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Jimmy Savile prospered as BBC tolerated sexism


The establishment looks after its own. Jimmy Savile was a BBC celebrity knighted by the queen. He was a regular house guest of Margaret Thatcher. He was protected despite being a sexual predator of children.

Savile was a millionaire who abused girls in his Rolls Royce and his dressing room. His behaviour appears to have been an open secret. He carried on, safe in the knowledge that no one would dare challenge him.

A Newsnight exposé of his actions was blocked and instead the BBC broadcast a glowing tribute in 2011. Savile was so confident he even boasted about what he did in his 1978 autobiography, Love Is An Uphill Thing.

He recalls once avoiding arrest for spending a night with an underage girl who had run away from a remand home. He handed her over at a police station the next morning.

Officers were persuaded not to bring charges, “for it was well known that were I to go I would probably take half the station with me”.

This year when a group of Asian men were convicted of years of sex crimes in Rochdale the tabloids claimed investigations were blocked because of supposed “sensitivities” about race.

Muslim men were told to take collective responsibility, because there was something specific about Islam that led them to prey on young, white women.

Attitudes

In fact the cases were not looked into because the girls who made complaints were not taken seriously. The problem wasn’t race or religion, but society’s attitudes to young, vulnerable girls.

The tabloids are making the most of the Savile revelations and portraying themselves as the upstanding seekers of truth. But they are hypocrites. These are the same papers that daily treat women as sexual commodities.

Savile’s establishment friends in the media and police covered up a serial child abuser. Some want to blame the liberalising of attitudes to sex in the 1960s and 70s for what happened. Others write it off as part of “rock and roll culture”.

But the shattering of repressive attitudes towards sex in the 1960s meant people, especially women, had choices open to them for the first time.

The descriptions of what women were subjected to have nothing to do with choice. Regularly being groped while on air, as DJ Liz Kershaw describes in the 1980s, is not a product of sexually liberated times. Their experiences reflect the depth of sexism that was tolerated, and not just at the BBC.

This is sexual exploitation in any era. The fact that Kershaw’s story is even now ridiculed by some BBC presenters shows that sexism is still a problem today.

We need to reclaim the real legacy of the battles of the 1960s—which were a part of a long history of struggle for real women’s liberation.


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What We Think
Tue 9 Oct 2012, 17:25 BST
Issue No. 2324
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