The Jimmy Savile scandal and Alexander Solzhenitsyn

25 October 2012

The line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being… This line is not static within us; it sways to and fro over the years. Even in a heart imbued with evil, it allows a small bridgehead of good to remain. And it permits a small niche of evil to survive even in the kindest of hearts.’

These words were written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, seeking to explain why The Gulag Archipelago was necessarily ambiguous. But they also fit elements of the Savile scandal, which is being prejudged in increasingly black and white terms.


Charles Moore’s observation that this grim affair is a ‘dreadful warning’ about the perils of fame is compelling: ‘when you are up, no criticism, when you are down (and dead), no mercy.’ Yet there is also a warning here about the perils of creating Frankenstein. Matthew d’Ancona’s Evening Standard column yesterday pointed out that Jimmy Savile’s ‘mad artistry’ was to hide in the arc lights of television cameras at the BBC. Indeed, Savile was allowed to hide in plain sight thanks to the “selective attention” (Newspeak if ever there was) of some at the BBC and elsewhere.

Sir Jimmy Savile’s sins appear to be manifold and serious; and the elites that created him, both as national treasure and indemnified pervert, are culpable and must be exposed. This can only be achieved by a full judicial inquiry because trial by media, with its tempestuous stories ranging from bland exploitation to titillating necrophilia, is moving into the black territory of an Evelyn Waugh farce, complete with Waugh’s eye for absurd light relief: Savile is today accused of having completed the London Marathon with the help of a car.

There is nothing so unedifying as the British media in one of its periodical fits of self-obsession, and the public invariably ignores them. This is different because Savile’s alleged victims are being trivialised: “Establishment cover-up! Paedo Savile drove Marathon!” Nuanced fact and the whole picture are obscured as relevant matters are insufficiently explored, notably Savile’s motivation for working with the vulnerable. The possibility of some goodness within him appears to have been interred with the bones in his unmarked grave.

A prejudicial approach is unsatisfactory and perhaps outright callous in an instance this serious. The victims and the public deserve to know why those with supposedly kind hearts allowed evil to prosper. And they also need to know if there was a bridgehead of good in someone who otherwise seems to have been bad.

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    We know that Saville was motivated to work with the vulnerable to get access to them – he abused people at Leeds General and Broadmoor and staff at Stoke Mandeville dreaded his coming!

  • Sarah

    There is the strong possibility that Saville did not see himself as bad. It’s an extremely recent phenomenon to ascribe souls and feelings to girls. It started some time last year when slut walks, Rochdale and Assange hit the news in an eye-opening triptych.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Savile (Saville): Front runner as the most misspelled name of the month.
      Ignorance is Brit.

      • Guest

        A letter that you, “Jack”, as a Japanese, just simply cannot pronounce.

  • Kimball Stewart

    Jekyll and Hyde would have been a better metaphor than Frankenstein…

  • Judy

    Hmmm, David Blackburn, plus Catholique que le Pape! The police are daily stating that Savile was a serial child abuser, one of the worst they have ever encountered, on the basis of their investigations so far. Not good enough for David Blackburn, though. Curious. Jonathan King feels exactly the same, though. He apparently is sending such campaigning feminists as Suzanne Moore and Julie Bindel letters and messages saying what a good man he experienced Savile to be, and that some of the people now reporting their experiences of being abused by Savile to the police were exaggerating as people reporting sexual abuse so often are.

    • David Blackburn

      It is not the police who decide guilt, any more than it is the press. And there is no equivalence between saying that Savile and those who appear to have protected him must have a fair hearing before a judge, and what you allege Jonathan King to be doing.

      • Judy

        Er, Savile is dead. Will not be able to be represented. So saying he must have a fair hearing before a judge is ridiculous.

        • David Blackburn

          It would be ridiculous to say that a dead man should have a fair trial; but I didn’t say that because I said ‘fair hearing before a judge’ in the context of a judicial inquiry, which is obviously not a criminal trial. Were Savile alive the CPS would now be preparing criminal proceedings against him; but he isn’t, so we have to use the next best thing available to ensure that the victims get some form of justice, which is a judicial inquiry into the alleged abuse and its circumstances. The inquiry may of course recommend criminal proceedings or compensation suits where possible.

    • arklington

      So, Judy: that’s twice now that you’ve associated David with child abusers for having the temerity to suggest that due process will serve the vulnerable more effectively than a media feeding frenzy. I sincerely hope that this isn’t Judge Judy I’m talking to.

      The abuse of children isn’t a grand-guignol activity carried out by larger-than-life loners in bowties and tracksuits. There’s actually a fundamental banality to paedophiliia, and I often sense that it is an unease with this reality which forces people to sensationalise the issue by turning abusers into monstrous outsiders.

      On the whole child abusers are fairly ordinary, otherwise decent family men and women whose actions just happen to destroy the lives of children, often their own, often because they were desensitised by abuse themselves. The NSPCC claims that 70% of the calls it receives are in connection with victims who have been abused by an immediate family member rather than by a light entertainer with bad hair. Quite often, these children don’t want to be separated from their parents; they just want the abuse to stop.

      I’m sorry if that seems “relativistic”, or unduly grey to you, but they’re just one of a number of organisations who’re doing extraordinarily difficult work in precarious circumstances, and your hysteria doesn’t help.

  • Charles Norrie

    If a chaerone had been appointed by the BBC who had talked to children about their experiences good and bad immediately and those talks had be officially recorded, and if say three negatives had been recived and then JS had been confronted then I suggest that he would have been stopped very much sooner than he was (for he escaped all censure) quietly and effectively by preventing him from “working” with children.

  • Judy

    Seems that there are those at the Spec who want to go as near as possible to apologism for both Savile and the BBC. As for our supposed “need to know if there was a bridgehead of good in someone who otherwise seems to have been bad”, this ranks with saying Hitler’s victims and the public deserve to know if Hitler did some good. Well, I’m sure Hitler raised lots of money for the “Winterhilfe” charities, he was very kind to his dog (before he shot him) and he built all those fine motorways.

    Savile “seemed” to have been “bad”, did he? Like some sort of unloveable rogue car salesman? About whom hundreds of complaints have been received You, featured on “You and Yours”, but not yet investigated in full by the OFT, so we mustn’t pre-judge the fellow?

    Really appalling moral relativism, Mr Blackburn. Who’s doing the trivialising, if not you?
    There are lots of very solid evidential matters that are hardly being mentioned in articles like yours and the very convenient use of mystificatory metaphors like “a tsunami of filth” by the Chairman of the BBC Trust, its supposed regulatory body, which avoid focusing on the rules by which the BBC should have been operating and whether there comprehensive failures to protect the vulnerable and the trusting.
    For example, there have been rules dating back to 1933 that minors involved in filming and drama productions had to be chaperoned at all times. Did they not apply to BBC filming of programmes like Top of the Pops, Jim’ll Fix It and the rest? So how was it that Savile was allowed to take underage girls, including some highly vulnerable ones, into his dressing room and close the door on them?
    Could it really have been true that the head of news of the BBC, Helen Boaden, only communicated the emerging content of the Newsnight Savile documentary to the then “Director of BBC Vision” (ie head of TV output), Entwistle in the course of a ten minute informal conversation, alerting him to the fact that it might have consequences for the planned broadcasting of gushing tribute programmes to Savile over peak Christmas viewing times?
    Was there no obligation on her to communicate such significant information in writing, and to share it with Entwistle and other colleagues, including those responsible for producing the tribute programmes for formal consideration?
    Was there no obligation on BBC senior staff to alert their in house legal team to any programme that had implications about the obligation to report crimes, particularly child abuse crimes, that were coming to attention, and even more so in relation to crimes alleged to have taken place on BBC premises at the hands of one of their most ardently presented celebrities?
    The only callousness I can see in this article is the callousness of the writer towards the suffering of those who have been abused and those who feel there is ample reason and supporting evidence to feel disgust that a public institution with a dominating role as a public broadcaster should have behaved in the way it has, and that we should go away and reserve judgement till some yet to be appointed enquiry gets to the bottom of it all.
    That worked really well for Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough, didn’t it?

    • David Blackburn

      Call me an apologist for child molestation, Judy, but I can’t help thinking that the pertinent questions which you raise would be better answered by a judicial inquiry rather than You&Yours. Then again, I’m a very daring person who believes that it is better to prove guilt rather than presume it. I don’t imagine that there will be any problem proving Savile’s guilt, or those who protected him, but the process is vital. Is justice for the victim’s grievance at the heart of this process? Absolutely.

      • First L

        I disagree, for the simple reason that due process has failed, not just in the Savile case over fifty years of people looking the other way, but, if the Derek McCullough accusations ring true, from the very founding of the BBC. Furthermore due process has failed in the police – who investigated Savile six times, at the hospitals Savile worked at, at Haut La Garenne, at Broadmoor. Due process has failed in parliament where we now hear that a PM’s aide was a paedophile and where the accusations surrounding Ted Heath get closer to the mainstream media every day. Due process failed at the CPS which failed to prosecute Savile on a previous occasion.

        And that’s just only this one scandal. Due process fails constantly in the police force where it has taken 24 years even for wrongdoing to be admitted, let alone anyone brought to book. The Hillsborough Families knew something was wrong by the end of the first week. Why has it taken a quarter of a century to complete due process? Why can a policeman call someone a nigger and not be disciplined? Why can a policeman taser a blind man and no action be taken? Why can a policeman commit manslaughter and escape jail – or commit murder and be promoted? All down to Due Process? Due Process would have let Harold Shipman escape unnoticed for ever. Due Process allowed the Banks and Gordon Brown to destroy the economy.

        Why did the Press commit Phone hacking with impunity when they were supposed to be self regulating? Why did politicians claim ridiculous amounts of money on expenses in full collusion with the office created to prevent that? Why are the MOD and the Armed Forces in bed with defence companies? Due Process? Why did the Olympics Chiefs state a budget of £3 billion in the bid, when even then they knew the cost would be at least double that? Why are Local Councils utterly impervious to any kind of scrutiny whatsoever – resulting in local scandals up and down the country. Why is the War Criminal Tony Blair not on trial? Why was Gordon Brown allowed to sell the country’s gold? What is the Due Process for holding Murdoch to account, he blustered in front of Leveson, but lo and behold – no consequences from his board. What is the Due Process for dealing with Industrial Murder? Ok Trafigura are Dutch, not English, but they were fined just €1 million for poisoning 30,000 people. There are similar cases in Britain.

        Why do prisoners have sky tv and better food than is given to patients in hospitals, if patients get fed at all? Why are serial criminals with dozens of convictions still not being sent to prison? Why are union pilgrims leeching off the public purse and giving that money straight to a political party? Why haven’t we told the EU to get stuffed when it is asking for a doubling of fees – just to remain a member, to £40 million a year? What is the due process to get our politicians to actually do something about this? To recall them for lying, breaking promises or failing to serve their country. Why has Gordon Brown only turned up to Parliament twice in the past 3 years? What is the due process for making sure MP’s do the jobs they are paid for? What is the Due Process for punishing a judge who calls a burglar, ‘brave’? Why are children being taken away from their Mother in Wales to be given to their father in Spain when the kids say that they are scared of their Father and want to remain with their Mother? Due Process in action – a Judge says so based on parents testimony – based on how expensive a lawyer they each paid for – without ever bothering to listen to the children. Why can Starbucks pay no tax at all through Due Process of following the Rules creatively?

        What currently is due process for Jimmy Savile? We have a dozen inquiries going on – across various institutions, none of them public. None of them national – therefore a national strategy will not emerge. None of them actually attempting to establish the guilt of Savile – no one doubts his guilt – all about institutional failure.

        This is the point. No one doubts Savile’s guilt (And if they are they are a complete idiot). Last night TOTP footage emerged of Savile molesting two girls on camera (Daily Mail). In fact there were rumours about him for years and years and years. If people had acted on rumours – rather than assuming that due process would stop him, then he would have been stopped. If you take one step outside the official media, you’ll see rumours about McCullough, about Ted Heath, about a paedophile ring stretching from the BBC, through child protection services, through number 10, through the Masons, through Haut la Garenne, through God knows what and who else. Would Due Process look at any of those rumours? Of course not, because a rumour is just a rumour, and Savile dismissed rumours for fifty years.

        Due Process is actually a barrier. Due Process is seen to be done. But actually, nothing is done. Savile and Shipman show this. Both were clever enough to clear due process or give the impression that they did. Shipman was so good at Due Process he actively had to fuck something up badly enough for people to start investigating. Due Process hides people who can manipulate it. And people who commit crimes on this scale – institutions that cover up for those individuals – like the BBC, the Police, IPCC, CPS, like Parliament. They manipulate Due Process. A sacrificial lamb here or there, thrown by corrupt higher ups. Peter Rippon is toast but his immediate bosses have not said a word. Apart from Helen Boaden we don’t even know who they are. A few expense ridden MP’s in jail, Due Process served, and the story goes away – the rest of them stay in Parliament.

        Wait for Due Process and you’ll wait forever. This isn’t about condoning vigilanteism, this is saying that whole areas of society and leadership and institutions are corrupt. And that Due Process has become corrupted within that. That there is a whole strata of crooks and liars and morally bankrupt bastards running right through the top most echelons of society. That Due Process is understood by those in power who are good – to supposedly hold others to account – but is in fact used by those in power who are bad – to make it look like action is being taken. To cover up the fact that action is rarely taken. That in any fight against wrong doing you are fighting the system as much as the wrongdoer. Fighting the closed ranks of the BBC, the Police, Parliament, Journalists, Unions, Masons, Sir Humphrey’s, European Mandarins etc etc.

        Rotten to the core. And maybe the people – who give these elites power, should take that power away again.

        • Hugh Fraser

          O Tempora ! O Mores ! It seems that our society is tearing itself apart, just like the BBC is tearing itself apart. We are looking at all our national institutions, parliament, the press, the BBC, police, entertainment, the army – and deciding that they are rotten to the core.

          Balance and perceptive are called for. Baby and and bathwater come to mind.

          Society is not rotten to the core. Thanks to our open society, the end of privacy, the greater freedom of information available, the breaking of ranks of the old establishment, we are much more aware of its failings. Times are hard, and we are looking for scapegoats for our troubles.

          We also have very high moral standards now. We are almost prudish in sexual matters (opinions not behaviour). We expect our army to behave like they are on a mercy mission. We expect our press to magically “discover” the truth without invading privacy, We expect our MPs to be rather boring people who follow procedure (instead of the rather weird power-hungry risk-takers they have always been) Humans aren’t perfect. Get used to it.

          But most people are still mostly good. Most people still do want to do a good job. Most people in politics are not all bad. Most of our institutions are a mixture of good and bad.

          • First L

            I don’t deny any of this.
            I am saying that Due Process does not work. Look at our national institutions failing almost on a monthly basis. This does not just happen that come 2010 and all our National Institutions are suddenly rotten. this has been going on for years, decades, centuries. Prior to 2010 and the real impact of the internet, this rottenness was covered up when Due Process was supposed to keep institutions clean.

            The point being that Due Process will continue to not work, will continue to throw out scapegoats and will continue to obfuscate and deceive and pretend that the rottenness is on the surface and can be wiped clean. When, if it is true that our institutions have been rotten from the core since their inception, then they need pulling down and rebuilding from the ground up.

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