Jimmy Saville and the Fleet Street Gravediggers

Savillegate rages on today, with Mike Smith’s impassioned and lengthy
rebuttal of claims of institutional sexism at the Beeb made over the
weekend during an hour long appearance on Richard Bacon’s Radio 1 show.
With accusations of child-abuse against the TV presenter mounting day by
day, it is becoming apparent that the true character of Saville is
woefully far removed from the national icon he was considered during his
As Seth Godin says: ‘Now that information is ubiquitous, theobligation
changes. It’s no longer okay to not know.’
As someone who has spent his career as a custodian of reputations (though
not, thank goodness, of Saville’s- it’s unlikely I’d be sitting down
writing this if I were), I’m fascinated by lurid revelations and
posthumous attacks. Though the staggering extent of Saville’s crimes
cannot be ignored, the case raises wider questions about stories of a
similar nature, and why they hold such fascination for journalists.
Are these corrections of long-held injustice, or are they salubrious paper
The answer is- it depends. I’d divide the post-hoc tabloid revelation into
two key types:
Type 1 consists of pointless (but paper selling) revelations which benefit
nobody. Usually, the accused is dead AND the circumstance in which they
operated is now long-corrected. So, for example, when it emerged in 2007
that Arthur Miller had a secret son who suffered from Down’s syndrome
locked away in an institution, the way in which it was splashed all over
the papers was arguably in poor taste, in spite of the moral outrage it
naturally evoked. Miller was long dead, the son had long since been
reunited with Miller’s non-disabled daughter, and people with Down’s are
now treated with considerably more understanding. Why dredge it up at all?
Type 2 can be hard to distinguish, but it consists of revelations which,
whilst sometimes over-enthusiastic and morbid, can be justified in that
they will contribute to the overturning of injustice which continues. In
these cases, the accused can be dead or alive, so long as the context of
their misdemeanours still exists. While lurid, the posthumous airing of
Amy Winehouse’s dirty laundry was useful in so far as it de-romanticised
alcohol and drug abuse for a generation in which such abuse has reached
epidemic proportions.
Jimmy Saville’s victims must have the space to air their grievances. But
beyond that, the true relevance of this story lies in the extent to which
it speaks of the culture in the television industry today. Ask the interns and runners of the BBC, ITV et al what goes on in those dressing rooms now. If the answer is less
than pleasant, then perhaps a bit of collateral luvvie damage is necessary to
expose the corrupt power systems that comfortable institutions so often