Rod Liddle

We journalists can only chase one ambulance at a time

3 November 2012

What I really wanted to do for you this week was uncover a totally new story about a racist paedophile banker — a perfect storm of a story which through the sheer magnitude of the mass national hysteria it engendered actually brought about a lethal fracturing of the earth’s crust, volcanic eruptions, rivers of sulphurous lava etc. ‘I was only 14 when he walked into my bedroom with his huge bonus and called me a darkie,’ my ideal interviewee — the whistleblower — would have begun, at least in my foetid and grasping imagination.

It’s how our minds work, we hacks, I suppose. When I first began in the job 32 years ago, as a reporter for the South Wales Echo, my then girlfriend observed that whenever an ambulance went by with its siren blaring I would immediately look up with an expression on my face which she could only describe as ‘pleased’. She left me not long afterwards. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to do; get in on the act somehow, provoke almost every single-issue pressure group in the country to begin their howling and ensure the police were stamping around the country, knocking on everyone’s door. But instead it’s more Savile; Savile redux, and then redux again, one supposes.

But a bit of a corrective, possibly, this time. I would not for a second wish to counter the prevailing opinion that Jimmy Savile was utterly repulsive and undoubtedly behaved in a criminal manner towards some young women. My own view is that Jimmy Savile was, as has been argued, ‘creepy’ long before these allegations saw the light of day. And one might add self-aggrandising and obnoxious: he was not my sort of entertainer.


I suspect he was not the entertainer of choice of the top brass of the BBC, either, which may partly explain why the corporation pushed on with its decision to run tribute programmes to the man at Christmas last year. Much in the manner that they buggered up the coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations through a sort of intellectual snobbery — the plebs will enjoy some air-headed bimbo jabbering inanities as the floats go by, they won’t want any history or seriousness — I think they decided to run the Savile tributes because he was something so far removed from their milieu that they were devoid of rational thought. The untermenschen like the ghastly man, for reasons we cannot comprehend, so no matter how awful he is, we may as well run the tributes. He abused kids? Quite possibly, but the lumpenproletariat won’t swallow that sort of blackening of his name — so run the tributes. That’s what I suspect they thought.

And now we have the police knocking on the doors of pretty much everyone who ever appeared on Top of the Pops between 1971 and 1975, a time when the music which dominated the charts was, for the first time ever, geared pretty much exclusively to the pre-16s and even pre-teens, and especially the girls. Glam rock and the Osmonds and the Bay City Rollers and so on. And further, overtly sexualised music aimed at these kids: Do You Wanna Touch Me? Oh Yeah, came the response, we do, we do. I doubt anyone over the age of 14 bought a Gary Glitter or Bay City Rollers or Sweet record; and sex was the promise that lay behind the songs and sex was, as it transpired, forthcoming when, in some cases, the audience met the performers and their factotums, the ghastly DJs.

Was sex imposed on the screaming hysterical girls, for the most part — or was it only imposed in their minds retrospectively, now that paedophilia has gained the status of iconic crime? This is not to doubt for a moment the undoubted predatory awfulness of some of those who we will see accused over the coming weeks. But it seems to be a case of collective shock at a previous era: that happened? We let that happen? Yes, of course we did.

I would direct you, in another piece of devil’s advocacy, to the website of a woman who posts under the name of Anna Raccoon — I assume that’s not her real name. She claims to have been a resident at Duncroft approved school at the time that Savile was a visitor; she has different memories of the time. She was not abused. She has no time for Savile himself, but she has questioned the latterly made testimonies of some of the former pupils of the institution. One woman who spoke out, for example, had left the school many years before Savile made his first visit, the blogger alleges. She has her doubts, too, about the testimony of Karin Ward, the woman whose interview formed the basis of both the shelved Newsnight investigation and the subsequent Panorama programme which sought to blame Newsnight for having sat on the story. Her posts are calm and rational and well expressed. Are they for real? I don’t know, but I suspect that they are. She also claims to have been contacted by several media outlets, apparently tantalised by the fact that here was yet another former pupil of this school and better still, one who was articulate. But the journalists — including those from BBC Radio 4 — lost interest when she said she hadn’t been abused.

She says: ‘It seems that if you were a resident of Duncroft who claims to have been abused, you must be believed, protected, defended. If you were a resident of Duncroft who was not claiming to be abused — then you can only be “muddying the waters” or “have an agenda to prevent the truth being known” — because such is the power of the media, that “everyone knows the truth”. If only. There is only one story in town.’

The ambulance goes by, siren blaring, and off we run.

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  • Swanky for Romney

    Another excellent Rod piece. Also, Rod, loved ”The Green Party is outdoing itself with its own tolerance’ from the 15th Sept. Speccie. One of your greatest hits, surely.

  • JJones

    Yes a good piece but I am yet to see a “Fleet Street” writer examine the role of Britain’s tabloids in the active promotion of Jimmy Savile if the allegations are proved while at the same time claiming they knew of the rumours.

    There is only one story in town : how true and the very same tabloids now demanding heads roll at the Beeb built Savile up in life and are now pulling him down in death.

    If assault charges are proven true Britain’s tabloids are as much- if not more – to blame than the BBC which broadcast him. They stood on the sidelines cheering the man along until it was safe to switch teams and now choose in the oddest way, to pin some of their own guilt onto the Leveson inquiry.

    • Sarah

      And what did the Spectator notice about Saville in the last 42 years?

      All that press freedom and so little to show for it.

  • Sarah

    So to summarise: this is an article about your suspicions based on your prejudices, wrapped up in a deflection.

  • Sarah

    “Was sex imposed on the screaming hysterical girls, for the most part — or was it only imposed in their minds retrospectively, now that paedophilia has gained the status of iconic crime?”

    Here’s a thought: Why not ask them? You’re a journalist aren’t you?

    Rather than asking the men, their hangers on, their diehard fans, their PR agents, their biographers, other blokes, ask the girls, ask them how they felt when the guy in the poster on their wall who they dreamed of marrying turned out not to be the marrying kind.

    • Ruben

      I think what it boils down to is if somebody looks a bit weird, lives with his mum and you’ve heard from his alleged victims on TV, then the prevailing opinion can remain unchallenged. But if somebody is good looking and girls who don’t know him fancy him and he makes good records, and the alleged victims have stayed quiet, then the prevailing opinion … oh, it can also remain unchallenged.

    • Pauline Parrot

      What if they didn’t dream of marrying him? Not all teenage girls are that delusional or unrealistic.

  • Liz

    As an adult woman I don’t care if a 13 or 14 year old boy does fancy me. What adult in their right mind acts on that or has any desire to? A decent person would take them home to their mother. Excusing men who do otherwise with teenage girls is just being an apologist for child abuse, dress it up how you like.

    Promoting the idea that girls aren’t harmed by it as much as boys would be or don’t feel things as deeply is just do much nonsense and sexism, the same kind of nonsense and sexism that informed the men doing the abusing in the first place.

    The behaviour of the press at the time was inadequate, but don’t compound the problem now by using the media to make it harder for victims to be taken seriously as victims.

  • surreptitiousevil

    Actually, Anna was (claims to have been) at Duncroft before Saville visited. But at the same time as at least one of the complainants. Who, if she is correct, are therefore unlikely to have been abused by Saville.

    • Ellen Coulson

      Anna was there at the same time that I was – Savile was not there until 1974 = Bebe Roberts lying; Fiona Scott Johnson and falsified letter = lying; Karin Alcock – so many untruths in book part of which is based on another Duncroft girl’s experiences = lying; Rochelle Shepherd (in her 40’s) – daughter of Debbie Cogger another ex Duncroft girl who claims abuse – was never at Duncroft = lying!

      • Anne

        Sorry Ellen, but as usual you are WRONG! Rochelle WAS at Duncroft, under her maiden name. IF Fiona Scott Johnson Falsified a letter why is it not printed by the press? Karin Alcock DID have a hells angel boyfriend and she did attend Duncroft in 1972-3 aswell as the BBC TV Centre. Just because a ‘Dodgy’ headmistress kept in her possession the official visitors book, instead of handing it over to Dr Barnardos, when the home closed, Savile signed it in Feb 1974 but visited earlier than 1974….check the recording dates of Clunk-Click? Just because you are friendly with many of the ex-Duncroft staff it does not excuse you publishing others names and details, claiming they are lying, not supplying ANY evidence, unlike those abused. You feel that your behaviour is justified because a headmistress who allowed this to go on, told you something else….LOL, crawl back to the Raccoon Arms with your fellow 60’s inmates of a “Junior Prison”.

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