Jimmy Savile was one of the UK’s most serious serial sexual predators. For several decades, the TV personality treated and abused up to 1,000 boys and girls in TV studios as well as patients in NHS hospitals across Britain. That he was able to do so without being apprehended, or even knighted in 1990, is the subject of a new Netflix documentary series from Rowan Deacon.
Deacon uses remarkable archival footage and interviews with survivors, journalists, and people who worked closely with him, to show how Savile hid decades of sexual abuse from the celebrity spotlight. Savile always hinted that he had a secret life, even insisting that he had no secrets. The continuous clips highlighting his “wink, wink” views on “young girls” and “sex adventures” confirm that the signs were there for all to see.
Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story presents its subject as a fame-hungry manipulator who, through his carefully cultivated relationships with Britain’s elites, was able to abuse and intimidate his victims, evade justice and deceive the nation. But despite its high production values and impressive use of archival material, it leaves key elements of the scandal underexamined.
In one segment, longtime Savile producer Roger Ordish says, “You’ve never really gone behind the mask.” And certainly, Savile was a skilled image worker and manipulator of fame and morality, of people and situations, of time and place.
New Netflix documentary doesn’t address role institutions play in covering up abuse, like Jimmy Savile’s
But, as our research shows, he was not the only one to build his image. Like the official inquiries into Savile’s death, the documentary fails to capture the pivotal role that key British institutions played in producing his mask as an “untouchable” celebrity icon.
How British institutions made Savile a celebrity icon
The BBC validation was crucial for Savile to become a famous personality. And the support of society has continued to support her charming career. As the BBC’s biggest star, he was featured on many of the BBC’s primetime radio and TV programs and provided a direct line to the inner circle of program makers.
For decades, Savile-centric programming has been central to the BBC’s marketing logic. He was a Saturday night TV fixture in tens of millions of UK homes. The BBC projected it into the most fundamental of social institutions: the family.
As his television presence grew, so did Savile’s charity work. His fame supported his philanthropic efforts, which in turn enhanced his national reputation. Over three decades he has raised over £40million for the NHS and other charities. These high-profile moral feats cemented her must-have celebrity status.
In an increasingly powerful interdependence, institutions and charities depended on Savile for his Midas touch fundraiser. In turn, they made him a famous philanthropist. Savile has been rewarded with board positions in NHS and other organisations, as well as unhindered access to restricted areas and behavioral latitude.
It was for this charity work, more than his celebrity achievements, that Savile was made an OBE in 1972. He was later knighted, by both the Queen and the Pope, in 1990.
At that time, the BBC, NHS, Department of Education and Science (as it was known in the early 1990s), state, church, monarchy, military and nation were all involved in its collective validation.
Savile was so deeply institutionalized – so sure of himself as a national treasure – that he interacted with everyone, from royalty to the general public, entirely on his own terms, and despite rumors, gossip and allegations about his sexual predilections which had persisted throughout his life. celebrity career.
Savile’s Enduring Legacy
By marginalizing the empowering role of institutions in Savile’s crimes, the Netflix documentary and official investigations ultimately preserve the reputations of these institutions and absolve key people of responsibility. To this day, few have been brought to justice for allowing, covering up, or failing to properly investigate what he did.
In a 2001 interview with Irish journalist Joe Jackson, Savile reportedly commented, “Anything said after I’m gone is irrelevant. If I leave, that’s it. Bollocks to my inheritance. The savvy media operator might be surprised to know that, 11 years after his death, his legacy continues to taunt British society.
Savile’s case has become the benchmark against which offenders and related offenses – alleged or proven – can be measured.
Official investigations have dissected his life and his crimes from every angle. There may be few other shocking revelations. Despite this, his Jekyll and Hyde persona continues to prove irresistible to directors and playwrights. To date there have been at least ten documentaries and a play about the rise and fall of Savile. Comedian and actor Steve Coogan is set to play Savile in an upcoming primetime drama on BBC One, titled The Reckoning.
And if the continuous media coverage has only amplified its notoriety, it also represents an act of testimony. It reminds us of Savile’s unique place in post-war British national life, the extent of his offense and the way he “fixed” it so that the truth disappeared from plain sight. It offers survivors an important outlet to recount the shattering impact of being silenced or ignored. It encourages others to come forward.
Powerful celebrities, from Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby to R Kelly and Ian Watkins, have long been able to rely on institutional and cultural protection as well as legal and public relations strategies, to manipulate the media, neutralize allegations, silence victims and abuses with impunity.
If we are to have a reasonable chance of preventing such cases in the future, we must pay attention to the role that interrelated institutions – from media conglomerates to religious institutions, universities and governments – play in covering them up.
Chris Greer is Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex and Eugene McLaughlin is Professor of Criminology at City University of London.
Republished from The Conversation
Posted in Dawn, ICON, May 22, 2022