Jimmy Savile: The People Who Knew Review – Devastating and Overwhelming

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Uusually for someone who has presented television and radio programs for six decades, Jimmy Savile is most significantly represented in the archives by shows he did not host. In When Louis Met Jimmy (BBC Two, 2000), Louis Theroux raised questions about long-standing rumors of pedophilia, which were brushed aside but later certified by Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile (ITV, 2012). Screened after the broadcaster’s death, this film sparked institutional investigations concluding that he had sexually assaulted at least 450 people, 80% of whom were young people and children.

The 10th anniversary of Savile’s death in October will add significantly to the TV credits the presenter wouldn’t want to have. Discovery’s Jimmy Savile: The People Who Knew is the first; a two-part Netflix is ​​slated for later this year, and a BBC docudrama, The Reckoning, is also in production. (Disclosure: I witnessed and reported to the BBC an assault by Savile against a BBC staff member in 2006 as noted in Dame Janet Smith’s 2016 report. I was interviewed for the Netflix films .)

Another quirk of Savile’s televised resume is that the most influential movie about him has never aired. In December 2011, two months after Savile’s death, a scheduled BBC Two Newsnight investigation into rapes and assaults by the presenter at Duncroft House, a school for emotionally disturbed teenage girls in Surrey, was withdrawn. The producers’ view was that the BBC feared a tonal clash with the Savile tribute films on the Christmas schedule. A quasi-independent investigation, the Pollard Review, largely cleared the managers of this accusation, although it found their actions “wrong”; some editorial personalities have been moved by the BBC to alternate roles paid on an equivalent basis.

Newsnight’s no-show led directly to the 2012 exhibit, which included some of the BBC’s blank data and witnesses. Almost exactly a decade later, this Discovery film feels like it’s reborn the Newsnight investigation; a central witness is Meirion Jones, lead producer of the censored show. (Her talented colleague Liz MacKean died in 2017, having, like Jones, left the BBC.)

The documentary presents a devastating succession of victims or whistleblowers, incredulous or discouraged. The most recent material concerns Savile’s activities in Jersey and at sex parties in London, bravely described by the victims. Andrew Neil shows how Savile evaded his questions about sexual behavior by turning the audience against Neil with a comedic story involving a banana.

A measure of Savile’s psychopathy is that the Discovery movie can be seen as relatively small for ignoring widespread rumors, mirrored by Dame Janet Smith, that Savile is also a necrophile (her charitable service included working as a porter in the morgue of a hospital). The voiceover suggests that there has been a “huge multi-agency cover-up,” involving Duncroft House, the Thatcher government, hospitals, prisons and the BBC. Jones maintains that many of the Company’s managers “must have known”. (My view, based on the prevalence of Savile’s rumors during 30 years of work at the BBC, is that senior executives in the periods concerned, if they really haven’t heard anything, should make an appointment anytime soon. emergency with an audiologist.)

The weakness of this documentary is that it only features those who knew or suspected; there is no challenge to those who claim not to have noticed. Still, the health ministers and officials who gave Savile access to the keys to the accommodation and a room for her use in Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor (where multiple assaults took place) are still alive, just like the patrons of Savile’s other predation spots.

It is likely that they refused to speak to the filmmakers, but the ease with which these potentially key witnesses can hide behind their PR teams and public pensions means that the guilt in the case is likely to remain hidden.

While claiming to feature the people who knew, this film only includes the most honorable of them – the victims and the whistleblowers. It might take a lot more shows to achieve true accountability on Savile.


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