As the trickle of revelations about Jimmy Savile becomes a flood, I want to pause and think about what they tell us about the society we live in, above all about the disgraceful way in which we treat the weak and vulnerable. For me, nothing epitomises this uncomfortable truth more than the fact that a pervert in a tracksuit, with no qualifications in the treatment of psychological disorders, was put in charge of our most secure psychiatric hospital.
In any society there are a small number of individuals who are considered too disturbed and too dangerous not to be incarcerated. We house these people in Broadmoor secure hospital. Its inmates have included Peter Sutcliffe, AKA the Yorkshire Ripper (pictured, on the left) and Ronnie Kray. In 1988, after a damming report identified severe failings in the management of this institution, the Department of Health took it upon itself to appoint Jimmy Savile to oversee the hospital, and even gave him the power to appoint its general manager.
What could possibly have been the justification for this decision? Even assuming that they hadn’t heard the rumours about Savile sexually abusing vulnerable people, the man was a children’s television presenter. What did he know about running a hospital, or for that matter a prison? Absolutely nothing. There is only one possible explanation for this disgraceful appointment. The government of the time did not take the responsibility of dealing with the criminally insane seriously, and we can assume that they thought appointing a popular celebrity would be a good bit of free publicity. More disturbing than this assumption is the fact that there was no public outcry. The Department of Health was right. We as a society did not take our responsibility seriously. One hopes that has changed, although there is little indication that this is true.
This unthinking respect for celebrity and disregard for the vulnerable goes a long way towards explaining how this disgusting man was able to prey on young girls for so many years. We have heard many stories about how people had ‘heard the rumours’ about Savile, but were never able to prove them. I suggest to you that this narrative is simply not credible. These rumours were not confined to a select group of media insiders. I remember receiving a Popbitch round robin email around 2004-2005 which explicitly stated that Jimmy Savile abused young girls, along with Paul Gadd AKA Gary Glitter (sadly I did not keep this email). I was not a media insider. At the time I was a window fitter. If I heard rumours, then I think that people who worked with Savile would have known a great deal more, and yet nobody stopped him. They just accepted that because he was a television personality he was allowed to behave in this way. Who cared about his victims? What could they do? This applies to me as well. When I received that email I treated it as a bit of risqué light entertainment. It doesn’t seem funny now. Ask yourself; would you have felt any different? What does that make us? It’s an uncomfortable train of thought.