Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: BBC

Omagh Part One – The Road of Tears

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday September 8 2015

Colman's Column3



After the bombing, Cathy could never settle back into her university studies at Derry and Patsy was often on the road to bring her traumatised daughter back home. In the car mother and daughter would be keening uncontrollably for Aiden, the son and brother forever lost to them. They christened the road from Derry to Omagh ‘The Road of Tears’.

On 15 August 2000 my wife and I were having a post-shopping Murphy’s at Le Chateau on St Patrick Street, Cork City in Ireland. I was going to write “enjoying a pint of Murphy’s” but that would not be appropriate because, like everyone else in the bar, we had tears streaming down our faces. The TV was on and the news programme was marking the second anniversary of the Omagh bombing.


On August 15, 1998, just two months after we had gone to live in Ireland, a huge bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, a small market town in rural County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland. A total of 31 people were to die as a result of the bomb, and 220 were injured. The dead included a  woman 4 months pregnant and her unborn twins girls; six children, three of whom had been visiting from County Donegal in  the Irish Republic and one of whom was on holiday from Spain (Fernando’s mother, Lucrezia, had previously been traumatized when her husband had been seriously injured by an ETA car bomb) and six teenagers. Death was ecumenical; nineteen of the dead were Catholics, eleven were Protestants.

It Was People who Died

Each person who died represented a crushing loss to a wide circle of people. The bombers killed two babies and two about to be born, three schoolgirls, four schoolboys, six students, three shop assistants, a despatch clerk, a shopkeeper, a crane driver, a mechanic, a horticulturalist, and an accounts clerk. These were the targets of the “soldiers” of Éireann, the “freedom fighters”.

It was the time of year when parents and children went to SD Kells or Watterstones to buy new school uniforms. Most of the people in the centre of Omagh on August 15 1998 were from the town or surrounding countryside. It was an uncommonly sunny day for that part of the world and crowds were gathering for the processions that mark the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. The original plan was for the procession to start 200 yards from where the bomb exploded. Thousands would have been close to the explosion if the plan had not been changed.


Recent horrific pictures of drowned refugees have sparked controversy about the ethics of displaying such images. I want to convey to you the horror of Omagh but I want to respect the sensibilities of my readers and the dignity of the dead. Buses were used to ferry victims to hospital and blood was flowing down the steps on to the road. In the rain, the gutters ran red with blood and rose petals. A young girl sat in the street holding a severed hand saying: “I don’t want her to be alone”. A policeman who had wandered up and down the street carrying a head had to be invalided out of the RUC. Steve Buttle was so affected by Omagh that he functioned badly at work and his relationships deteriorated. Eventually he wrapped himself in a body bag and shot himself in the head.

The poison administered on August 15 1998 did harm not only to those who were present in Omagh on that day. It spread far and wide and for a long period, for generations into the future. Thousands had their lives blighted by intense sorrow, physical pain and depression beyond imagining.

Who Was Responsible?

Unusually, no group claimed responsibility on the day of the attack, but the Royal Ulster Constabulary suspected the RIRA (Real Irish Republican Army).Indeed, three days after the attack, the RIRA claimed responsibility and apologised for the attack. The RIRA had few members and the authorities knew who most of them were and where they lived. Two months after we had been crying in our Murphy’s, BBC put out a Panorama programme called Who Bombed Omagh? hosted by journalist John Ware. The programme gave the names of the four prime suspects as Oliver Traynor, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.

 The Law’s Delay

Daly was not charged with the bombing in a criminal case until April 10 2014. However, a civil case brought by the victims’ relatives was concluded on 8 June 2009. Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were found to have been responsible for the bombing and held liable for £1.6 million of damages. It was described as a “landmark” damages award internationally.

The Campaign

Because of frustration at the slow progress of the criminal investigation, the families of the victims created the Omagh Support and Self Help Group (OSSHG) soon after the bombing. The organisation was led by Michael Gallagher, who lost his 21-year-old son Aidan in the attack. In the 30 years of The Troubles, there was no precedent for a group of victims challenging the system in this way.

In the tribal society that is Northern Ireland it was surprising that the OSSHG included hard-line and moderate unionists as well as nationalists; there were Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, and a Mormon.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

I draw in these articles on the work of,  among others, Ruth Dudley Edwards. Ruth was deeply involved in the campaign and her 2009 book about the Omagh bombing was named the Sunday Times current affairs book of the year and won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award for non-fiction. The book, Aftermath: the Omagh Bombing and the Families’ Pursuit of Justice, should be of interest to Sri Lankan readers. Ruth is a distinguished Irish historian from a distinguished family of Irish historians.  She was born and brought up in Dublin and educated at University College Dublin (UCD), Girton College, Cambridge and Wolfson College, Cambridge. She has worked in the London civil service.

She is also a crime fiction writer and a prolific columnist, often stirring up controversy in the British and Irish press.  She now lives in London and describes herself as British-Irish and is comfortable with being culturally both Irish and English. She takes a particular interest in Northern Ireland and her writings have had her placed in the category of “revisionist”. That is to say, she has no time for myths about heroes and martyrs. She once told a hostile audience: “I wear the badge ‘revisionist’ as a badge of honour! Patrick Pearse had a right to sacrifice himself but not all those civilians! If seven people can determine these things, the Continuity IRA has the right to style themselves the heirs of 1916. There is a flouting of democracy.”

An End to Terror?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real  IRA into giving up the  “armed struggle” that was killing unborn babies. How did that work out?

Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? They had, as Ruth puts it, “to take on not just a terrorist organisation, but most of the Dublin, Belfast and London police, justice and political establishments”.

More on this next week

Cuzco – the Navel of the World

This is an extended version of an article that appears in the March 2014 issue of Echelon magazine.

Sacred valley at the top of the world with great clubs and restaurants.


Peru has had a violent history even until recently. There continues to be a divide between indigenous people and the descendants of the Spanish conquerors.

Getting There

There are flights to Cuzco from Lima but there are dangers to health because of altitude sickness; the ancient capital of the Incas is 3,400 metres above sea level. Paul Theroux told a story, probably apocryphal, of a tourist’s teeth exploding. I became distinctly dizzy in Huancavelica (3,660 metres).  It is advisable to make a gradual progress by road or rail to Cuzco, in order to acclimatise yourself gradually to the altitude.


I bought a fascinating book in Cuzco written by one of the city’s native sons. Garcilaso de la Vega’s Comentarios Reales de los Incas, was published in 1609. Garcilaso’s dual heritage enabled him to provide a subtle critique of Spanish colonialism and the sufferings of native Andeans. Garcilaso’s mother was an Inca princess, and his father was a Spanish conquistador. Garcilaso unsuccessfully argued for a colonial regime led by men who could harmoniously reconcile Spanish and Incan traditions. That kind of harmony is still lacking today. He based his accounts of Inca life and the conquest on stories heard from his Inca relatives when he was a child in Cuzco.  He portrays the Inca as benevolent rulers who governed a country where everybody was well-fed and happy.


The Incas carried out human sacrifices and used slave labour. The conquistadors employed great cruelty to extract precious resources to sustain Spain and its Empire. The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path Maoist terrorists) were brutal, purportedly in pursuit of social justice, as were the peasant groups formed to oppose them in the face of government indifference. When the Peruvian army did take an interest, they slaughtered innocent villagers as well as revolutionaries. The army captured the last surviving Sendero leader as recently as 2011.

Shining Path

In January 2014, the shrunken figure of Abimael Guzmán, the  philosophy professor who founded  Sendero Luminoso, appeared in a Lima court to face charges of killing 25 people and injuring more than 150 in 1992 with two car bombs in Miraflores neighbourhood of the capital. I stayed in that neighbourhood. I also stayed in the Andean town of Huancavelica, where I registered at the local police station. Sendero Luminoso blew up that police station the day after I was in it. In August of 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee stated that upwards of 69,000 people died in the struggle between Sendero and government security forces. A major Sendero tactic was the mass slaughter of the indigenous people it claimed to be fighting for in order to goad the authorities into matching savagery.


Today, not everything is perfect but there is relative peace in Peru. Cuzco epitomises a Peru where foreigners can come to enjoy historical monuments and incredible scenery, eat and shop well and party. Travelling high up in the Andes, I witnessed grinding poverty among the indigenous people. A citizen of Lima earns 21 times what a resident of the interior earns. In one small town, drunken Indians were rolling in the gutter and rats disturbed my sleep in the “hotel”. Even in coastal areas, life seemed hard. In one seaside village, we were hungry and disgruntled at the lack of food in what passed for restaurants. I later realised, to my shame, that the large fish they managed to find for us was probably intended to feed the whole village.



Peruvians have been eating guinea pigs for millennia. I tried it twice myself while in Cuzco. The first time was in a rather swish restaurant called Cicciolina (waiters wear dark frock coats and white gloves). I swear that I did not know what cuy was until after I had swallowed it. This was a minute cube of meat, rather like liver, which went down in one swallow. The second occasion was at lunch in a more downmarket restaurant where the creature was  splayed whole out on the plate allowing no room for doubt that it was a guinea pig. Although, I knew that it was rodent rather than porcine, it did taste like pork crackling. I am afraid the creature died in vain because I could not eat much of it. I did not like the way it was looking at me.


Trip Advisor reviews 368 restaurants in Cuzco. After travelling in the altiplano and surviving on dishwater and dog soup served in cracked plastic bowls, it was very heaven to be in Cuzco.


On the second floor of a lofty colonial courtyard mansion, Cicciolina is eclectic and international – as well as guinea pig or alpaca you can eat crisp polenta squares with cured rabbit, duck carpaccio and tender lamb. The service is impeccable as well as amiable. The restaurant provides haute versions of cuzqueño classics like anticuchos (beef skewers),

anticuchosrocoto relleno (stuffed red peppers), rocoto relleno

sopa de gallina (chicken soup) and chairo (beef and lamb soup) served in a clay pot.


The humble potato came from Peru before Sir Walter Raleigh took it to his stolen land in County Cork. Peruvian potatoes come in many varieties – and colours.


Where to Stay

When I travelled around Peru, I experienced some very basic accommodation. However, Cuzco has a wide range of hotels to suit every budget. The Loki Hostel caters for backpackers and partygoers.

loki hostal

There are many two-star hotels. Hostal Qorikilla is possibly the cheapest. It is practically falling apart, but the kind, unassuming staff make it a favorite.

At the other end of the scale is the Palacio del Inka, an opulent colonial mansion built on Inca foundations, with parts of the building dating back to the 16th century, when Francisco Pizarro was an occupant.


Multi-layered Navel

The name “Cuzco” means “the navel” – the centre of the Inca Empire and therefore the world.  It lays claim to being the oldest continually inhabited city in the western hemisphere. Cuzco is a many-layered city – beginning with a culture dating back a thousand years before Christ, through the Incas, via the Spanish conquistadors to, in 2014, nightclubs, designer boutiques and restaurants run by celebrity chefs.  After the conquest, the Spaniards used the stones of the Inca buildings to build a new town. Most of the buildings in post-conquest Cuzco were rebuilt after an earthquake in 1650. There was another earthquake in 1950, after which the buildings were faithfully restored using pink or grey stone often using material from Inca buildings.

Night Life


Modern Cuzco is a lively place with attractions for young people as well as those interested in historic monuments and trekking. Cuzco is a party place with an unlimited range in bars and clubs spread out all over town. As Cuzco has become increasingly important for the backpack industry, many hotels and hostels have organised pub-crawls, theme nights and live performances around town. Paddy Flaherty’s must be the (in the altitude sense) highest Irish Pub in the world.  If you wish to travel to the capital of the Inca empire to drink proper Guinness on draught, mix with Europeans watching British sports on the big screen, this could be the place for you.


The dance clubs don’t get going until around midnight or one in the morning and you can stay out  until dawn.


Armchair Travel

You can enjoy Cuzco vicariously from your armchair. Michael Palin visited Cuzco in 1997 for the BBC. You can watch this on YouTube

Palin visited the most famous relic of the Inca Empire: the lost city of Machu Picchu. Palin wrote about Pongo de Mainique, the portal to the afterlife of the Machiguenga Indians and home to the Spectacled Bear among other animals.  “Nothing I have read or fantasized about has prepared me for this place. It’s an enchanted world.” If you get to Cuzco, you can take a trip to Pongo.

In December 1980, the BBC broadcast a programme called “Three Miles High” in the series Great Railway Journeys of the World in which the late lamented Miles Kington travelled from Lima through the Andes via Punto Ferroviario, Huancato by steam train to Huancavelica, by bus to Cuzco & Macchu Picchu to Ayaviri and Lake Titicaca to Bolivia.

Sites to See

The Inca fortress of Sacsaywamán is less than a 2km trek uphill from the Plaza de Armas. In 1536, the fort was the site of one of the bitterest battles of the Spanish conquest. More than two years after Pizarro’s entry into Cuzco, the Incas recaptured Sacsaywamán and used it as a base to lay siege to the conquistadors in Cuzco. Thousands of dead littered the site after the Incas’ defeat, attracting swarms of carrion-eating condors.


manco inca

Resource Curse

revolting peasants

Peru was blighted by the resource curse in the 16th Century and is blighted still in the 21st. Huancavelica, 200 miles from Cuzco,  was founded in 1572 for the purpose of mining mercury, which was essential to extract silver from ore.  Today Peru still has an impoverished indigenous population prey to the extractive industries, this time run by multi-nationals rather than the Spanish Empire. Today illegal gold mining in Peru is causing deforestation and serious mercury contamination of the food chain.


The Peruvian economy is heavily dependent on the export of copper, gold, oil and gas, often located on indigenous lands. A new law offers some hope to the indigenous communities. Extractive projects will require prior consultation. The government will have to listen to the concerns of indigenous communities and try to balance their needs with the desires of multi-national corporations given a free hand by previous administrations. The current government seems committed to the idea that all Peruvians should benefit from the nation’s natural resources. A new tax on the mining industry is expected to bring in additional government revenue of more than $1 bn, which will be used for social programmes.


Let us not forget that tourism is itself an extractive industry. In my dreams of visiting magical sites such as the Taj Mahal and Venice, I imagined myself all alone. Macchu Picchu, like those places, is always full of people. Machu Picchu was completed around  1450 at the height of the Incan empire.  The Incas abandoned it less than 100 years after its foundation, following the Spanish conquest of Peru.  Macchu Picchu was unknown to the outside world before the American historian Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. The removal of cultural artefacts by the Bingham expeditions gave rise to a long-term dispute between the government of Peru and Yale University. As well as natural phenomena like earthquakes and weather systems, sheer volume of tourists threatens Macchu Picchu.


Tourism in Peru has expanded faster than all other sectors. In 2005, the World Tourism Organization stated that Peru had the second largest tourism growth, 28.6%,  in Latin America. There have been problems, such as seasonal unemployment, a rise in sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, poor urban planning, a lack of residential regulations, and destruction of the environment. Before the tourism boom of the last decade, Cuzco supplied a vast majority of the agricultural products for Peru but now former farmers rely on tourism. During the off-season, many people struggle to live.


Spanish conquistadors in America destroyed all the settlements in their path and returned from their wanderings to starve, because there was nothing left to loot. Now the emphasis on economic growth and tourism could have the same effect.

Peter Grimsdale – Perfect Night or Perfect Fright?



A shorter version of this article originally appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday September 5 2010.



grimMr Grimsdale



Parachute Journalists

I wonder how many of you out there, including journalists,  get as irritated as I do when films and novels, often written by journalists taking up the trade of fiction,  glamorise the exploits of journalists.

I got myself into a rather acrimonious exchange with an editor (of a western publication) with whom, only a few days previously I had been having a friendly e-mail correspondence. I will name no names in order to protect the guilty, but this is the gist of what happened.

I was asked for my opinion about  an article on Sri Lanka by a western journalist. I am not a subscriber to the view of some Sri Lankan commentators that the crimes and hypocrisy of the west bar any westerner, politician or writer, from criticising Sri Lanka. I do however, expect some cognisance of the complexity of what is happening here. I do expect an avoidance of generalisation and stereotypes. There were many quite ludicrous factual howlers in the article. My view that the article in question provided a distorted picture of the ground reality today in Sri Lanka caused offence to the editor and the author, who was quite abusive.

The writer had visited Sri Lanka, dropped in at  the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps (one of the charges against the Government of Sri Lanka  was that they were keeping journalists away from the camps, but never mind) and talked to a number of people. Then he flew  home and wrote his article. He had written about Sri Lanka before so his publishers may think of him as an expert on the subject. He had also written about Chile, the Tuaregs, the Kurds, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland, Nepal, India, Iran, Spain, Indonesia, Afghanistan. Jacques of all trades?

Although the western editor accused me of personal point-scoring, I have no objection to this particular writer trying to make a crust writing about Sri Lanka and many other topics. What I have more concern about is the infantilising nature of delusion in the media, both in fiction and “reportage”.


I am often disappointed when I spend my hard-earned money after reading a delusional book review. Here is my own review of a book about which The Guardian misled me. Martin Lewin said:  “Peter Grimsdale can tell a convincing story with writing that is cliché-free and utterly enthralling”. I like thrillers (although I often afterwards have to clean my brain of bad writing by reading the cold heartless prose of the likes of John Banville or Samuel Beckett). The idea of a thriller based in Sri Lanka was (mildly) thrilling. When I was pottering about in Barefoot, the estimable  Laurence handed me the book and recommended it.

The author, Peter Grimsdale, worked for the BBC as a documentary producer and visited Sri Lanka in 1984.  His first novel Perfect Night, published in 2008, was based on that experience. He later worked for Channel 4, with whose works Sri Lankans will be familiar, “where I was head of History, Religion and Features and indulged my passion for cars in several programme commissions”. He admits responsibility for being “in charge of Big Brother 3, the one that gave the world Jade Goody”. I don’t know whether that came under history or religion.

Concatenation of Cliché

Before moving on to the wider implications of this kind of work let us examine Matthew Lewin’s claim that Grimsdale’s  writing is  “cliché-free”. The brilliantly strange Irish writer  Flann O’Brien produced a “Catechism of Cliché”.  “A unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing. Compiled without regard to expense or the feelings of the public. A harrowing survey of sub-literature and all that is pseudo, mal-dicted and calloused in the underworld of print.”

Orwell wrote that a writer could shirk responsibility by throwing the  “mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you – even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent – and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. “

After a while I got somewhat bored with noting the clichés in Perfect Night but here are a few from the beginning of the book. Here is a dollop of stale language from page one itself. “It was like the tide coming in…I was engulfed”. “I was more of a risk-taker then.” “The opportunity I had been desperate for.” “Laid up with a stomach bug.” “Thick cloud pressed down on Colombo.” “I felt my mouth go dry.”

Excruciating Prose

It is possible to be a successful author without being a very good writer. WB Yeats was very bad speller. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe both relied heavily on the editing skills of Maxwell Perkins. Raymond Carver would have been a very different writer if Gordon Lish had not lived.

As is customary with contemporary authors, Grimsdale thanks a large number of people for their help. Judging from some of his writing without the help of friends Grimsdale is not a natural. On his website he committed solecisms like: “more than my fare share of happiness” “whatever I did next would be total emersion”.

Some of the purple prose is worthy of Barbara Cartland. “I had barely touched a man before. I had so many tears stored up and once they’d started, that was it…everything was different”. “I didn’t care about Greer and Malik anymore. All that mattered was in my arms.” “I tightened my grip on Anita and whispered,  ‘I love you’. It was something I should have said a long time ago. “

I am surprised that Grimsdale did not win a prize in The Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards. The rationale of the Award is “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”. Grimsdale writes: ”The feel of her body under the thin fabric was thrilling. Her breast brushed my side. I held her close and she covered my hand with hers. The first cool breeze in days lifted her hair and it wafted against my cheek. I stopped and she turned. Her face glowed. I pressed her towards me. “I ‘need to kiss you.’ She touched my mouth with her fingertips. ‘Not here’.

There is a good deal more of this sort of thing  when they get indoors. “She took my hands and pressed them against her breasts…The smell of her was all around me.”

Pass the sick bucket. Do those reviewers really think that is good writing? Are they just friends of the author?

Egregious Faux Sri Lanka

I understand that HRF Keating wrote most of his Inspector Ghote books, with the aid of a Bombay street map and telephone directories, without actually visiting India. I do not doubt that Grimsdale did visit Sri Lanka but it does not seem like the Sri Lanka I know. He might have benefited had he consulted a street map and a telephone directory.

I always sense that a writer is hovering between ignorance and condescension about the land of Johnny Foreigner when I read references to “tuk-tuks” and “the locals”. In his acknowledgements, Grimsdale  thanks Chantal Krishnadasan and Shirani Sabaratnam for vetting “all the Sri Lankan and Tamil material”. They must have fallen asleep on the job.

Some examples of faux Sri Lanka:

  • Greer and Nick are having dinner and wine at a hotel populated by cliché annoying European tourists (you know, not adventurous types like our characters).  A small girl appears at the table selling pens. I have never encountered this in a Colombo hotel catering to Europeans. “A throng of children crowding round, hands outstretched, unsmiling faces engaged in the serious business of extracting cash from new arrivals too polite to shoo them away”. What hotel management would allow this?
  • There are references to the “British Consulate” in Colombo. Was it not called the High Commission in 1995? It was when my father-in-law was working there alongside Anton Balasingham in the 60s.
  • A boatman charges 50 rupees to take our intrepid journos out to a cruiser “almost in open sea”. Nick was “in too much of a hurry to haggle”. Some foreigners are notoriously stingy in their transactions with “the locals” but in 1995, 50 rupees was worth less than half of a British pound.
  • Film is processed at “Witjerwarra Chemist. 310 Galle Road Colombo 7.” According to Arjuna’s Street Guide the postal address for Galle Road is Colombo 3. I have never heard the name “Witjerwarra” in Sri Lanka before and a Google search throws up nothing.
  • There is a reference to the “Northern Territory”. Isn’t that in Australia?
  • Dr Sivalingam smokes a “bindi”. In Indian restaurants bindi  is “lady’s finger” or okra. An odd choice of smoking material but I have seen people trying to get high smoking bananas!
  • Greer has what seems to be meant as  harrowing journey from the hill country to Colombo because her “driver was detained at a roadblock near Kandy”. Would that have been harrowing even in 1995?

There’s more of this kind of stuff but I don’t want to bore you. The general effect is the familiar one of dilettantes exploiting our country for local colour for their own fantasies.

Journalist Hero Irritated by Facts

The narrator Nick Roker first arrives in Sri Lanka to be met by the beautiful Tamil, Anita Jeyarajah. Her job is to educate him about the country but this irritates him. In this he could be the epitome of many western journalists. His excuse about just wanting to rest after his flight is not convincing. “Over the next two days she delivered a continuous monologue on the marvels of the island and her faith in the peace process as we criss-crossed Colombo by tuk-tuk. After the sixth meeting I called a halt. I grabbed her clipboard and drew a line through all the other appointmenrts. ‘No more old farts. I can’t make a film about peacemakers if I can’t see the war’ “.

Do you see how representative this is? Like many western journalists he is not interested in the positive aspects of Sri Lanka that enthuse a Sri Lankan. He wants the glamour of war,  not boring peace. Incidentally, Roker’s previous experience was making holiday programmes. This nicely underlines the link between the fantasy world of tourism and the delusions of “serious” journalism.

Charismatic Journalists

The reporter Roker is working with, Greer Harmon, is a cliché  – enigmatic, charismatic, (so we are told). A glamour-journo that one might expect to see in a  “major motion picture”. She is a writer but dresses like a warrior. Here is some more from the cliché cabinet: ”Her combats were caught at the waist with a wide belt, tightly fastened. A bleached shirt with epaulettes completed the dressed-for-action look. Her hair, a dusty golden blonde, cascaded over her shoulders. She took off her sunglasses. Her eyes were a shade of grey-green that I didn’t think eyes came in”.

Years later Roker asks Edgington, the producer, why he had sent Harmon to Sri Lanka. “She travelled a lot. I let her. She was good at finding stories. Greer said she wanted to do something about the peace process with the Tamils. I couldn’t see it myself.” Note that this is not peace talks with the Tamil Tigers but with “the Tamils”.

Identifying with your Hero

Thriller writers sometimes use their heroes to project a more exciting version of themselves. Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta books started off well but deteriorated badly as she projected onto Scarpetta and every thing in the entire universe seemed to relate to her. Kathy Reichs became even worse with the TV version of her books.

Nick’s  second visit to Sri Lanka comes a decade after the first one. In those  few days of the first visit he made a big impression on Anita and also, seemingly, on the course of Sri Lankan, and, indeed, world  history. The sinister Tanager(that would have been a good role for the late lamented Ian Richardson) tells Nick: “No government would want you loose on the streets”. Anita drools about him making a difference and “sighed. ‘Your energy. Your determination. That’s what I loved in you.’”

Does Grimsdale see himself in Nick Roker, who blushes when Greer says she imagines he could have his pick of pretty girls. Harmon is noted for not taking an interest in men but, inevitably, she hits the sack with Nick.


Perfect Night is not actually about Sri Lanka. I will not spoil the plot for you (actually I have read the book twice and can’t  explain the story). It seems to be about  international terrorism, Palestinians, Mossad, CIA, government cover-ups involving multiple murders. Tamil terrorism is not seriously addressed. It is just a sideshow. People are dropping like flies (pardon the cliché) all around Nick but neither the Tigers nor the GOSL seem to be to blame –  I can’t  tell you why they are dying.

Perfect Night is just fiction, just entertainment. I have no objection to a writer trying to make a few bob writing about Sri Lanka. I am concerned  about  the infantilising nature of delusion generally in the media, both in fiction and “reportage”. It gives me a queasy feeling when real and tragic events are served up as entertainment and little effort is made to get beyond simplistic stereotypes or to bother with accuracy.

What We Knew: Jimmy Savile and the Culture of Abuse

John Banville:  “We knew, and did not know. That is our shame today”


What We Knew

A former Yorkshire miner, ballroom manager, wrestler and disc jockey is posthumously rocking the British establishment with tremors being felt in the BBC, National Health Service (NHS), the press, police, Crown Prosecution Service,  academia, charities, toffs clubs and even the monarchy. From his humble origins Savile rose to become a knight of the realm, a papal knight, a member of the exclusive Athenaeum club,  a confidant of popes, princes and prime ministers.

He used this power base to rape and molest children. It appears he used the premises of the BBC and the NHS to carry out his nefarious deeds. The conspiracy theorists are coming out of the woodwork. Now many people are coming forward to claim he abused them. Many people are coming forward to claim that they always knew he was a wrong ‘un.


Teenagers in Gloucester

I was a teenager in the sixties in the sleepy cathedral city of Gloucester. We thought ourselves  pretty cool but had no connections with the world of celebrities. I had been to London once as a child  when my  Aunts took me to see Norman Wisdom in pantomime. Those Aunts were great fans of Ruby Murray and David Whitfield and took me to see both in Brighton, which was a raffish kind of place in the 1950s.[i] Even then,  as a pre-teen, I did not find Ruby Murray or David Whitfield cool. Something very different was about to happen. My parents took me to variety shows at the Cheltenham Opera House and the Gloucester ABC Regal. The Beatles played at the Regal but somehow I missed them.

I did see Dusty Springfield at the Regal when she was a member of a folk/pop trio called The Springfields. I am pretty sure I must have seen her also when she was a member of the Lana Sisters but that could be a false memory. Such things happen.  Listening to a Dusty four CD-set it is odd today to hear the Lana Sisters singing Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat (hugging and kissing with Fred).

Another blonde beauty I saw sing  live on stage was Kathy Kirby. She had a certain resemblance to Marilyn Monroe and had a tremendous number of hit records. Not cool though. Russ Conway was another uncool prolific hitmaker I saw live. He  played solo piano and smiled charmingly on the Billy Cotton Band Show on Saturday night BBC TV.

How did we teens know, as we gathered in the New Inn on Saturday nights looking for parties, how did we know, and I mean a known known, that Rock Hudson was gay (the term had not yet gained wide usage); that Dusty Springfield was a lesbian; that Ruby Murray was an alcoholic; that Kathy Kirby had had at least one abortion as a result of her long-term affair with bandleader Ambrose (42 years her senior); that Russ Conway was having a homosexual affair with Billy Cotton (Cotton’s son Sir William Frederick “Bill” Cotton CBE went on to become Managing Director BBC TV).

Another thing that we “knew” was that Jimmy Savile was a child molester.



Savile first came to public notice on Radio Luxemburg, the first of the pirate pop stations, founded in 1948. For my generation, 208 on the radio dial was where we kept up with pop music because the BBC did not cater for us. The main format for 208 pop music shows was  a sponsored slot in which the major record companies touted their own product. This was better than it might seem.  My favourite was the Decca show, knowledgeably hosted by Tony Hall (someone who met Tony in 2008 when he was 80 described  his ”good manners tinged with a mischievous wit”).

Jimmy Savile had joined  Luxembourg in 1958, but I first became aware of him when  hosted the Teen and Twenty Disc Club, which peddled the pop product of the Warner Brothers label. The show went out at around ten p.m. on  Wednesdays. Listeners were invited to “join” the club. For the life of me, I cannot remember what records he played and diligent research has not helped my memory. WB had started out as a means of the movie studio selling soundtrack albums and then moved on a little by producing comedy albums by Allan Sherman, Bob Newhart and Shelly Berman. Their big act was the Everly Brothers newly acquired at great expense for  a miserly company from Cadence.  Peter, Paul and Mary gave the label, and Bob Dylan’s career,  a big boost with their version of Blowin’ in the Wind. Their manager Albert Grossman also managed Dylan.

Savile as a radio presenter was better than Savile as a TV host because one could not see him. I recall however that, even in his 208 days,  he had already started developing his irritating verbal tics: “howzabout that then guys and gals?” “Am I right , or am I right?” “Now then, now then”.  Savile established himself then in my mind as a mass of mannerisms and no substance.


National treasure. What was he famous for?

It is difficult to comprehend how Savile  rose  from the TTDC to the status of  “national treasure”  and  Knight of the Realm.

BBC TV producer Colehan had the idea in 1963 of making a TV version of Teen and Twenty Disc Club. He produced the pilot which later became Top of the Pops, which ran until 2006. There are now allegations that Top of the Pops was the centre of a paedophile ring at the BBC.

Another of Savile’s long-running programmes was Jim’ll Fix It, the premise of which was that children wrote in to ask for a wish to be fulfilled and Savile and his team would make the wish come true. It is now clear that this was high concept paedophile programming.

Mark Williams-Thomas made a documentary for ITV (after working on one that was shelved by the BBC) which caused the current furore. He has made a second documentary in which he talks to more than 36 victims to uncover the full extent of Savile’s abuse, which started at Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s. “I believe he engineered his programmes within the BBC and Radio Luxembourg in order to gain access to children. The classic examples are Top of the Pops, Savile’s Travels, Jim’ll Fix It – all of them gave him access to young children. That’s why there were so many victims… this isn’t just someone who offended only against 13, 14 and 15-year-olds. It’s someone who offended against ten-year-olds.””

Savile is sometimes described as a disc jockey but he was not  a pioneer in that field like John Peel or Roger Eagle


Unlike even mass market  DJs like Tony Blackburn or Noel Edmunds, it would be difficult to detect any particular musical enthusiasms in Savile. See his banal choices on Desert Island Discs.[ii]

Savile became famous for being famous. His eccentric appearance and manner were unattractive to many but that did not prevent him becoming rich and influential. Novelist Howard Jacobson’s father was a Manchester cab driver who knew Savile through charity work with disabled children. The young Jacobson was horrified that his father could claim to like Savile.

“’But the man’s a creepy nincompoop’,” I used to say. “’He has the dead face of a thug, makes ridiculous noises, and aspires to the condition of a slow-to-develop infant. You’d have had me adopted had I behaved like that when I was three.’”

One of the reasons that Savile achieved such wealth and prominence and a knighthood was that he was perceived to do great work for charity. Now it seems he used that work as a cover for the abuse of children. The national treasure is now boldly described,  by the police as well as the tabloid press, as a “predatory sex fiend”.

Jacobson asks: “So, is philanthropy the last refuge of the scoundrel?”


The Accusations

After interviewing him for a BBC programme, psychiatrist Anthony Clare said that Jimmy Savile” appeared to be a man without feelings”.

In an interview with Louis  Theroux, Savile  said he never brought a girl home to the apartment he shared with his mother until her death in 1973, because it would have been disrespectful to her. Out of the apartment’s window he pointed out his  “love nest” , a camper van. He also had trailers, caravans, private apartments at various institutions where he did “charity” work.

On 19 October Scotland Yard launched a formal criminal investigation into historic allegations of child sex abuse by Savile, over four decades. Other reports state that allegations cover six decades. Police said they were pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry, based on evidence of 200 witnesses, via 14 police forces across the UK. They described the alleged abuse as being “on an unprecedented scale”, and the number of potential victims as “staggering”.

Met Police Commander Peter Spindler described the police inquiry as a “watershed” moment in the investigation of child abuse. He praised the media for exposing Savile “for what he was.” He said Savile was “undoubtedly” one of the most prolific sex offenders of recent history, and the weight of evidence from victims against the late DJ was overwhelming. “We have to believe what they are saying because they are all saying the same thing independently.”

It is alleged that he preyed on young patients at Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor hospitals. He also, as part of his “charity “ work was a porter at Leeds General Hospital. A former nurse said she saw Savile molest a brain-damaged patient there. Savile mainly seems to have targeted under-age girls but there were some boys also. Lawyer Alan Collins said that a client of his had been abused by Savile when he was a ten-year-old at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey.

Someone walked into Jimmy Savile’s dressing room at the BBC to find Savile engaged in penetrative sex with an under-age girl. Savile was annoyed but not ashamed. He told the intruder to get out. The intruder said he had gone to discuss business and  was shocked enough to report the incident. No-one did anything.

Some news reports on Savile allege that he made unaccompanied visits to mortuaries (such as the one at Stoke Mandeville) and that he spoke publicly to the media about his “fascination” with dead bodies. Paul Gambaccini, who started working as a DJ on Radio 1 in 1973 on Radio 5 Live claimed that a reporter was heard talking at a wedding ten years ago about Savile being a necrophiliac. In an interview with Q magazine Savile once said: ‘One of my jobs is to take away the deceased. You can look after somebody, be alone with somebody, who has lived a whole lifetime, and I’m just saying goodbye and looking after him. That is a privilege and an honour. Some people get hold of the fact that Jim likes looking after cadavers and say, ‘Aha, Jim’s a necrophiliac!’ I’m not a necrophiliac”.[iii]


In the bosom of the establishment

Despite his eccentricities – long dyed hair, tasteless jewellery, big cigars, shiny tracksuits, not to mention persistent rumours about paedophilia- the British establishment bizarrely clasped Savile to its bosom.

Chris Patten, chair of the BBC Trust, wrote in the Mail on Sunday: [iv]:  “He was received into the heart of the Establishment; feted from Chequers to the Vatican; friend to Royals and editors. How did we let it happen? And could someone like this con us all again?”

Savile was for years a regular guest of Margaret Thatcher at her official country house when she was prime minister.

Prince Charles regarded him as a friend. Savile was frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Highgrove (Prince Charles’ estate). Charles had visited Savile at Savile’s retreat in Glencoe, Scotland. There was even a Christmas card in which the Prince wrote “Jimmy, with affectionate greetings from Charles. Give my love to your ladies in Scotland”. The Daily Mail reported in 2011 that Savile had “been used as an intermediary in an attempt to resolve the differences” between Charles and Diana. Indeed the late Princess Diana described Savile as a “sort of mentor to Charles”.

He was elected to membership of the Athenaeum Club on Pall Mall (a far cry from the Teen and Twenty Disc Club). Other members  include cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, peers of the realm and senior bishops. For many years The Athenaeum Club was widely seen to represent the peak of London’s clubland for the public intellectual. Most members of the Athenaeum were men of inherited wealth and status but the  admission of men who had gained their social position through intellectual influence and achievement rather than by title or money gave the club an unusual diversity of membership. Members have included Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, GK Chesterton, Joseph Conrad , Winston Churchill, Alec Guinness, TS Eliot, WB Yeats and my former boss Sir Arthur Armitage. Savile was put up for membership by Cardinal Hume and was accepted over the protests of many other members. The cardinal had introduced Savile to Pope John Paul II when he visited Britain in 1982. Of Savile’s election to the Athenaeum, the cardinal’s spokesman noted: “He is a great admirer of what Jimmy has done for young people – and Stoke Mandeville – and is delighted to help in this matter.”

Savile once described himself as “the most Jewish Catholic you will ever meet”. He helped raise money for Jewish causes in Leeds and beyond, all (it would appear) as a smokescreen to keep on-side the community in whose midst he lived. Savile, who visited Israel on a number of occasions, met senior political figures there in the 1970s, and as recently as 2005 raised money for Laniado Hospital in Netyana.[v] It seems Savile did not visit the hospital. Savile received a medal from Israel in 1979. He visited Israel in 1975 to advise Israel’s President Ephraim Katzir on a matter of security. Reportedly, Savile told the Israeli cabinet that he “was very disappointed: the Israelis had won the Six Day War but they had given back all the land, including the only oil well in the region, and were now paying the Egyptians more for oil than if they had bought it from Saudi Arabia.” A memorial to Sir Jimmy Savile was recently removed from the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) building.[vi]  Savile’s Jewish connections have caused a great deal of anti-Semitic ranting in the murkier depths of the blogpond.


Undermining of institutions

Patten again: “Above all else, I think of the victims of abuse – women and men – marooned for decades with terrible memories of physical and mental torment which, even when they had the courage to report them, no one apparently believed. Not the police. Not the newspapers. Not the BBC… In recent years, some of our greatest institutions have been discredited one after another: Parliament; the police; the press. Now the BBC risks squandering public trust because one of its stars over three decades was apparently a sexual criminal; because he used his programme and popularity as a cover for  his wickedness; because he used BBC premises for some of his attacks; and because others – BBC employees and hangers-on – may also have been involved.”

Although there have been rumours for decades about Savile’s proclivities and actions, the stories really  emerged  into the daylight after an ITV documentary showed interviews with many victims making allegations about him. There have been accusations of a cover-up by the BBC. Victims are likely to sue and the BBC might be “vicariously liable” for Savile’s actions on their premises.

Operation Yewtree, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation, headed by Peter Spindler,  into sex abuse by Savile, is looking at 400 lines of inquiry and around 300 alleged victims. Mr Spindler said: “I have no doubt that we are in watershed moment for child abuse investigation and this will be a landmark investigation. I want to praise the courage of the 300 or so who have come forward.” The celebrities named by victims – some huge household names – are set to be quizzed over serious sex assault allegations. Revealing an “arrest strategy” had been drawn up by his 30-strong team of officers, he said: “There is Savile but there are also others and if those others are living we can now look at them. We are dealing with a major crime investigation here.” While the majority of calls fielded by police are about Savile, some relate to individuals who are believed to have been complicit in the TV star’s abuse, or carried out abuse themselves.

Mr Spindler declined to say where these people worked or if they had links to the NHS, BBC or other institutions with which Savile was involved.

Savile, like John Peel and Alan “Fluff” Freeman (another dead former Radio One DJ about whom there are plenty of child abuse allegations floating around the web),  were all recognised by the British honours system (with Savile himself also being close to various members of the British royal family). An irreverent  blogger commented:  “This starts to create the impression that unless you are a kiddie fiddler you’ll never be offered an honour by Queen Elizabeth II. The class system still stinks something rotten and it is high time we not only stripped all royals of their titles and wealth, but did the same to every last member of the superannuated  establishment!”



Academia nuts- Dr Savile and Professor Ebdon

There are ridiculous pictures of Savile dressed up in an academic gown. Professor Les Ebdon was appointed as the head of the universities’ admissions Office for Fair Access. Savile was made an honorary doctor of arts by the University of Bedfordshire, of which Ebdon was vice-chancellor. Before the ceremony, Savile  was interviewed by the university for a television broadcast. The interviewer asked him if he was “carrying on leading an interesting life”. He replied: “Yes, well, I’ve not been found out yet.” The honour raised eyebrows, with some commentators who said Savile  was hardly an example of academic excellence. Savile’s honorary degree has been rescinded.


Liz MacKean, a Newsnight reporter who had been working on a Savile investigation, which was shelved by the BBC, said: “The story we were investigating was very clear cut. It was about Jimmy Savile being a paedophile, and using his status as a charity fundraiser and television presenter to get access to places where there were vulnerable teenage girls he could abuse.”


Newsnight editor Peter Rippon  shelved the  Savile programme with the words: “Having pondered this overnight I think the key is whether we can establish the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] did drop the case for the reasons the women say. That makes it a better story – our sources so far are just the women and a second–hand briefing.” The phrase “just the women” incensed many.  Alison Pearson wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “So, BBC icon imports girls from approved school and secure mental hospital to pimp them in orgies in his BBC dressing room. And a senior BBC news executive allegedly thinks the offences could have been worse?”

Rippon stopped his journalists’ investigation into paedophilia allegations just two days after the BBC published its Christmas schedule, which included tribute programmes to Savile. Liz MacKean has taken “voluntary redundancy” from Newsnight.

The  BBC is investigating nine allegations of “sexual harassment, assault or inappropriate conduct” among current staff and contributors.

Spindler said a retired officer who previously worked in the Yard’s juvenile bureau had come forward to say he looked into an allegation of indecent assault which he thought had taken place in Savile’s caravan. The alleged sex attack was reported to Hammersmith and Fulham police station, the nearest station to TV Centre, but there was “no evidence that would substantiate a prosecution. Cmdr Spindler said he could not give further details of the 1980s investigation because so far officers had been unable to locate the file on the case. He said he did not know whether Savile was interviewed over the allegation.

There have been reports of a paedophile ring at the BBC centring on Top of the Pops. Jim’ll Fix It would have been an ideal opportunity to gain access to children.

Lord Patten, a practising  Catholic, wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “The filth piles up.”  Patten  has insisted the corporation’s two independent inquiries will hold nothing back in establishing the truth, “however terrible”. He suggested it was unlikely that no one knew about Savile’s abuse. “Can it really be the case that no one knew what he was doing?”

“Today, like many who work for the BBC, I feel a sense of particular remorse that abused women spoke to Newsnight, presumably at great personal pain, yet did not have their stories told as they expected. On behalf of the BBC, I apologise unreservedly.”

“How could the BBC, for example, ever cover sexual crime in other organisations unless we deal thoroughly with what happened in our own?”

Some have seen hope in the fact that the BBC aired a BBC Panorama programme that was highly critical of the role BBC itself in the Savile saga. Patten: “The BBC must retain its capacity to conduct investigative journalism without fear or favour. That should include looking at itself, as Panorama did last week at Newsnight.”

Tom Sutcliffe wrote about the Panorama programme in The Independent. “The Human Centipede in media form” was how the comedian David Schneider described it on Twitter – a recursive nightmare in which the BBC found itself investigating its own failure to investigate. Jeremy Paxman  acknowledged  that it had been a bad day for the BBC and added “it can at least take some comfort from the fact that the BBC did most of the damage”.

Sutcliffe: “It was the sight of the BBC’s new Director-General being questioned by one of his own reporters that drove home the true paradox of this unprecedented hour and a bit of broadcasting history. It was this: only by further damaging its own reputation could the BBC even begin the process of mending it. Last night’s film was grim and depressing – but it was also very difficult to think of any other organisation, media or otherwise, that would have exposed itself to such a painful self-laceration. It’s not over by a long stretch but Panorama may have started to restore some trust.”

BBC director general George Entwistle resigned on Saturday, just two months into the job,

“Kiddie-fiddlers” are not new at the BBC. Respected figures from the cosy days of the 1950s –Gilbert Harding, Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac), Lionel Gamlin – were seriously disturbed people with a penchant for young boys.

Andrew O’Hagan wrote in the London Review of Books[vii]: “The BBC isn’t the Catholic Church, but it has its own ideals and traditions, which cause people to pause before naming the unwise acts that have been performed on its premises. Perhaps more than any church, the BBC continues to be a powerhouse of virtue, of intelligence and tolerance, but it is now suffering a kind of ecclesiastical terror at its own fallibility. One has to look further into the institution to see another, more obscure tradition, the one that leads to Savile and his liberty-taking. There was always an element of it waiting to be picked up. Many people I spoke to wished to make that clear, but – feeling the Chorus watching from above – they asked for anonymity.”


Did the  NHS ignore Savile’s behaviour  because he raised so much money for hospitals?

Savile was given bedrooms or an office at three hospitals. He was given his own gold-plated keys to high-security Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane. Broadmoor now houses only adult male patients – but in the 80s accompanied children were allowed to visit relatives. The Department of Health is to investigate how he  was allowed to work as a volunteer following allegations that he abused and raped patients at Broadmoor in the 1970s and 1980s. A spokesperson said there would be an investigation into how Savile  was appointed to lead a “taskforce” overseeing a restructuring of the hospital’s management.

Alison Pink said Savile put his hand up her nightdress when she was 17 when he walked  in on a group of girls watching TV in 1969: “I felt absolutely disgusting afterwards, like I had been used as a piece of meat for his sexual gratification.. He made very good friends with patients on the male ward, which was full of sex offenders.”

A former patient at Broadmoor has claimed that Savile assaulted her at the hospital, touching her intimately under the cover of giving her a hug. She told ITV that when she complained about the star’s behaviour she was put into solitary confinement.

Psychiatric nurse Naomi Stanley told the Guardian that a patient told her she had been frequently abused while she was in hospital in the 1980s. She said the young woman said Savile had raped her repeatedly near the stage of the theatre at the hospital. When she threatened to report he  claimed ‘nobody would believe her and he could do what he liked’.

Richard Harrison, a former psychiatric nurse who worked at Broadmoor for 30 years told Channel 4 that talk about Savile being a paedophile was widespread at the hospital: “I’d long considered him, as my colleagues did, as a man with a severe personality disorder and a liking for children .”

Savile, who raised £40m for Stoke Mandeville, had boasted that he “lived” in a bedroom hospital managers had given him and could do as he pleased. Stoke Mandeville hospital was at the centre of a child sex abuse scandal in the late 1980s. Dr Michael Salmon, a consultant paediatrician was struck off  and  jailed for three years in 1990 after admitting indecent assaults on two 13-year-old girls and a 16-year-old girl. Three years earlier he had been praised by Princess Diana  for helping to organise a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida for 300 disabled children.

Nurses at Stoke Mandeville hospital dreaded Savile’s visits and would tell children to stay in bed and pretend to be asleep when he came round. Former patient Rebecca Owen told BBC News she overheard nurses talking in a way that suggested he also targeted them. “It was an air of resignation that you had to put up with,” she said. “There was some sort of ironic chatter between the nurses about who would be the lucky one to go off to his room.” A spokesman for Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Stoke Mandeville, said: “We are shocked to hear of the serious allegations about Jimmy Savile.

Christine McFarlane, former director of nursing and patient care at Stoke Mandeville said Savile “basically … had the freedom to walk wherever he wanted” and maintained a powerful position thanks to “subtle bullying” of hospital managers. There was a fear of him taking something away. He argued that it was his and not theirs.”

June Thornton, a patient at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) in 1972, told ITV News “In 1972 I was taken into the LGI for an operation on my spine. After the operation I was laid flat on my back and I saw, at the bottom of the ward, to the side of the ward, Jimmy Savile come to a young lady sat in a chair. Unfortunately, this lady had I think brain damage because she just sat there and he kissed her and I thought he was a visitor coming to see her. He started rubbing his hands down her arms and then, I don’t know of a nice way to put it, but he molested her, he helped himself. She just sat there and couldn’t do anything about it. When eventually a nurse came to see me, I said to her ‘that’s Jimmy Savile over there’, she said ‘yes’. I said ‘if he comes anywhere near me I’m going to scream the place down’.”

Terry Pratt, who was a -hospital porter at LGI, has told the BBC[viii] that Jimmy Savile was regularly handed a key to nurses’ accommodation there. in the late 1980s. Savile would arrive in the early hours, with teenage girls who seemed “star-struck” and were “not streetwise”, take the girls to the nurses’ home and leave before dawn. Savile had a home in the Roundhay suburb of Leeds less than three miles from the hospital.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood said it had been “inundated” with calls about Savile. Chief executive Pete Saunders said: “Two this morning told us that not only did Jimmy Savile abuse them at Stoke Mandeville but a doctor did as well.”

Information on three doctors who worked at hospitals where Jimmy Savile had links has been passed to police amid claims they were involved in a network of child abusers with him.[ix] The Guardian said the trio were alleged to have abused young people in their care and were identified by victims who came forward recently. Police are examining individuals, some of whom were associated with Savile, who might have had access to vulnerable children.

Downing Street and the Conservative Party

Was there a paedophile ring within Number 10 Downing Street?

Labour MP Tom Watson, the scourge of Murdoch, recently asked a parliamentary question,[x] which suggested that there was “clear intelligence” linking a former Number 10 aide with a notorious group of sex offenders. “The evidence used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former prime minister who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10.”

In the aftermath of Mr Watson’s remarks, media outlets speculated that he was referring to the late former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath – who was the subject of unsubstantiated rumours about sex with under-age boys – or to Sir Peter Morrison, a former Downing Street aide who died in 1995. The Daily Mirror, referred to “Savile’s pal Edward Heath, who appeared on his BBC1 show Jim’ll Fix It”.[xi] ] Newsnight,  in association with the Bureau of Journaliostic  Investigation,  eventually revealed one of the Conservative names that had been cropping up in rumours but argued the case for his innocence.[xv]

This caused further grief for the BBC because Newsnight had named Lord McAlpine only for his accuser to say he had been mistaken. Media commentator Steve Hewlett said: “For the BBC this is just a disaster. You have a programme like Newsnight which in the last few weeks has been flayed alive for not broadcasting something that probably was true (about Jimmy Savile) and has now responded – or that’s how it appears – by broadcasting something that flagrantly wasn’t true. How on earth did it get on air? If there are questions about the BBC these just multiply them. What does this say about the BBC’s journalistic standards? It looks like it was done on the rebound.”[xvi]

Nick Davies[xvii] reported in the Guardian in 1998 that “Fleet Street routinely nurtures a crop of untold stories about powerful abusers who have evaded justice. One such is Peter Morrison, formerly the MP for Chester and the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. Ten years ago, Chris House, the veteran crime reporter for the Sunday Mirror, twice received tip-offs from police officers who said that Morrison had been caught cottaging in public toilets with under aged boys and had been released with a caution. A less powerful man, the officers complained, would have been charged with gross indecency or an offence against children. At the time, Chris House confronted Morrison, who used libel laws to block publication of the story. Now, Morrison is dead and cannot sue. Police … confirmed that he had been picked up twice and never brought to trial. They added that there appeared to be no trace of either incident in any of the official records”

Edwina Currie, former health minister and mistress of John Major,  quoted from her diary in her published autobiography: “One appointment in the recent reshuffle has attracted a lot of gossip and could be very dangerous: Peter Morrison has become the PM’s PPS. Now, he’s what they call ‘a noted pederast’, with a liking for young boys; he admitted as much… when he became deputy chairman of the party but added, ‘However, I’m very discreet’ — and he must be! She [Thatcher] either knows and is taking a chance, or doesn’t; either way, it’s a really dumb move. It scares me, as all the press know, and as we get closer to the election someone is going to make trouble very close to her indeed.” Currie says today: “Was he doing anything illegal? Almost certainly. Would it be illegal today? Hard to tell now the age of consent is down to 16.”

A blogger writes: “My family live in Northern Ireland and in the 1970’s they had heard rumours about a certain leader’s activities with boys. They had also heard about an actor, now dead, and recently linked to the Haute Garenne stories. If these stories reached the west of Northern Ireland in the 1970’s then surely a lot more was talked about in England. So, how high up in the police, judicial system and parliament were the people who quashed any attempt at justice? Did they get paid for their help, or just a share in the paedophile pot?”[xviii]

In  1980, three members of staff at the Kincora Boys home in Northern Ireland were jailed for   offences relating to the systematic abuse of children in their care over a number of years. It was alleged by satirical magazine Private Eye that high-ranking members of the Whitehall civil service and senior officers of the UK military were involved in the sexual abuse of boys in Kincora. One person alleged to have visited Kincora is British prime minister Edward Heath. Another is Jimmy Savile. Another is Lord Mountbatten. Heath is also alleged to have visited Haute la Garenne[xix]. Jimmy Savile claimed he had never been there but there is photographic evidence placing him there.[xx]

Heath came under suspicion purely because he never married. Some thought him asexual, some thought he was a repressed homosexual, some a repressed heterosexual. Labour minister Barbara Castle said: ”We knew he was a repressed something, but were never quite sure what”.

A typical comment from the blogpond, on the Before It’s News website: “He [Savile] was said by Gordon Logan, ex-MI6 spy, to be procuring children for Edward Heath to abuse”. [xxi] Here is another: “The ex-British Prime Minister, Edward Heath was a paedophile. I can write this with no fear of libel action; you cannot libel the dead. It has been reported that Heath (British Prime Minister 1970-74) was known to rent boys in London, would hang around public toilets and had been warned by the Special Branch and Metropolitan Police that his actions would risk his political standing… They were both associated with Haut de la Garenne[xxii] on Jersey, the boys’ home at the centre of a horrific paedophile scandal. Savile reportedly provided boys to Heath, who would take them for a sail on his yacht, where, it’s been alleged, sexual acts on the boys would take place by Heath.”[xxiii]

Peter Hannaford, one of Jersey’s leading trade union officials, who was sent to the home as an orphaned child, waived his right to anonymity to tell the Jersey Evening Post how his earliest memories were of abuse.”Boys and girls were raped when I was there,” he said. “The abuse was anything from rape and torture. It happened every night. And it happened to everyone.”[xxiv]

 The Independent understands that Mr Watson’s comments were not aimed at either Sir Edward or Sir Peter, but at a living person associated with Margaret Thatcher’s administration.[xxv] They are thought to involve the activities of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a pro-paedophile group in existence between 1974 and 1984, which believed there should be no age of consent. [xxvi]

Tom Watson refers to the abuse in North Wales children homes. Someone has come forward to say he was abused by Savile at Bryn Estin. The victim told The Sun newspaper: “Howarth pulled down my pyjama bottoms in front of Savile. I was helpless as Jimmy watched. He thought it funny entertainment. This happened to a number of boys.” According to “Ben”, Savile would ask him: “What do you want me to do? Can I fix it for you.” The victim added: “He kept on looking at me and smiling and laughing. Then he started rubbing my leg. After that I went to bed but he had other children brought up to him.” [xxviii]

A note of caution would be wise here. Some newspaper reports are still referring to “whistleblower” Alison Taylor. Richard Webster effectively demolished her case in his lengthy and exhaustively researched and argued book The Secret of Bryn Estin: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt, which was praised by such luminaries as John Le Carre, David Lodge, Anthony Clare, Bernard Crick, Richard Hoggart and Anthony Storr. Unfortunately Webster is not available for comment as he died in June 2011.[xxix] A summary of his book can be found at

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to The Secret of Bryn Estin: “It requires only a little knowledge of human nature to recognise that wherever adults and young people are placed together in residential settings…sexual abuse will sometimes take place….some of those who are now in prison are there for no other reason than that they are guilty of the crimes alleged against them.. {Many} are concerned above all about the manner in which allegations have been obtained and about the soundness of some of the convictions they have led to.. Some defence lawyers have expressed the view that false allegations are now being made on a massive scale, and that the majority of the most serious allegations made against care workers are false”.

Webster argued that one disgruntled care worker, Alison Taylor, (who had a separate career as a writer of crime fiction) encouraged vulnerable people to seek the limelight and financial reward by fabricating allegations. She was assisted in this by the distortions and selective reporting of a freelance journalist called Dean Taylor, used by the Independent.



Prince Charles led tributes to Savile when he died a year ago. Savile  was frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Highgrove (Prince Charles’ estate). Charles sent a Christmas card saying: “Jimmy, with affectionate greetings from Charles. Give my love to your ladies in Scotland”. Princess Diana described Savile as a “sort of mentor to Charles”. He is said to have offered marriage guidance to the strife-beset couple.

Prince Charles himself was entertained by Savile at his Glencoe cottage retreat, Allt na Reigh,  in the Scottish highlands where Savile is alleged to have abused more than 20 victims.

DJ David Hamilton told how Savile made a beeline for the Countess of Wessex when she was a young PR at London’s Capital Radio. Prince Edward’s wife-to-be, Sophie Rhys-Jones greeted  Savile with a bottle of champagne as he joined Capital Gold in 1990. The wind blew her skirt up. Savile leered at her legs, pawed at her side and attempted to shower her with kisses. Hamilton reported: “Sophie stormed off and said: ‘I refuse to have anything to do with that revolting man.’”

Dickie Arbiter, who handled media relations for the Prince and Princess of Wales while spokesman for the Queen between 1988 and 2000, said that when Savile visited St James’s Palace he  used to rub his lips up the arms of Prince Charles’s young female assistants as a greeting. Arbiter said he thought the women might have thought Savile’s greeting was “rather funny”, but he said it was a cause for concern and he struggled to understand why Savile was granted such access to the royal family. “I looked on  him as a court jester and told him so,” said Arbiter. “I remember calling him an old reprobate and he said ‘not so much of the old’.”

Much of what is now being accepted as fact about Savile has long been scurrilous gossip on the internet. David Icke has long been regarded as number-one flake in England. He used to be a minor goalkeeper and sports presenter but achieved greater fame when he appeared to go completely bonkers. In March 1991 he held a press conference to announce that he was a “Son of the Godhead”.  On the Terry Wogan Show he announced that the world would soon be devastated by tidal waves and earthquakes. He said the show changed his life, turning him from a respected household name into someone who was laughed at whenever he appeared in public. At the heart of his theories lies the idea that a secret group of reptilian humanoids called the Babylonian Brotherhood controls humanity, and that many prominent figures are reptilian, including GW Bush, the Queen, Kris Kristofferson,  and Boxcar Willie. Just because he might be wrong about a lot did not prevent him from being right about Savile.

Many of the conspiracy theorists base their crazed allegations against the royal family on a book called War of the Windsors by Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince and Stephen Prior. One reader comments: “They make sweeping statements  …over and over again, and leap to extraordinary conclusions on little to no evidence. The factual errors are endless, and make the hypotheses even more unreliable.” There is a website for conspiracy fans.[xxx]

Dan Davies writes about the Duncroft home in his unpublished book about Savile:

“Many of the 25 or so girls in its care at any one time came from comfortable backgrounds and included the daughters of ambassadors and BBC producers. As a Home Office-approved school, funding came from Social Services. Regular guests at their parties included the actor James Robertson Justice, who was one of Britain’s leading film stars in the 1940s and 1950s and reportedly a close friend of the Duke of Edinburgh. Princesses Marina and Alexandra are said to have attended. Among the former Duncroft girls to have come forward, one has said she was put in the isolation unit for ‘two or three days’ after loudly protesting when Savile groped her in a caravan on the school grounds. ‘For years we tried to report him,’ another confided to me. ‘We even had a mass breakout to Staines police station.’

There have been calls for the UK Government to strip Savile of the British knighthood he was awarded in 1990. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, hinted earlier this month that the honour could be removed. However, the Cabinet Office said that honours ceased to exist when a person died, although there is a campaign to change the law so that they can be revoked after death.


Catholic Church

Savile was made a Knight ­Commander of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II for his charity work in 1990. It is one of the ­highest awards the Pope can bestow.

Following Savile’s death the Scottish Catholic [xxxi]newspaper carried a glowing tribute: “The popular Catholic DJ, entertainer and philanthropist passed away at his home in Leeds just two days before his 85th birthday. His funeral was at St Anne’s Catholic Cathedral in Leeds on Wednesday.”

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, (who has recently been named “bigot of the year” for his views on homosexuality[xxxii]) Britain’s most senior Catholic clergyman, spoke of his friendship with Savile: “My friendship with Jimmy Savile developed over many years since I was assistant priest in St Patrick’s Parish, Kilsyth, along with the parish priest, the then Fr Denis O’Connell. We were always trying to fundraise, not only for the parish, but for a variety of local and national charities and Father Denis had got to know Jimmy quite simply because of Jimmy’s mother, ‘The Duchess.’  It was Jimmy’s fond mother who attributed the healing of Jimmy when an infant to her prayers to the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, a young Scottish nun.”

Savile was put up for membership of the Athenaeum by Cardinal Hume and was accepted over the protests of many other members. The cardinal had introduced Savile to Pope John Paul II when he visited Britain in 1982.

Savile could become the first person to be stripped of a Papal knighthood posthumously. Other recipients have included Rupert Murdoch. Church sources said there was no established process to remove a Papal honour posthumously because the award dies with the recipient. However, senior Roman Catholic clergy in Britain feel that the Vatican should look at whether it can do something to recognise its disgust at the “deeply shocking” series of allegations.

Civil Service

How was Savile appointed to head a taskforce looking into the management structure of Broadmoor? A spokesperson for the Department of Health  said: “We will investigate the Department of Health’s conduct in apparently appointing Savile to this role. “Apparently”? “Although the framework for child protection and safeguarding for Broadmoor and other special hospital patients changed radically in 1999, we of course want to establish the circumstances and see if any lessons can be learned. “In hindsight, he should very obviously not have been appointed. Had anyone involved in the appointment been aware of allegations of abuse against Savile, we would not have expected him to have been appointed.”

A senior civil servant whom I encountered at a few meetings in the early 1980s. He  ran the mental health division of the Department of Health and Social Security in 1987, when plans were drawn up to appoint Savile to run a taskforce overseeing the hospital. He left the civil service under circumstances which I have been unable to fathom and became Special Adviser to the mental health charity MENCAP and a contributor to Community Care and other publications.

Department of Health  sources said they understood this official  was “instrumental” in the creation of the taskforce. In a book about psychiatric care, Alan Franey, an NHS administrator who was appointed to the same taskforce describes being issued with the invitation in 1987 – during “an unusual meeting in the Athenaeum Club in London with some officials who shall remain nameless.” He neglected to mention that Savile was present, although he confirmed it when contacted by The Sunday Telegraph, but refused to say whether this man  was among the officials. Contacted by The Sunday Telegraph, he confirmed that he was very closely involved in discussions about the running of Broadmoor but could not recall his part in Savile’s appointment. He  said he had never been to the Athenaeum and only recalled meeting Savile once at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

The former senior civil servant, now 74, was prevented from working with children by Croydon Council in 2005, when he was stopped from running a children’s church group. Three years earlier Bromley Council ended his involvement with services for children with learning difficulties.  The interventions followed police investigations into his conduct during volunteer visits to children’s homes. The interventions followed police investigations into his conduct during volunteer visits to children’s homes.

The former official told the Sunday Telegraph: “Ministers made the decisions obviously because that is what they are there for. I am not saying I wasn’t involved but I simply don’t remember a single thing about this appointment.”  With regard to his own conduct, the former civil servant said he had done “absolutely nothing wrong”. [xxxiii]



Children in Need is the BBC’s corporate charity, providing grants to projects in the UK which focus on young people who are disadvantaged. Sir Roger Jones was chair of the charity from 1999 to 2002. He said he would have stepped down from his Children in Need role if Savile had been allowed to become involved with the charity. Sir Roger, who  was also  a BBC governor for Wales from 1997 to 2002, said he had refused to let Savile “anywhere near” the Children in Need appeal after being told of rumours by BBC colleagues in London. “I think we all recognised he was a pretty creepy sort of character”. Jones said paedophiles target the annual charity appeal “just like flies around the honey pot”.

John Oldfield, who was on the Yorkshire committee of the Royal Variety Club of Great Britain from 1981 to 1996, and its chairman in 1989, said he didn’t let him near the charity. [xxxiv] “Everyone knew, everybody I spoke to knew he was dodgy. It was widespread, it went back to when he was working at the Meccas, all over the UK, but also in Leeds,” said Oldfield, who owned an ad agency based in Leeds until he sold out in 1999 and is now membership director of industry trade body the IPA. “He had a reputation for entertaining young girls. He was the top DJ in Leeds. He was always chasing around with young girls, it goes back 30 to 40 years, and it just wasn’t right, even when you consider it was the days of flower power and free love. He looked dodgy, he sounded dodgy, he was dodgy. And why did he always turn up with that motorised van?”

Savile, who raised millions of pounds by running marathons and half-marathons, has now been removed from the Great North Run Hall of Fame.

Abuse campaigner Shy Keenan told The Sun newspaper that she told ChildLine founder and long-time BBC presenter Esther Rantzen about allegations against Savile some 18 years ago. Asked about the claims, Ms Rantzen replied: “I have no memory whatever of this lady. I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but I don’t remember the conversation at all. She said in The Sun that she told me about rumours. If she did, I would have said to her: ‘Can you take it any further; can you discover any evidence; can you pass it to the police’.”


The press are clearly enjoying the story but revelations are also undermining the newspaper culture. If I and my friends in Gloucester knew about Savile before the days of the internet, the press would have known also. Why didn’t the press do something?  It is said he blackmailed any paper about to unmask him with the threat of putting an end to his giving, but that should not deter any self-respecting journalist.

As Andrew O’Hagan writes:” For forty years people believed Savile was the hero of Stoke Mandeville Hospital and for forty years the red-top papers promoted his image as the nation’s zaniest and most lovable donor. He may have abused two hundred children during that time.”


Police and Crown Prosecution Service

Although Operation Yewtree will be an extensive investigation the police have been criticised for failing to prosecute Savile when he was alive. Victims of Savile made complaints to several  police forces including in London, Sussex and Jersey, but it was decided that no further action should be taken.

The Director of Public Prosecutions announced he was to review the original police file sent to the Crown Prosecution Service alleging child abuse by Savile. The DPP, Keir Starmer,  will investigate why the CPS took the decision not to prosecute over allegations in 2009. He has also asked to speak to the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, about whether the CPS should start referring Savile sex abuse cases to other relevant agencies, including social services, where the evidence is not deemed strong enough for a criminal prosecution. The CPS is investigating a decision in 2009 not to prosecute the star despite a file from Surrey police detailing four victims.  At the time the CPS advised the police that no further action should be taken because of lack of evidence and because the alleged victims’ unwillingness to support police inquiries made a conviction unlikely.

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry welcomed the DPP’s decision but said “any review should be independent of the CPS in order to command public confidence”.[xxxv]


National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

When I worked in child protection at the Department of Health,  the government gave large financial grants to enable the NSPCC to continue its work. The NSPCC also felt the need to maintain a public profile by raising funds itself from the public individually. They did this by attention-grabbing campaigns which indicated that just about everyone in Britain had been abused as a child. When one analysed the raw data one discovered that their definition of sexual abuse range from violent and continued penetrative rape to having seen a flasher or to two consenting teenagers being caught at it and being labelled sex offenders because they were underage.

The Savile case has brought out statements like one from Sue Berelowitz, Britain’s deputy children’s commissioner, who is quoted as saying: “There isn’t a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited.” I have dealt with sexual abuse hysteria and lynch mob mentality before in this paper. This conflation of different types of behaviour can result in wrongful persecution of innocent people. In this case it trivialises the gravity of Savile’s crimes.

The Kissing Sailor, the Groping DJs

There was an interesting debate on a blog about the “Kissing Sailor”.

At the end of the Second World War,  photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the iconic image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. The image has been extensively analysed and many have come to the conclusion that what had been regarded as a joyful moment was in fact a sexual assault. The nurse was a stranger to the sailor. He had performed a sexual act upon her without her prior consent. Her body language clearly indicates that she is resisting rather than participating. His body language speaks violence and power and coercion. The title of the article mentions a “Culture of Rape” although the writer and her supporters vehemently deny that they are suggesting the kiss equates to rape.

Did a culture of rape exist at the time the picture was shot? Does a culture of rape exist today? Was the culture of the 1960s and 1970s different from the culture of today? In many ways things were worse in the 70s. I found the “classic” movie The Italian Job unwatchable because of the attitudes to “birds” and the “pulling” of birds. However, today hard-core porn is easily available and the hardness of that core generally means objectification or violence towards women. The publishing phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey was aimed at the female market while trading on the (supposedly) erotic potential of female submission.

Continuum of exploitation

A number of individuals have been dragged into the Savile scandal and a number have come forward themselves to  relate their experience.

It seems that  Savile once said Gary Glitter had done nothing wrong. Glitter (Paul Gadd)  served two months in jail in Britain in 1999 for possession of child pornography. Gadd was deported from Cambodia and imprisoned for four years in Vietnam for having sex with underage girls (as young as ten). Comedian Freddy Starr has strenuously denied any guilt. At time of writing, the police have arrested him twice for lengthy questioning. His most serious alleged offence seems to be groping a 14-year-old girl a long time ago.

The BBC has also been embarrassed by revelations that eminent, saintly and dead DJ John Peel impregnated a 15-year-old girl. It has long been a matter of public record that Peel married his first wife when she was 15 and that  he boasted (in his unassuming, non-threatening kind of way) to have had under-age  girls throwing themselves at him. Julie Burchill wrote about this in January 1999[xxxvi] but it has taken the Savile revelations to topple the institution that was John Peel.

Dominatrix Miss Whiplash (former prostitute and brothel owner Lindi St Clair) , said Savile  had sex with her (when she was 15) and a 13-year-old friend when they were runaways. He paid GBP3 for the privilege.

Two women have told the Daily Mirror about sexual attacks involving Savile. One woman says Savile and a friend from the BBC got her drunk and took her to a hotel: “I remember seeing them stark naked and the BBC star’s friend was very aggressive in his tone. He was shouting quite loudly at one point. He then took hold of me and got on top. I felt so helpless. I was terrified. At one point the BBC star held my head as the other guy was on top of me.”The woman says she was then forced to perform a sex act on the presenter with the other man still in the room.“The room had two single beds and I woke up with the big man hugging me from behind” .[xxxvii]

Guilt by association and conflation of different orders of abusive behaviour has somewhat fogged the picture. In an attempt to convey a “culture of sexual abuse” at the BBC a number of people have come forward with their own experiences. Sandy Toskvig and Liz Kershaw have said they were groped on air. Some have had a brief moment of press interest by saying they were not abused. Toyah Wilcox has said she had not been groped because she was too tough but knew it was going on. Headlines suggested that David Walliams had been in danger but he was merely trying to amuse by saying that he had written to Jim’ll Fix it but had not got a reply.

Eve Graham, who  was  the young lead singer of The New Seekers, whose hits included I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, said: “When I was a naive 19-year-old virgin, I was alone with an agent in his office when he pinned me against a wall and tried to force my hand to touch him intimately”. “I said, ‘No’, walked away, and that was the end of it. If he hadn’t let me out of the room, I would, probably, have punched him, but I wouldn’t have made a case out of it.”

Anne Robinson has told of how she was groped by Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey.


Bill Wyman has joined up with the other Rolling Stones for reunion concerts. Wyman is still accepted  despite famously beginning a relationship with Mandy Smith when she was 13. Jerry Lee Lewis had to cancel a tour of the UK in the 1950s when it was discovered that his wife was 15. The “Killer” thought this was quite normal back in Ferriday, Louisiana and was shocked at the shock.

The word culture has been bandied about a lot in this affair. Wasn’t it Goering who said: “when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”?

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy uses this definition: “a system of values in terms of which participants in a form of life find meaning and purpose”.

Raymond Williams, laid the foundations for the field of cultural studies. In his conclusion to  Culture and Society, published in 1958, Williams wrote: “The word, culture, cannot automatically be pressed into service as any kind of social or personal directive.” In Keywords [xxxviii]Williams wrote: “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so because of its intricate historical development, in several European languages, but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incomplete systems of thought”. Williams examined Herder’s ideas on the topic: “It is then necessary, he argued, to speak of  ‘cultures’ in the plural: the specific and variable cultures of different nations and periods, but also the specific and variable cultures of social and economic groups within a nation. This sense, which has become common in C20 anthropology and sociology, and by extension in general use, remained comparatively isolated, however, in all European languages until at earliest mC19 and was not fully established until eC20”.

Frank Furedi, one of the professional contrarians at,  in an article titled The Culture of Abuse, quotes himself:

“Back in 1997, when I wrote my first book on the sociology of fear, I argued: ‘The theme of abuse has become one of the most distinct features of contemporary Western culture. The frequency with which the term is used and the growing number of experiences that are defined as abusive are symptomatic of the significance of this artifact of contemporary culture.. There is little resistance to the depiction of most forms of human relationships as potentially abusive.. Like the effects of toxic waste, the effects of human pollution are long-term, apparently. That is why many believe that the causes of our present-day distress can be located in the distant past. Memory is believed to have the power to discover the truth that evades us in the present, and so the official inquiry becomes the institutional setting through which the ritual of revelation is conducted.’”

Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV, now stands accused of contributing to a culture of trial by internet, because Phillip Schofield ambushed the prime minister on live TV with a list of names accused of child abuse on the web. ITV sought to limit the criticism by issuing its own statement. “It is extremely regrettable that names may have been very briefly visible as a result of a misjudged camera angle, although most viewers would not have been able to read the list. As Phillip has stressed, the programme was not accusing anyone of anything.”[xxxix]

Music writer Jon Savage describes a particular culture of the 1960s: “mixing homosexuality (illegal until summer 1967), blackmail, organised crime, the music industry and the most famous pop stars on the planet.” Savage interviewed Beatles publicist and Apple PR Derek Taylor in 1997:”he mentioned Beatles’ lawyer David Jacobs in passing: Brian [Epstein, Beatles manager] ‘had a vast and successful group of homosexual friends. Including Nat Weiss, David Jacobs… that was a very dodgy business, it ended so badly, and I don’t know why he hanged himself…he had no innocence at all left, David Jacobs.’” [xl] There have been suggestions that Jacobs was murdered.

Patten: “The BBC should reflect our society’s ethical values. How has this been shown by the relationship between our dismal celebrity culture and our values system? How can we have allowed so many people and institutions to be mired in fawning over one awful man – a  devious psychopath?”

Savile was not the only “awful man” at the BBC.

Jonathan King was a DJ who also presented other BBC TV programmes. He was tried in September 2001 and received a seven-year sentence for six offences against five boys aged 14–16 committed between 1983 and 1989. He continues to protest his innocence. In January 2012 he appeared as a witness at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, ethics and practice of the press and media in the United Kingdom.

Chris Denning was one of the original DJs on BBC Radio 1. Denning’s first conviction for gross indecency and indecent assault was in 1974, when he was convicted at the Old Bailey. In 1985 he was imprisoned for 18 months for gross indecency with a child, and in 1988 when he was jailed for three years for indecent assault on a 13-year-old boy and possession of indecent photographs. In March 1996 he was imprisoned for 10 weeks for publishing indecent photographs. Denning was part of a group of child sex offenders based around a disco for young people in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. He is currently serving a  five year sentence in Slovakia for producing child pornography.

Alan Freeman was a long-time presenter of Pick of the Pops on BBC radio and a familiar face on Top of the pops and other TV programmes. Freeman confessed to being bi-sexual but did not deal with rumours about under-age sex. It has been  alleged that East End gangster Ronnie Kray had access to many London care homes and would have boys delivered to parties at Freeman’s large flat over a music shop in East London. There they would meet with show biz types and DJs including Jimmy Savile, Gloucester-born record producer Joe Meek, playwright Joe Orton, actor Peter Arne  and Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Peter Arne, like Orton was bludgeoned to death. Meek killed himself after bludgeoning to death his landlady. Ronnie Kray remained in Broadmoor until his death on 17 March, 1995.


Channel 4 News said it had seen an email sent last December by Liz MacKean in which she wrote: “Having commissioned the story, Peter Rippon keeps saying he’s lukewarm about it and is trying to kill it by making impossible editorial demands.” She reportedly claimed: “When we rebut his points, he resorts to saying, well, it was 40 years ago … the girls were teenagers, not too young … they weren’t the worst kind of sexual offences etc.”

An inquiry will be conducted by former Court of Appeal judge Dame Janet Smith. She will examine the BBC’s culture and practices in the years that Savile worked there. She will also examine whether BBC child protection and whistle blowing policies are good enough.

Many commentators are echoing LP Hartley’s observation that  the past is a different country. The rock world of the 1970s was a bizarre, hedonistic country. The strutting rock gods of that era (and their hangers-on) may have claimed an element of consent in their sexual exploits, although their behaviour may have been morally reprehensible as it abused their power and status. Often their behaviour was illegal. They contributed to a more general distasteful culture because it seemed to give permission to many nonentities to emulate them.

Dozens of big name stars from the 1960s and 70s have contacted publicist Max Clifford “frightened to death” they will become implicated in the Savile scandal. He said the stars, some of whom are still big names today, were worried because at their peak they had lived a hedonistic lifestyle where young girls threw themselves at them but they “never asked for anybody’s birth certificate”. Mr Clifford said young pop stars at the time had gone from working in a factory one week to performing in front of thousands of people “and girls are screaming and throwing themselves at them then”.

It was a culture shock to me to go from university to a local social security office in Manchester. There were certainly inappropriate relationships between teachers and students at university but the brutal atmosphere of male chauvinist piggery in the local office was as  depressing as the fog of cigarette smoke. That it went on at a higher level is indicated by the eventual ousting of a senior civil servant I knew well for sexually harassing his subordinates.

It is a long time since I worked in an office,  but from what I read, the smoke is no longer a problem and I would think there is also less sexual harassment. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 obliged employers to take seriously the issue of female staff being bullied or sexually harassed in the office. The Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations of 2005 provided clear protection for any woman subjected to “unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating her dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her”. The TUC has said that law means “that if, for example, a colleague persists in making remarks about what nice legs a female employee has, or her boss promises her promotion if she goes away with him for the weekend, she should be able to claim that this is sexual harassment”.

I recall that in the 1970s it often seemed that promiscuity was compulsory whether one wanted to join in or not. That does not mean that paedophilia was condoned. I do recall a certain naiveté – the idea of anyone wanting to rape a baby was too bizarre. However hedonistic people might be that was beyond the pale. The mores of the 70s and 80s as regards paedophilia were no different to today. Actor Peter Adamson died a penniless recluse after achieving wealth and fame in the tele-drama Coronation Street on which he was a regular for 23 years. He was acquitted of inappropriately touching two young girls at a swimming pool. Despite the acquittal the accusation was enough to destroy his life.

Patten referred to “celebrity culture” In the 1970s and 1980s, Savile was tragically turned into a saint by a society that looked to celebrities for moral and social guidance.

Deborah Orr: “It’s also easier to bear the idea that Savile’s reign of terror was due to some unique historical confluence, that he slipped though the gap that appeared during a time of great cultural upheaval. This narrative is true enough. Savile exploited the chaos created by changing attitudes – to sex, class, youth, culture, entertainment, money, fame, even to public services and charity – that were themselves a response to an industrial age of rapid technological advancement,.. it’s easy to understand how a figure as unlikely as Savile could have been mistaken, by those girls, for a handsome prince. He wore the invisible yet dazzling cloak of celebrity and promised them the tawdry glamour of television exposure. Savile knew better than anyone that TV is better at concealing than exposing, particularly in the light entertainment department..”[xli]

Andrew O’Hagan traces a distasteful culture at the BBC back to the thirties and sees it still prevalent. Prevalent in the BBC and the wider world. “Why is British light entertainment so often based on the sexualisation of people too young to cope? And why is it that we have a press so keen to feed off it? Is it to cover the fact, via some kind of willed outrage, that the culture itself is largely paedophile in its commercial and entertainment excitements? Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked by journalists cynically feeding the ravenous appetites of three million people who love that stuff, and that’s just the ones who actually bought the News of the World. When Leveson’s findings are duly buried, will we realise that it was the nation’s populist appetites that were on trial all along?

We’re not allowed to say it. Because we love our tots. Or, should I say: WE LOVE OUR TOTS? We know we do because the Mirror tells us we do, but would you please get out of the way because you’re blocking my view of another 14-year-old crying her eyes out on The X-Factor as a bunch of adults shatter her dreams. Savile went to work in light entertainment and thrived there: of course he did, because those places were custom-built for men who wanted to dandle dreaming kids on their knees. If you grew up during ‘the golden era of British television’, the 1970s, when light entertainment was tapping deep into the national unconscious, particularly the more perverted parts, you got used to grown-up men like Rod Hull clowning around on stage with a girl like Lena Zavaroni. You got used to Hughie Green holding the little girl’s hand and asking her if she wanted an ice-cream. Far from wanting an ice-cream, the little girl was starving herself to death while helpfully glazing over for the camera and throwing out her hands and singing ‘Mama, He’s Making Eyes at Me’. She was 13”. died at the age of 35 after suffering from anorexia since she was 13.

Alison Philips wrote in the Daily Mirror: “Like woodchip wallpaper and leg warmers, these things weren’t nice, but it was how it was.. And let’s keep in clear focus the real issue: the terrible actions of a dangerous predatory paedophile – Jimmy Savile – and how he managed to evade ­detection, for far, far too long..”

David James, writing for Wales Online said: “We may be seeing the death of an innocent culture of trust in authority that allowed those who benefited from the cover of respectability – whether as an MP with an expense account or a TV celebrity with a private dressing room – to abuse it.”[xlii]


Howard Jacobson again: “The psychology of the grope is interesting, and self-evidently has more to do with the exercise of power than erotic appreciation. Feeling a woman’s reluctant body can be pleasurable only if reluctance is itself a spur and defying it a turn-on, which is a mystery to simple men like me who prefer desire to be reciprocal. Power corrupts, in sexual matters as in political, and one of the most important lessons to be learnt from Savile’s progress is that we should check power at every turn.”

The most disturbing thing about Savile is that he gained power and used it against children, sometimes children who were already vulnerable, disabled children , brain-damaged children, sick children in hospital. This is very different from a drunken sailor kissing a woman without permission or one adult DJ putting his hands inappropriately on another adult DJ. They should not have done it but it was different to what Savile did.

How Did He Get Away with It?

Criticising the BBC’s performance, David Cameron said: “These allegations do leave many institutions – perhaps particularly the BBC – with serious questions to answer – I think above all the question, ‘How did he get away with this for so long?” As one former victim described it: “Adults look, but then they turn their faces away”.

In Savile’s 1976 autobiography, Love is an Uphill Thing, he boasted about inappropriate behaviour with young girls. “I train my men well and, to date, we have not been found out. Which, after all, is the 11th commandment, is it not?”

I remember Ray Teret  (Ugli Ray)  as a DJ on Radio Caroline and then Piccadilly Radio in Manchester. Teret was Jimmy Savile’s former flatmate and chauffeur. He has been released on bail after being held on suspicion of rape

In his best-selling book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker outlines some of the strategies used by abusers.[xliii] Becker list some PINS – Pre-incident Indicators:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn’t really true.
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible.
  • Typecasting. An insult to get a person who would otherwise ignore one to talk to one. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.”
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help and expecting favours in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means you will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt you.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.[xliv]

According to the Sunday People, Savile said: “All I have to do is call my friends in the IRA. They’ll have someone waking up in hospital the next morning eating their breakfast through a f***ing straw. [xlv]

BBC TV producer Paul  Jackson said he believed the  BBC was  initially reluctant to use Savile on Top of the Pops because of his background in the Leeds and Manchester club and dance hall scene. As well as DJ-ing he was a club manager in the 1950s but, according to Mr Jackson “you didn’t cross him”. “Savile was thought to be dodgy, there was a feeling he was heavy, you didn’t cross him, he was a heavy dude,” Jackson said. He added that those who came through the clubbing circuit, flooded with cash and drugs, were tough: “They had bodyguards, they had sharp elbows, you had to protect yourself.”

There is a strong whiff of violence about Savile. A picture is emerging of Savile as a an opportunist who surrounded himself with dubious characters. One line of inquiry is following Savile’s links to the criminal underworld in Manchester, including the notorious Quality Street gang, who supposedly dominated the city in the 1960s.[xlvi]

Former West Yorkshire Police detective John Stainthorpe said Savile was a suspect in the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper more than 30 years ago.[xlvii] The brutal murders were committed in Savile’s home town of Leeds, some within sight of his apartment. Between 1975 and 1980, the vicious murderer attacked women, stabbed his victims with screwdrivers, stamped on them, left notes with their bodies taunting police for not catching him and killed a total of 13 women. ‘When the Ripper was really active one of the suspects put forward by members of the public was Jimmy Savile, strange as it may seem.”  Police  hunting the serial killer took a cast of Savile’s teeth from Harley Street dentist Dr Mace Joffe. [xlviii] Sutcliffe named Savile in police interviews and two of his victims were found near Savile’s flat. The TV star visited Sutcliffe in prison soon after his conviction.

Peter Sutcliffe was convicted of the murders and Savile befriended him in Broadmoor.

Savile tricked Frank Bruno into shaking hands with the Ripper. He didn’t tell Bruno who it was until afterwards

In an interview with Louis Theroux,[xlix]  Savile  talked about how he dealt with troublemakers when he was working in clubs: “I never threw anybody out. Tied them up and put them down in the bloody boiler house until I was ready for them. Two o’clock in the fucking morning… We’d tie em up and then we’d come back and I was the judge, jury and executioner.” Savile later told Theroux he was talking metaphorically and said he would never tie anyone up – only with words – but admitted “some of my people might have done”. He described drug dealers as “dirty slags”. “If those people wanted to sell drugs, so be it, but it must not happen in my place. All there is to it. No arguments. I invented zero tolerance.”

Liz Boothe was Savile’s girl friend in the early 60s. She told The Sun[l]: “He knew a lot of dodgy people. I remember hearing him telling someone to set fire to Bruce Woodcock’s house. He’d say, ‘What happens in this office stays in this office’, so I kept quiet.” Bruce Woodcock was boxing hero who won heavyweight titles from 1945 to 1950.

O’Hagan: “He was loved for being so rich and so generous and for loving his mother, the Duchess. And no one said, not out loud: ‘What’s wrong with that man? Why is he going on like that? What is he up to?’ He was an entertainer and that’s thought to be special. A more honest society brings its victims to the Colosseum and cheers. We agreed to find it OK when our most famous comedians were clearly not OK. When Benny Hill’s mother died, in 1976, he kept her house in Southampton as a shrine, just as Savile kept his mother’s clothes, and it might have been weird but it was also the kind of celebrity eccentricity we had come to expect.”

Savile  is said to have threatened that there would be some funding shortfall for Stoke Mandeville hospital should claims about his rape of children be made public. In recent days many people have said that even in retirement Jimmy Savile was just too powerful.

Douglas Murray writes on the Spectator blog:”If the sexual abuse of children – and the sexual abuse of children with disabilities at that – is something that can be an unspoken secret because of fear and group-think (and when the fear is of a crappy low-grade entertainer) what does it say about our inability to deal with major issues arising from people who have real power?” [li]

Alison Bellamy, who ghosted Savile’s autobiography,  heard the rumours about his fondness for young girls and says: “Like almost everyone who knew him, I never believed them. Or maybe I did not want to believe them.”[lii] During a series of interviews in 2006 with Savile she asked him about the rumours and admits accepting his dissembling replies. She writes: “He was dismissive, as if what I was saying was ridiculous. But he was always manipulative with the press and, even though he insisted he would always answer any question thrown at him, he would often change the subject or talk nonsense.”

Unknown Knowns

Alison Pearson wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “After Savile died, a year ago on Monday, a commemorative page was put up on the BBC website. As requested, viewers shared their memories of “Ow’s-About-That-Then” Jimmy – only, instead of a light-entertainment legend, they recalled a dark, devious pervert. The Savile tribute page was hastily removed. Shouldn’t that have been the first sign that celebrations needed to be put on hold?”

Writing in the New York Times about the child abuse scandal in the Irish Catholic church, novelist John Banville said: “It was an echo of that silence which, like the snow in Joyce’s story ‘The Dead’, was general all over Ireland, in those days. Never tell, never acknowledge, that was the unspoken watchword. Everyone knew, but no one said.

Amid all the reaction to these terrible revelations, I have heard no one address the question of what it means, in this context, to know. Human beings — human beings everywhere, not just in Ireland — have a remarkable ability to entertain simultaneously any number of contradictory propositions. Perfectly decent people can know a thing and at the same time not know it. Think of Turkey and the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, think of Germany and the Jews in the 1940s, think of Bosnia and Rwanda in our own time.”

[i] BBC DJ Alan Freeman lived in Brighton. He knew the Beatles lawyer David Jacobs (not to be confused with the more famous DJ of the same name). Jacobs died in Brighton in 1968 after a rumoured S&M orgy. Jacobs loved boys. So did playwright Joe Orton. He planned a move to Brighton but was murdered before he could. So does Julie Burchill, scourge of Saint John Peel.


[xxxviii] Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Raymond Williams, Fontana Communications Series, London 1976.

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