Monday, 22 October 2012
THE SOUND OF SILENCE AND THE ALLIES OF EVIL
Three things allowed Jimmy Savile to become one of the most notorious sex offenders of all time: apathy, a blind eye and a mute tongue. Within a culture of indifference, a refusal to acknowledge what they saw or to speak up about what they knew, the DJ, TV presenter and charity fundraiser's friends, colleagues and even family members colluded with a monster. Vile Savile, we now know, used and abused the weak, the vulnerable, the ignorant and the under-age. Many people knew what he was doing. Not only fellow BBC employees, but good, clean record company folk, no strangers to sex and drugs and rocknroll, mind - the likes of an old chum of mine, a former EMI executive,who confesses to me today, 'A lot of us know too much. We may not have known at the time it was all happening the full depth of his depravities, the alleged necrophilia and so on ... but we knew he was coercing girls and some boys under the age of consent into sexual activity. There was a mutual dislike between him and we industry personnel. He kept his distance from us.'
I bet he did.
Another music business pal responded to my email today to say, 'What investigations have uncovered thus far is but the tip of the iceberg. I know everything, and I truly wish that I didn't. It disgusts me, and it makes me lose sleep. It has done for years. I always think, what if it had been my own kids? But I'm keeping my distance from any Savile association, sorry.'
Isn't this precisely why and how he was able to get away with it for so long? And aren't such people, my friends though they are, as guilty as Savile himself? What about Esther Rantzen, once the most powerful woman at the BBC; also the wife of Desmond Wilcox, himself a mighty player within the same organisation. Didn't she admit on camera to collusion recently, simply by knowing what Savile was doing, but doing nothing? Was the founding of Childline Esther's atonement, then: an offering too late for the zipped lips she kept over all that past?
Simon & Garfunkel wrote 'the Sound of Silence' in February 1964, about the assassination of JFK. Forty eight years on, can it really be, its lyrics are now haunting me. In the context of Savile, how apt they seem:
'Hello darkness my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain ... still remains ..'
The song pounded in my head as I listened to BBC journalists Liz McKean and Meirion Jones talking about why their Newsnight Savile investigation about Jimmy Savile being a paedophile was dropped. The excuse given - that a Surrey police inquiry had produced a lack of evidence - wasn't even known about at the start of the investigation.
'People who knew the truth, and told the truth, were ignored'.
How many times has this kind of thing happened over the past fifty odd years at the BBC? And why don't people speak up about things going on around them which they know to be wrong? We all know the answer to that: they are afraid of muddying the waters, of ruining reputations, of tarring themselves with the same filthy brushes. Afraid, ultimately, of losing their own jobs.
As former Fleet Street journalist turned Paul McCartney's publicist for twenty four years, Geoff Baker, comments on Facebook today,
'If MPs, the police and the media want to discover the extent of celebrity molesting at the BBC (and at ITV), don't interview Director Generals. They will know bugger-all. Interview the BBC/ITV press officers, as they would have been the poor sods who had and have to keep What Goes On out of the papers. Fact.'
Geoff would know.
In the spirit of glasnost, I have a confession to make. As a young, virginal graduate doing part-time shifts at a rival station to Radio 1, I was assaulted by and narrowly escaped rape by a BBC DJ every inch, no pun, as famous as Jimmy Savile. This happened in the London apartment of a celebrity agent who represented the DJ. The packed, wild party was brimming with household names. Many of those names have resurfaced in the papers since the Savile scandal broke. Every one of them has denied all knowledge. I was saved, literally, by the hair on this brute's head. A sickening story, and one I have not told, for fear of upsetting my children. I must confess, stripping open my heart here, that I thought at the time (I was barely out of my teens) that it might damage my 'reputation'.
'Their words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed ... in the wells of silence ...'
The sound of my silence has deafened me for years. What this man did, and tried to do to me, is something he is likely to have done to others. Could I have prevented futher abuse on his part, by speaking up? Or would I have been dismissed as a flibbertygibbet, his word against mine? I am older, wiser and braver these days. I have three children, two of them daughters, two still under the age of consent. What I know with complete certainty is that if any such man attempted to harm my children in such a manner, I would be moved to kill. Well I could do it with my pen.
While we're on the subject of confessions: years ago, when I was a twenty-something trying to break into newspapers, I was taken by a family friend who happened to be a famous cartoonist to see a distinguished Fleet Street newspaper editor. You'd know his name. I was seeking a break. He agreed to let me write a few pieces, asked me to file some feature ideas, and said that he would be in touch. In response to the gushing list I posted to him, he telephoned to invite me to dinner. I thought nothing of this ... nor of the fact that he called again on the day in question, to say 'I've been working from home and running late; rather than meet in the restaurant at the Royal Garden, can you pick me up from my house and we'll go together?' I was still living at home, and borrowed my dad's car to drive to the given address. The editor answered the door in a towelling robe, and invited me in, saying he'd only take a few moments to get dressed. He showed me into the drawing room, and went to fetch two glasses of Champagne. Then he excused himself again, returning, somewhat agitated, with a tee towel in his hand, which he thrust in my direction. It was suddenly all too clear what was expected of me. Reader, I dropped my glass and fled. I never did write for him. Why the sound of silence all these years? I bet that this scumbag tried it on with plenty of others: could my speaking up not have prevented similar occurrences? Two reasons. One, I knew his wife, a journalist. I did go on to work in Fleet Street, and although I never saw him again, she and I crossed each other's radar for years. Two, he was one of the most powerful figures in the industry. I was a nobody, on the bottom rung of any kind of career. I thought, quite simply, that I would not be believed... and worse, that I would never get a job on a national newspaper.
'People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
No one dared disturb the sound of silence
Silence like a cancer grows ...'
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw spoke on SKY News this morning about the BBC being 'still robust', pointing out that self-regulation does not work, and that the Beeb should be regulated by OFCOM. He tempered this with his view that the Savile affair is 'not yet the biggest crisis the BBC has ever faced.' It could, however, be the biggest crisis of conscience we have all ever faced.
Maintaining the sound of silence makes us the allies of evil. Standing up to be counted - knowing the truth, telling the truth, creating a culture in which the abused, the challenged and the compromised can feel secure about it being 'all right to tell', that someone will listen, that they will not be ignored - is a collective and very serious responsibility. Fall at its fence and we are nothing but abusers ourselves.