacking scandal led to a costly and drawn-out public inquiry, during which newspaper bosses, police officers, Conservative politicians, and others were interrogated and often humiliated, while the BBC sat gleefully on the sidelines waiting for the next arrest or resignation. At the time, the corporation’s detractors wondered how it had managed to escape scrutiny in the most wide-ranging inquiry into the workings or the British media ever held. They’ll now be hoping that, at long last, it’s the BBC’s turn to stand in the dock.