(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)
Last night, a female friend and I watched (on BBC TV) the special Panorama investigation Jimmy Savile: What the BBC Knew – a programme not just about the Savile scandal but about why, last year, a detailed Newsnight programme exposing Savile’s crimes had been shelved.
Afterwards, my friend asked me: “What do you think?”
“Well,” I replied, “the Jim’ll Fix It! producer said the radio people had never told him any of the stories about Savile but, then, they wouldn’t. Radio and TV are separate people in different parts of London. Paul Gambaccini said, quite rightly, that people on the 3rd floor of Broadcasting House would not hear gossip happening on the 2nd floor.”
“But,” said my friend, “the editor of Newsnight said there wasn’t anything they had uncovered that the police did not already know – and that wasn’t true.”
“I don’t know why he said that. It’s bizarre,” I agreed. “A lot of the problems are because the BBC is a… Well, you have a situation where the BBC has now commissioned and transmitted a programme exposing something the BBC doesn’t really want to talk about… but it’s the BBC themselves who have made and transmitted the programme they don’t want to be made and transmitted.
“The BBC is not a large thinking, downwardly-controlled entity. Everyone is trying not to control from above. It’s managed day-to-day from below by the producers and the individual bureaucrats. If they think something is dodgy, they refer it up one level… in the case of programmes, to the editor who, if he is uncertain, may refer it up to the executive producer, who… Well, it’s this multi-layered beast with no-one trying to impose or interfere too much on the lower layers because the big thing is editorial independence.
“They said in the programme – quite rightly – that the Director General is in a lose-lose situation. If he did anything, then people will accuse him of controlling things in a Machiavellian way. If he did not do anything, then they’ll say he should have done.”
“It’s not that uncontrolled,” said my friend, “ because there was a number of times when women were being replaced because they were too old.”
“But the people at the very top did not do that,” I said. “That was the hands-on producers or editors or executive producers. The BBC did not sit down and decide as a single corporate entity, as a matter of policy to do it.”
“Well why did they do it?” my friend asked. “They replaced women because they were too old. It was never men who were replaced.”
“But the BBC as a corporate monolithic thing was not doing that,” I said. “The producers and editors as independent individuals were doing that. The BBC is not some great Machiavellian organisation. It rarely decides anything at a programme level. The individual people who make the individual programmes take the decisions.”
“Isn’t it just an institution that’s mostly male, though?” she asked.
“Well, that’s an entirely different argument,” I said, “though, in this case – shelving the Newsnight programme – the Big Boss – Helen Boaden – is a woman.”
“Isn’t that how Savile got away with it, though?” my friend asked me. “A load of young girls were regularly going back to Jimmy Savile’s dressing room and a few guys – it wasn’t just him and Gary Glitter… Some people must have known these young girls were being taken into the dressing room and abused and people were getting away with it because it was Ooh! It’s just guys being guys!”
“But that wasn’t the BBC itself deciding that it was going to be allowed,” I said. “That’s individuals’ failings. The BBC didn’t have meetings at the top or the middle ranks or anywhere and say Oh, we’re going to allow Jimmy Savile to feel-up and rape under-age girls in his dressing room. It’s something that happened without anyone deciding it was going to be allowed to happen. And the people who were not involved but who saw it happen did not report it.
“The people at the sixth floor management level of Television Centre – and they’re the only people you could sort of call ‘The BBC’ – did not know what was happening in the basement dressing rooms of the building. The Director General, the Head of Entertainment and even – the way he tells it – the producer of Jim’ll Fix It!did not know that Savile was abusing people in the dressing room and there was no evidence presented to anyone at the time that he was.
“What I don’t understand is why Paul Gambaccini at Radio 1 who’s now going on as if he knew all about it and how appalling it was at the time, didn’t report it.”
“But,” said my friend, “wasn’t the attitude that Guys will be guys! They’re having a bit of a lark! It’s the Swinging Sixties and Swinging Seventies!”
“Well, I said, “that’s not what Gambaccini seems to be saying. He is saying now that he thought it was appalling and disgusting at the time.
“I mean,” I continued, “some of it happened when David Attenborough was Controller BBC2. He would not have known anything about it. The BBC is this vast organisation. It’s a vast collection of little separated villages of different programmes and offices in different departments on different floors of different buildings. Lots of little cliques.
“One set of programme makers barely knows the vague outline of what other programmes are doing in the same department let alone what happens in dressing rooms with the doors closed. I know AAA BBB. He worked on Jim’ll Fix It! He says he never even met Jimmy Savile because Savile only came in on the day of the recording. He worked on the production team of the show and he never even met Jimmy Savile! The BBC organising some vast corporate conspiracy is something beyond practicalities.
“I mean, tonight’s show was made by Panorama about Newsnight. I suspect the people working on the two shows are mortal enemies and there’s an element of sticking the knife in. The BBC is like The Balkans: lots of little separate entities sometimes sniping at each other. It’s not really fully under control. It’s nothing to do with men v women.”
“I think it is,” said my friend.
“The BBC didn’t think having sex with under-age girls was acceptable,” I said. “They didn’t approve it on the sixth floor. They didn’t know it was happening. They didn’t say This is acceptable and we’re going to allow Jimmy Savile to do it on BBC premises.”
“Well,” said my friend, “he was completely arrogant and he was a man in a man’s world on top of the pile.”
“So what was the BBC supposed to do about something they didn’t know was happening?” I asked.
“It’s the attitude of society,” said my friend. “Guys think they can use women. The BBC is part of what society is. All those quiz shows that are happening! You don’t get any women on them!”
“So what could the BBC have done about Jimmy Savile?” I asked.
“It’s Nudge nudge Wink wink,” my friend said, “Guys cover up for other guys.”
“But the BBC didn’t decide to cover it up,” I said, “The BBC did not decide it was acceptable. The BBC did not know.”
“It’s men’s attitude that they have a right to sex,” said my friend. “They can buy it if they can’t find a woman to do it with. They can get it where they want.”
There was another sixteen minutes of this (I recorded it). My friend tends to get het up about the inherent sexism in society and how men make all the rules in their favour. I think she exaggerates.
The report mentioned in passing that, in 31 US states, rapists have the same custody and visitation rights to any resulting children as other fathers.