CRIME CULTURE: With the release of a Netflix documentary that tells how a ‘beloved’ British TV personality successfully exploited his fame to disguise five decades of unspeakable sexual abuse, the question must be asked – could it happen in Australia? Or has it already? Gary Johnston takes a look.
I’ve worked in Criminal Justice for over 30 years. In that time, in various capacities and in several countries, I’ve come into contact with hundreds of murderers, rapists and child sex abusers. Every one of these men were either in, or had been, in prison.
How ironic (and catastrophic) that the worst paedophile, rapist and necrophiliac in British criminal history and almost certainly one of the evilest worldwide, was a television personality, a celebrity (albeit one with no discernible ability other than extreme self-promotion) who died before his loathsome, scandalous behaviour became known to the general public.
Who died, free, at liberty, in his own bed, with his fingers crossed, gloatingly cognisant that he’d sexually violated hundreds of children, conned a nation and was still, up until the time he assumed room temperature, inexplicably feted by some as a good person, and by, the more gullible amongst us as, believe it or not, some sort of latter-day saint.
It’s difficult to explain to Australians, or indeed anyone who didn’t live in Britain in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s, the level and extent of Jimmy Savile’s fame.
He was, quite simply, ubiquitous.
He might have started off as a whacky Pop DJ but before long, due to the relentless nature of his self-promoting ‘antics’, he quickly became much more that that, a ‘personality’, a ‘national treasure’, knighted by Thatcher and – inexplicably – providing marital advice to Prince Charles, (which plainly didn’t work out too well).
The decorated Jimmy Savile (Image: Supplied)
Well, yes, undoubtedly.
Of course, but nothing wrong with that, and anyway, since eccentric is a word only ever attached to the rich – poor people have to be content with ‘mental’ – Savile was coining it in and loaded is always to be admired.
There were rumours, there had to be, just look at him, on appearance alone he came straight out of was a Pervert Central Casting, but surely, those who wondered thought, if there was any evidence it would have come out; after all that’s what the press and police are there for isn’t it?
Personally, I hated the old c**t – but mostly because I thought he was a rubbish ‘entertainer’, out of touch, clichéd and supercilious, a crap, talent vacuum, not exactly an exclusive group then – or for that matter – now.
I’d heard the stories – I’d spread some of them too, but how stupid was I – I thought stories were all they were.
Even though I thought he was shit – a touchy-feely, old clown, who’d do anything to be noticed, wasn’t actually any good at anything – couldn’t sing , dance, tell jokes, be anything other than whacky, zany Jimmy Savile, he conned me too.
He not only looked like a paedophile. He actually was one. And we – everyone – missed it.
It’s incomprehensible that Savile got away with what he did.
But it represents failure.
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A failure of the media to expose him, the police to arrest him, the courts to sentence him and the public to condemn him, see him for what he really was.
And a failure to believe the victim/survivors and –far worse – a failure of society whereby young vulnerable, scared and abused, felt powerless to challenge the notion that men like Savile, men of power and influence could ever possibly be criminals of the very worst sort.
Why – how – did it happen?
Because fame was and still is – a passport to do as you please.
Savile was a face. An ugly old face, weird, unconventional and creepy but a face nonetheless.
A famous face.
And being famous buys you cachet, always has, still does.
They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Image: Supplied)
On the face of it, Savile raised millions of pounds for various charities and whilst it seemed apparent that his actions were motivated by ego, in reality they were actually inspired by a horrific need to control – be in control – and to satisfy his own most sordid wants.
Becoming the public face of hospitals, children’s homes and other such institutions gave him unfettered access to the most vulnerable and least likely to be believed; children who were damaged physically and emotionally, unable to resist or fight back, because of who he was or, more to the point, who people thought he was.
Uncle Jimmy. Avuncular, kind-hearted and altruistic. A man to be admired, to be trusted.
He must be trustworthy, he’s a hero, isn’t he? He’s famous.
Could it happen, here in Australia? Or has it happened already?
Our heroes don’t tend to be quite as esoteric as Savile.
We go for the chisel jawed, derring do types, sportsmen, mostly, we idolise those who can swim like a fish, kick a ball, hit a six, or drive a car really fast.
They are our stars and we treat them accordingly, cut them slack, refuse to believe the worst, even when it’s staring us in the face.
Because they’re famous. Our idea of a national treasure.
Imagine then, if one of our heroes, one of our own, a sporting great for instance, was revealed to have used their fame, their celebrity, their innate ability to get what they want, their ruthlessness, their self-possession, their arrogance – to satisfy their far more basic needs, to get exactly what they want.
To lie, cheat, abuse, defile.
It couldn’t happen here.
Or has it?