Thursday, 28 March 2013

Double confession of dealings with Jimmy Savile

IT has become fashionable among journalists to recount their encounters with Jimmy Savile, the former DJ whose alleged sexual misbehaviour has dominated the media over recent months. I am not sure whether this represents some public display of guilt that he was allowed to get away with it with apparent impunity for so long. But whatever the motives here are my two pennyworth. It was after all my dad who put Jimmy Savile on the road to stardom. For many years this would be said with a degree of moderate pride. Not unreserved pride, as Savile was always seen as a bit of a creepy character. Over the decades there were those who thought his demeanour was obnoxious. For some, but not all, this odiousness was trumped by the herculean feats he performed for charity. Surely no-one who was evil would give so much time to supporting paraplegics in Stoke Mandeville or giving up free time to be a porter at Leeds hospitals? Now there is an explanation for his deeds that transcends creepy. But no one I ever met suspected that his motive may have been sexual predation. Certainly when my father was deputy programme controller of the infant TV station Tyne Tees Television at the very start of the 1960s, he could not have suspected. Peter Glover saw it as part of his mission to bring on other young directors. One was Malcolm Morris, who he put in charge of the project called Young at Heart aimed at the teenage market. He went on to direct the iconic This is Your Life for many years. His own autobiography This Was My Life recalls how my dad discovered Jimmy Savile. Yorkshireman, Savile was then plying his trade in the large dance halls of Glasgow. My dad brought him to Newcastle to launch his TV career. I met him at the studio and he had dyed his hair tartan and developed the outrageous cigar-smoking persona which came to dominate the English pop scene in its halcyon days. We were not left alone so I was under no threat, even though he demonstrated his larger than life character. I was, however, abused by Savile 20 years later. During my first freelance journalism career in the early 1980s I was getting plenty of shift-work on the Nationals, with the Daily Star giving me at least two evenings a week. It was a strange set up with the head office in those days in Manchester. The London office was in the back of a corridor in the Daily Express offices in Fleet Street. There was a four-man news desk who not only decided the agenda, they also told reporters exactly what they wanted out of a story, even before the facts were gathered. The introduction was provided in advance of the stories being researched. It was the reporter’s job to make the facts fit the imagined headline. It was coming up to Christmas 1983 when the assistant News Editor, Ken Bennett, had one of those ideas the popular nationals love. There was a severely disabled girl from the Home Counties who was housebound and a freelance had filed a story saying she had never had a Christmas card from outside the family, sad enough you might think. But Ken had spotted a another story claiming that Savile, by then one of the top Disc Jockeys and TV presenters in Britain, had never sent a Christmas Card. So one awful snowy night I was dispatched to a shop to buy a card and catch a bus to Shepherd’s Bush where the BBC was recording Jim’ll Fix It, a programme where Jimmy Savile made wishes come true for children. That seems an awful thought now. My task was to get him to sign the card and the Daily Star would send it to the poor girl in Surrey. Well easier said than done. I had to blag my way into the BBC and then wait for a break in recording, so I could button-hole Mr Savile. He kept me waiting in the corridor for about an hour and then, having finally let me in to his private dressing room, took the Mickey mercilessly at my choice of card. I thought he was going to refuse to sign it. I was tempted to remind him that it was my father that put him on the road to stardom, but in the end I decided that was unprofessional and persuaded him to sign the thing anyway, mainly by refusing to leave until he had. Then it was back to the Daily Star to report my triumph and file the story in time for deadline. Of course this whole episode took on a new perspective when Savile’s alleged predatory paedophilia was highlighted thirty years later. What had he been doing for the hour he kept me waiting outside his dressing room? Certainly it seems his aggressive mocking of me was typically symptomatic of his general bullying of journalists. Even worse, had I tempted him to get in touch with another poor potential victim by sending the Christmas card? I will never know the answers. Until the scandal which rocked the BBC in 2012, my experience of being abused by Savile was just a light-hearted human interest story. But it did give an interesting insight into the mind games he is said by many to play with journalists, police officers and others. These two episodes are selected extracts from my nearly-completed autobiography “Flirting with Fame”, as yet not available from any bookshops anywhere at all.

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