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Jimmy Savile: some were aware

Some members of BBC staff were aware of Jimmy Savile’s inappropriate sexual conduct during his work at the BBC, says Dame Janet Smith’s Report into the disgraced broadcaster.

Dame Janet Smith led an inquiry into the BBC’s culture and practices during the Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall years. Some 72 victims of ‘inappropriate sexual conduct’ were found to do with Savile’s work at the BBC; 57 female, 15 male, including several rapes. She wrote: “Usually, Savile either met the victim at the BBC or else he groomed the victim by offering the opportunity to attend the BBC before taking the victim elsewhere, often to his home or camper-van. In addition to these incidents which occurred on his own premises, Savile would gratify himself sexually on BBC premises whenever the opportunity arose and I heard of incidents which took place in virtually every one of the BBC’s premises at which he worked. These included the BBC Theatre at Shepherd’s Bush (in connection with Jim’ll Fix It and Clunk Click), Television Centre (in particular in connection with Top of the Pops), Broadcasting House or Egton House (where he worked in connection with BBC Radio 1), Lime Grove Studios and various provincial studios, including Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow.”

In the case of one 1969 assault on a 16-year-old during a broadcast of Top of the Pops, the schoolgirl ‘was told that she must have been mistaken and, despite her protests and showing that her zip was undone, a security officer was summoned and told to escort her off the premises. She was taken out and left on the street.’

As for the BBC’s policy of permitting members of ‘the Talent’ to invite guests to come in to watch shows and to entertain them in their dressing rooms, Dame Janet Smith did not see anything improper ‘about Savile arranging for tickets for Stoke Mandeville staff to see a show in which he was performing and to ask security officers to admit the women to his room where their tickets would await them’.

As for whistle-blowing, Dame Janet Smith spoke of a ‘culture of not complaining’, about anything, and a ‘culture of not complaining about a member of the Talent was even stronger’. Complaining ‘was often seen as being damaging to the interests of the complainant. While it is important to say that the sense of insecurity which inhibits staff from whistle-blowing is a widespread, longstanding and intractable problem, there was clear evidence specifically relating to the BBC. There was evidence that people who were contemplating making a complaint decided or were persuaded not to do so because it would damage their careers’. Some who gave evidence to the review asked not to be identified, fearing reprisals, she added.

This culture was not unique to the BBC; she said, ‘far from it. In my view, the difficulty experienced by employees wishing to raise a concern is a widespread, longstanding and intractable problem. In the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC had no whistle-blowing policies; I doubt that many organisations had.’

Claire McAlpine was a 15-year old girl who killed herself in March 1971. She had attended Top of the Pops several times and left a diary in which she wrote that she had been seduced by a celebrity. That some attenders of the TV show could get in without tickets, or evade ejection, confirmed to Dame Janet Smith the evidence of several witnesses ‘who told the Savile investigation that, in the 1970s, security at BBC premises was not good. Some witnesses said that it was only the threat of IRA bombs in the 1980s that led to stricter measures’. This implied premises security at Broadcasting House had slackened from the days of ‘commissionaires and passes’. Nor was any age limit (whatever it was) enforced. In April 1971 the age required was set at 16: “I have the impression that it created in the minds of BBC staff a sense of relief or security. The audience members were presumed to be 16 and, if there was any sexual misbehaviour connected with the programme, they were (at least in theory) old enough to consent.”

The report went on to another serious security problem for the BBC: “These arose on days when a particularly well-known group was due to appear. If a group such as The Osmonds or the Bay City Rollers was due to appear, there could be literally hundreds of young people thronging Wood Lane, outside Television Centre, all hoping to see their idols, some intending to get into the premises by fair means or foul.” The Centre had other entrances besides the main one on Wood Lane.

Parts of the perimeter wall could be scaled by an agile and determined young person. “Several witnesses described scenes which sound quite amusing. From the upper windows of Television Centre, one could sometimes see quite elderly uniformed commissionaires trying to catch young girls who had managed to get under the barrier without permission. Of course, the girls were much nimbler and quicker on their feet than the commissionaires. On occasions, it was not at all amusing and, sometimes, vehicles were damaged (Noel Edmonds told us that his car was damaged on a number of occasions when leaving Television Centre after Top of the Pops) and people were even injured. The BBC had to pay for a lot of extra security on Top of the Pops days. We spoke to a security guard who worked at the BBC, albeit in the late 1980s. Even at that time, Top of the Pops nights were challenging for the security team; the witness said that “girls used to try and creep in in vans”.”

As an internal memo of 1966 pointed out, teenagers trying to get on the pop show also sought the dressing rooms, and BBC club and restaurant. A suggestion that the show ought to go to more defensible premises, such as the Riverside Studios at Elstree, was not taken up. As the report points out, the system in the 1970s to 1990s of two checks of tickets and queues worked well for an obedient, consenting adult audience; but not for youths keen to meet their heroes. As the report pointed out, the problem was that Top of the Pops brought into the ‘labyrinthine’ Television Centre scores of teenage girls of unchecked age, some impressionable and star-struck. “I have little doubt that some of the girls would have been more than happy to have sexual contact with such men on the premises, insofar as practicable and also to make assignations for afterwards.” Dame Janet added: “I cannot think that it was acceptable for the BBC to run a programme which effectively provided a ‘picking-up’ opportunity such as this.” Rather than look into press allegations, ‘the concern within the BBC seems to have been to dampen down any adverse publicity’. The BBC’s attitude was that a performer could do what he or she wished in a dressing room; rather like a hotel room

Security problems on nights when a popular group was performing on Top of the Pops continued into the 1980s, sometimes bringing Wood Lane to a standstill. Dame Janet concluded: ‘at least during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (and possibly after that period), young people attending Top of the Pops were at risk of moral danger’. It was nobody’s specific responsibility to protect the moral welfare of young members of the audience; ‘child protection was simply not a live issue’. As for Savile’s part in this, the inquiry heard from several men and women who worked on the programme, and gossip about Savile; the priority would have been ‘to protect the programme’; staff (and bands) ‘did not want to rock the boat’.

As for the long-running ‘family entertainment’ show that Savile fronted into the 1990s, Jim’ll Fix It, the report said that by the 1980s, ‘some members of the production team had become concerned about Savile and felt he could not be trusted with young people … there was the tacit adoption of a modus operandi designed to protect children and young people without jeopardising the stability of the programme’.

For the outline of the report, click here. You can download the full 793-page report or parts from the BBC Trust website.

For a blog by Charlie Maclean-Bristol, business continuity trainer, on the report, visit http://www.b-c-training.com.

The separate report into the disgraced broadcaster Stuart Hall likewise described security by commissionaires at BBC Manchester at Piccadilly in the city centre as less tight than in London. Anyone who walked purposefully past the commissionaires would have gained access to the building without being questioned. “It is generally agreed (and witnesses who entered as Hall’s guests confirm this) that, if Hall wanted to bring women or girls onto the premises, this would not be questioned; they would simply be waved through without any record being made of who they were.” There, and at New Broadcasting House in Oxford Road in the 1980s, security did not impede Hall ‘in his desire to bring women and girls onto the premises’.


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