Just Being Jimmy

It rambles, a lot, but Andrew O’Hagan’s piece in the London Review of Books on the Jimmy Savile scandal is one of the best things I’ve read about it. O’Hagan presents a wealth of historical background about the culture at the BBC over the years, and the broadcaster’s willingness to look the other way when faced with the “eccentricities” of people like Savile. I have my doubts about Hagan’s turning the blame toward the culture at large, but he certainly makes a strong case:

The public made Jimmy Savile. It loved him. It knighted him. The Prince of Wales accorded him special rights and the authorities at Broadmoor gave him his own set of keys. A whole entertainment structure was built to house him and make him feel secure. That’s no one’s fault: entertainment, like literature, thrives on weirdos, and Savile entered a culture made not only to tolerate his oddness but to find it refreshing. We can’t say so. We can’t know how to admit it because we don’t know who we are. ‘This is the worst crisis I can remember in my nearly fifty years at the BBC,’ John Simpson said on Panorama. ‘It’s off the scale of everybody’s belief system,’ said the DJ Paul Gambaccini.

But it is our belief system. And now it is part of the same system to blame Savile. He’s dead, anyway. Let’s blame him for all the things he obviously was, and blame him for a host of other things we don’t understand, such as how we love freaks and how we select and protect people who are ‘eccentric’ in order to feed our need for disorder. We’ll blame him for that too and say we never knew there would be any victims, when, in fact, we depend on there being victims. Savile just wouldn’t have been worth so much to us without his capacity to hurt.