Wednesday, 31 October 2012




there's been nothing much to report from stu's Camden white rectangle since August. and now this. the whole thing voided out. stu's doing? not sure yet.

Friday, 26 October 2012

What will the Savile saga teach us?

The Savile thing roars on and on. BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patten provided yesterday's best hashtag suggestion by referring to the roaring sound as being generated by "a tsunami of filth" which has broken over the Corporation's beleaguered new Director General, George Entwhistle. But this colourful term somehow did not make it as a top Twitter trend so perhaps it can be passed on to any death metal bands looking for a new name. In the meantime, there's more filth, conjecture and innuendo out there than a little blog like this can possibly handle. So, for now at least, there will be no attempt here to form an argument about what the Savile affair might tell us about this country, its media sector or its power structures. After all, nothing new that can be offered here would be any more eloquent and insightful than the line of argument developed a couple of weeks ago by anti-poverty campaigner and tax researcher Richard Murphy.

We can take a look at Murphy's reasoning in due course. In the meantime, let's consider a few simple observations.

What would you have done?
The first of these observations is just a matter of wondering about the souls, sanity and morals of those people who clearly knew for many years that Sir Jimmy was having his wicked way with under-age girls. They knew. But they said and did nothing.

One such person now feeling remorseful about this is Dennis Garbutt, who worked as Savile's driver for twelve months in the early 1970s. Garbutt's wife told The  Daily Mirror:
"Den knew what was going on and we regret not doing anything about it at the time. He said Savile would have girls wherever he went. I couldn't say how many, it was all over the country every time they stopped. He said, 'These girls are barely older than our daughter, who was 12 at the time.' It happened at the Leeds General Infirmary, at Broadmoor and in London. When he stopped he would have young girls. We both feel bad that we never said anything to the police, we're as bad as all the others for not coming forward."
According to this interview, Mr. Garbutt resigned from his driving job as a result of not being able to tolerate his boss's abhorrent behaviour. So while it may be tempting to condemn Garbutt for his failure to pass on what he knew to the police, at least he walked away from the job in disgust. The same cannot be said for some people in rather better paid and more glamorous roles at the BBC.

Among these is the veteran broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who, speaking recently on ITV's Daybreak programme, said that he had been waiting for thirty years for stories of Savile's crimes to come fully to light. It was interesting to hear Gambaccini saying now something that comedian Jerry Sadowitz was saying twenty-five years ago - putting forward the argument that Savile used his charity fundraising work as a lever to prevent his sordid behaviour being exposed.

So why did Gambaccini not try to draw that behaviour to the attention of someone in a position to put a stop to it? In his Daybreak interview, he put it this way:
"Savile had an imperial personality in show business, I'm not talking about personal life. You just didn't mess with Jim. He was the governor, because after all he had been the first great club DJ, he had been the originator of Top Of The Pops presentation, and you just let him have his turf. And none of us were interested in going there because he was away from us. At social occasions we would all be together, but Jim would not be and he had his own life."
Perhaps you infer from this that the US-born DJ was among a group of Radio 1 employees who felt that outing Savile as a predatory paedophile would be career suicide. If that is what you take from Gambaccini's remarks then you must also infer that he and his colleagues felt that keeping their cushy jobs in broadcasting was a matter of greater importance than acting to prevent child abuse of almost industrial scale. Really, Paul? Spinning records on the radio and doing the talky bit between lip-synching performances on Top of the Pops was a role you valued so much that you decided not to report a child molester? Shame on you. As an articulate and well-educated man (PPE degree from Oxford), you could have easily found other work. Maybe even work of more importance than introducing the latest masterpiece from Black Lace on a Thursday evening.

As this horrible business unfolds, we may see that other well-known TV faces turned a blind eye to the actions of a heartless predator rather than risk career damage. Along the way, we can think of our own job and ask ourselves this question - If I were pretty sure that an important and successful colleague was fucking children, would I really keep quiet in order to keep my job? Only you can decide what your answer would be. Only you can decide if you consider yourself to have higher standards than the likes of Gambaccini and others who remained silent about Sir Jimmy.

Always listen to the sick comics
Today's second observation is that if you want to know what's really going on then you should pay attention to what that man Jerry Sadowitz is saying.

Over the last few days, much has been made of the fact that the Scottish comic and magician felt able to refer to Jimmy Savile as a "child bender" as long ago as 1987.

But Sadowitz knew more than that.

As Paul Gambaccini has continued with his hand-wringing this week, his latest allegation is that Sir Jimmy has a taste for necrophilia as well as paedophilia. Speaking on Radio 5 Live, Gambaccini has suggested that Savile messed around with the bodies of dead children in a Leeds hospital. But this is not news for Sadowitz fans. In a performance last year (all SoundCloud and Vimeo clips of which have disappeared in the last few days), the sweary Scotsman listed necrophilia among Savile's vices.

Sadowitz has often been labelled as an exponent of 'sick' humour. This means he appears to comment in a callous way about human misfortune. It also means his vitriolic stage persona is heard to endorse bigotry and stereotyping of nationalities or ethnic groups. But anyone capable of understanding Sadowitz's act will spot the ironic delivery and realise that it is the bigotry and the stereotyping which are being mocked. This is akin to the Alf Garnett character created by Johnny Speight to satirise racism, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. The somewhat inevitable irony was that different people found Till Death Us Do Part funny for different reasons. Some understood that Garnett's horrible prejudices were being lampooned. They laughed at Alf. Others missed the point and believed they were laughing with the Cockney wanker. More recently, Al Murray's Pub Landlord character has been understood and misunderstood in pretty much the same ways.

Speaking to The Guardian's James Kettle last year, Sadowitz made it clear that he had no wish to be seen as the inspiration for today's PC-baiting comics such as Jimmy Carr, Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle.  "If I had known in advance that so many people would hijack the material I put across in my act, and what they would do to it, I would never have taken up comedy," he said. "Never. I'm sorry I've given some very nasty people a good living."

Sadowitz says he objects to the way the genuine rage behind what he does has been turned into a performance by others. "I do find Frankie Boyle offensive," he says. "He'll write a joke, or someone will write it and give it to him, and he'll do it without any thought. It's like someone quoting something without even understanding what it is they've quoted."

Jerry Sadowitz is, of course, not the only comic to be labelled as 'sick' while playing with difficult ideas and making some people feel uncomfortable along the way. Another is Chris Morris, the creator of The Day Today and Brass Eye. Listen to this Morris snippet recorded almost eighteen years ago:

These sick comedians - they knew what Sir Jimmy was about and they didn't mind saying so. The lesson here, perhaps, is that if you want to know what's really going on, it pays to listen to the outliers and the oddballs - the people who are unafraid of saying the supposedly unsayable.

What next?
So the Jimmy Savile shitstorm blows on unabated for now, getting weirder and more toxic by the day. Those interested in humbling (and eventually destroying) the BBC will doubtless seek to use this sordid business to their advantage. At the same time, the question may arise about why the tabloid press never chose to dig into Savile's disgusting private life. After all, it's becoming very clear that a good number of well-connected people knew what he was up to. Even very marginal public figures like the relatively obscure Sadowitz had heard persistent rumours. So are we really to believe that Rupert Murdoch's minions could hack the phones and go through the bins of all and sundry without ever hearing anything about Jimmy Savile? Really? At the same time as taking a close and persistent interest in child abuse? It does seem rather strange, doesn't it?

While you ponder that idea, consider the question asked in Parliament this week by Tom Watson about evidence used to convict paedophile Peter Righton more than twenty years ago. Watson told MPs that "the evidence file used to convict Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring" and that one member of that ring boasted "of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad."

"The leads were not followed up, but if the files still exist", Watson continued. "I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it, and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10."

Jumping to conclusions is rarely a good idea, but as you consider which former PM may have been close to the aide mentioned by Tom Watson, you may find it hard not to wonder whether Savile fits into the picture somehow. After all, Sir Jimmy famously became friendly with Margaret Thatcher and reportedly spent eleven consecutive New Year's Eves as her guest as Chequers.

But even if there is no link between Righton, Savile and a senior aide to a former PM (Thatcher or some other past Prime Minister), another troubling question could concern the role of the country's security forces when it comes to protecting heads of Her Majesty's Government from risky associations. Just as we might ask whether it's really feasible for the UK's aggressively persistent tabloid hacks to have known nothing of Savile's proclivities, we might also ask whether our country's intelligence officers take no interest in the PM's social life. Can it really be the case that they stand by and offer no word of warning when the Prime Minister chooses to offer hospitality to someone who we now know was dogged by particularly vile rumours for many years? Or are we to assume that anyone can come and go at Chequers without a bit of background checking? It seems like an extraordinary state of affairs either way.

What sort of country is this?
While you mull over these troubling questions, let's check out that interesting article by Richard Murphy, who contends that Savile got away with countless acts of child abuse because he was able to exploit a particularly egregious feature of British society.

"Our society is obsessed with power, and celebrity," writes Murphy. If you've read Oliver James's Affluenza and concurred with its central premise, you will be nodding with agreement at this point.

"Mix the two," Murphy continues, "and people believe a person is quite unlike other people. Though they're not." He goes on to contend that "this society is massively hierarchical" with  power "afforded to those at the top."

"The rest are meant to obey", writes Murphy. "It's incredibly hard to break this rule. At work people want 'team players'. Those are the people who will obey, not rock the boat, won't question and know when to turn a blind eye. Because people have learned that this is how to survive we have large numbers of people in this country who know this is what is expected of them if they are to get on – especially if they are also told in no uncertain terms that they will never make it to the top. Far too many people are told that. I suspect Savile knew that."

Hospitals, children's homes, a mental health facility: it's becoming abundantly clear that Jimmy Savile often selected the most vulnerable victims possible. The ones that no one cared about. The ones who would never be believed.

But in Murphy's analysis, Savile did not only exploit the most obviously weak in our society. He also exploited people with good jobs. People who did not want to lose those jobs. 

"Society does exploit people in these roles in so many ways," continues Murphy, "and it is power that does it: managers want people who will not challenge them, nor bring them news they do not want to hear. So they don't hear it as they're not told it."

If Murphy is right about this, then perhaps we need to think again about the long silence of Paul Gambaccini and others. It was so easy, earlier in this piece, to assert a certain moral superiority over those who could have blown the whistle in the Savile case but chose not to do so. But can we all honestly say we would definitely prioritise the welfare of children we don't know personally over our salaries, our mortgages and over staying in an interesting line of work? If you entertain the suspicion that not everyone would answer in the affirmative, then you may be troubled by the picture which this paints of your fellow human beings and the societies in which we live.

This is all pretty bleak. We need some comfort here. Fortunately, Richard Murphy is able to offer a little of that.

Murphy's analysis of power and status forms one of his two answers to the uncomfortable question of why no one tried very hard to expose Savile before he was dead. The other answer springs from an anecdote in which Murphy recalls a debate at Southampton University in 1977. He was nineteen year-old student there at the time. The motion being debated was that society should respect the right of paedophiles to follow their sexual urges. You will doubtless be pleased to learn that the motion was defeated. But perhaps you will be shocked at the idea of the motion being proposed in the first place. Would such a motion conceivably be debated by undergraduates today? Probably not, right?

"It says something of the time that such a motion was proposed by those too liberal for their own good", writes Murphy. "That was the era". Ordinarily, this blog baulks at any suggestion  that people's sexual preferences should be proscribed in any way. The usual line here is that anything goes between consenting adults. But we're not talking about relations between consenting adults. We're talking about predators seeking to take advantage of the natural power imbalance between adult and minor. So, if over the last few decades we have become more concerned about child abuse and less tolerant of child abusers, this is surely a case of a less liberal attitude being a good thing. This hardening of attitude may make it harder for a any present day equivalent of Jimmy Savile (i.e. a paedophile in a prominent, powerful position) to get away with similar offences for anything like as long as the late entertainer managed to. So perhaps we can draw comfort from that thought. Yes, at times, the moral panic around paedophilia has sometimes been overcooked to the point of appearing ridiculous, thereby providing inspiration for one of Chris Morris's most controversial pieces of work. But it's surely better to err towards too much vigilance and concern than it is to turn a blind eye. Definitely the lesser of two evils. Whether really useful lessons can be drawn from the Savile saga, however, remains to be seen.

Friday, 12 October 2012


... yeah, those FCC people are still "working very hard" to "put a stop to" the graffiti action on their trains... and still losing the battle... runners aplenty still... this one isn't the prettiest maybe but, fair play, a lot of effort went into it... 

Thursday, 11 October 2012


... about Jimmy Savile... TEN TWENTY-FIVE* YEARS AGO:

(Well remembered/spotted, Agnes Guano)

*Thanks to Owen Kenny for the correction here - Sadowitz's mention of the Cleveland child abuse scandal dates this recording at 1987!)

New form of Tourette's in Cobham?

It seems that a new, previously unknown form of Tourette's Syndrome has suddenly become a cause for concern. It varies from the widely known inherited neuropsychiatric disorder in three important ways:

  • it affects written/typed output rather than spoken utterances
  • it is contagious
  • it is most often observed in professional footballers whose preferred position is left-back

An outbreak of this variant of Tourette's has affected the Cobham area in Surrey. Two professional footballers who train in the area have been afflicted. Last week, Chelsea's Ashley Cole came out with this outburst:

Today, his team mate and fellow left-back Ryan Bertrand, while explaining why a sore throat has made him unavailable for selection by the England manager, opined thus:

Roberto di Matteo must be desperately worried. Surely it's enough that his skipper has spent a year trying to get away with screaming the words "fucking black cunt" on the pitch at Loftus Road last season. Now the man keeping Pep Guardiola's seat warm has to deal with all this additional potty-mouthery? Robby seems like such a nice man. What has he done to deserve this?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

We have morons too

In the wake of the interminable nonsense resulting from John Terry's use of the expression "fucking black cunt" at Loftus Road last year, many QPR supporters have had fun with terrace chants that riff on the notion of Terry being a racist. Then there's been the business of Chelsea supporters (and, amazingly, some West Brom supporters at the Hawthorns on Saturday!) directing chants of "you know what you are" towards Anton Ferdinand, the Rangers player subjected to Terry's ugly language. Anyone who has sung that song and claimed that it is not with racist intent is being entirely disingenuous. So along the way, some among the QPR crowd have taken to the notion of Chelsea as a 'racist club' with 'racist' fans. That is far too simplistic, of course. But that said, it doesn't seem unfair to suppose that the Pensioners have a higher than average number of bigoted berks among their fan base.

For me, some weight was added to that idea last season when - wouldn't you just know it? - it just happened to be a Chelsea supporter that I heard serenading a London pub with the old Spurs on their way to Auschwitz song. When I objected to this, the charming fellow threatened to glass me for my impertinence. Explaining that my objection sprang from being related to people who lost loved ones in the Holocaust had no immediate effect in terms of turning him into a decent human being.

What a dismal afternoon that was. You go down to Stamford Bridge to see the Rangers getting a massive tonking. You get soaked to the skin along the way. You duck into a Euston Road pub to see if Tottenham can help out QPR by beating Blackburn, and who do you encounter? A jubilant Chelsea supporter with a line in gas chambers humour and a very short fuse. Still, the day didn't end too badly. Spurs did indeed do us the favour we needed and, amazingly, the angry Chelsea fan had some sort of revelation during the second half of the match. Someone - his girlfriend/wife, I think - had had a word with him. "I'm sorry, mate," he offered. "I hadn't really thought about what I was singing about."

So when someone directs songs about Hitler and gas chambers towards Spurs supporters, it does not necessarily follow that he or she is actually a Jew-hating, pro-Nazi anti-semite. The singer could just be a thoughtless, insensitive moron who thinks anything is fair game and nothing is beyond the pale.

So let's not assume that when a QPR supporter sings songs like this it definitely means we have a racist in our midst. He could be a racist. Or just a moron. Either way, it's remarkably unpleasant. 

But no QPR fan ever sings stuff like that any more, you cry! Not so. While songs of this sort are thankfully uncommon at Loftus Road, have a look at this charming fellow and keep him in mind if you're ever tempted to feel a bit smug about the idea of an entirely blameless Rangers crowd taking the Chelsea contingent to task for racist songs:


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Sir Jimmy and the yuckiness of kids' TV

Last night's dig into the strange life of Leeds-born Sir Jimmy Savile held no huge surprises by the time it was on air. This is partly because, as with any sensational TV expose these days, the contents of the programme had been leaked into the public consciousness and much discussed several days ahead of its broadcast. But that lack of a sudden shock impact notwithstanding, there was still something morbidly compelling about the sordid trudge through evidence supporting the contention that Savile was a prolific sexual abuser of young girls. Mark Williams-Thomas, a former police detective, spent nearly a year tracking down women who claim to have been abused by the late DJ, TV star and charity stalwart. Their testimony was a depressing litany of small, sad details. The dismal couplings in dressing rooms and camper vans. Quick fumbles, described as bewildering for the alleged objects of Savile's attentions as well as apparently brief and joyless for Savile himself. The finger in the anus. The quick wank. Horrible stuff.

But pre-broadcast spoilers did not seem to be the the sole cause of many viewers expressing a lack of surprise about the allegations being levelled at the late Sir Jimmy. After all, while yesterday's programme has added new evidence into the mix, rumours about Savile and paedophilia are not new. More than twelve years ago he was the subject of the first of Louis Theroux's series of When Louis Met documentary films. While that film did not really dig into any child abuse allegations, rumours of that nature were brought up when the Guardian's Simon Hattenstone interviewed Savile about Theroux's documentary:
"The press has dogged him for years, determined to pin some nastiness on him. Savile says they have failed miserably. Is he talking about the paedophile rumours? "Yes. Louis raised the subject. 'A lot of people think you're into little girls,' he said. 'No, I told him.' Well why did they think so? It could be that because I know all the pop stars. If a group of girls see me they will come round to ask me questions about their beloved because they know I'm the fella that's with them. From an outside point of view, they'll say 'Look at them young girls clambering round him'. They've got entirely the wrong context. If I said to any of them birds: 'I fancy giving you one', they'd be mortally horrified." He says he started telling people he couldn't stand children in order to deflect the rumours."
But Hattenstone apparently decided not to press his interviewee on the question of why the media would have wanted to pursue such a line of inquiry. This is a pity, because it could have led to led to an interesting discussion about a striking disjoint between Savile's portrayal of vigorous media interest in these dark rumours and what appears to be a truer picture of the late DJ actually being given a surprisingly easy ride. Writing in today's Telegraph, Neil Midgley notes that numerous people who worked with Savile at the BBC had been aware of gossip and rumours and that very little had ever been done in response. "That was the thread that made this programme so very chilling", observes Midgley. "I grew up in Leeds, and when I was a kid there were lurid playground rumours about Savile, which went far beyond suggestions of abuse of teenage girls. Last night’s programme not only got to the heart of direct allegations against Savile, but vividly posed the question: why was nothing ever done, when the rumours were so persistent?"

As those direct allegations unfolded on screen last night, an interesting set of responses was observable via Twitter. These came in the form of comments from people who had apparently not previously heard rumours about Savile being unhealthily interested in under-age girls. The drift of many such remarks was of people having always felt that there was just something rather creepy about the late presenter of iconic shows such as Jim'll Fix It and Top of the Pops. These comments will surely resonate for many. How about you? If you're old enough to have seen Sir Jimmy introducing the acts on TOTP or making kids' small dreams come true on a Saturday evening, what did you make of his eccentric image at the time?

No one who grew up on a telly diet of just three or four TV channels can have possibly avoided the sight and sound of Savile jangling his jewellery, yodelling tonelessly and trotting out his limited selection of tired catchphrases. Along the way, what feelings, if any, did the veteran entertainer inspire in you when he was on your prime time screen? Perhaps you admired his vigorous charity work. Fair enough. But even if you did, does it follow that you were also moved to develop any affection for the supposedly avuncular star of TV's teatime hits? The sense here at this is my england is that genuine affection for Savile's strikingly odd public persona was something rather rare, certainly on the part of young people. Wasn't he always just a weirdly irritating and unfunny character foisted upon children and teenagers by the people who ran the BBC? If you were at school in the seventies or eighties, did any of your contemporaries ever utter the words "I love Jimmy Savile" or "I'm a massive Jimmy Savile fan"? Did any of your classmates write Savile's name on a pencil case or on the back of an exercise book? It seems unlikely that you can remember anyone doing so, right? 

Looking back at the children's television of the past through the jaded prism of adult experience, it now feels like the programming very often featured peculiarly repellent creatures whose appeal to kids existed only in the misguided imagination of adults commissioning the shows. How else can we account for children's telly providing a source of income for the likes of Timmy Mallett,  Christopher Biggins and the Chuckle Brothers?

Observing that irriatating oddballs like these do not actually meet with the genuine approval of kids is nothing new. Mallett, it is widely assumed, is the inspiration for Des Kaye, a character played by David Walliams in the first series of Little Britain. Kaye, a failed children's TV host reduced to working in a DIY store, is shown failing to establish empathy with his erstwhile target audience:

In the Little Britain radio series which pre-dates the more popular TV version, Kaye's back story includes mention of him being fired from his presenting gig for having been caught masturbating in a toilet. This detail touches on the idea that beyond simply being dismal, certain kinds of kids' TV performer have about them a whiff of something more sinister.

But even when this dark notion is put to one side, there still exists the familiar trope of the children's entertainer who just dislikes children. A fictional example who springs to mind is the character of Mr. Partridge in the holiday camp sitcom Hi-di-Hi! Partridge, dispirited by the lack of respect he receives from increasingly bad-mannered children, drinks heavily and regularly takes it upon himself to discipline the unruly kids with violence. In one episode, the ageing comic tries to strangle a boy who is spoiling one of his shows, and throughout the series his act is shown as simply failing to appeal to his young audience. 

When considering this unhappy creation of the Hi-di-Hi! scriptwriters, a personal memory springs to mind. It's the early 1980s and a young this is my england has been dragged to the ruby wedding celebrations of Great Uncle Den and Great Aunt Bette, taking place in a Post Office Social Club in south-east London. As the booze flows and as the relatives dig into the buffet, entertainment has been laid on for the youngsters. An elderly gent known as 'Naughty Uncle Wally' tries to get us interested in his balloon animals, in his corny jokes and in dancing the hokey-cokey. It is excruciatingly embarrassing. Uncle Wally seems like a boring old tool, reduced to knowing references to his audience's refusal to enjoy the show. We kids are harangued into participating. Wally is a bully. It is the opposite of fun. The smaller ones shed tears and run for their mums. Did we think then in terms of old Wally being creepy rather than just irritating and boring? It's hard to be sure all these years later. But memories like this move closer to the surface of the mind when wondering today about why entertaining children once seemed to be a craft which attracted strange old men. 

If you look at children's TV today, it seems that there has been something of a backlash. The presenters are not that much older than the kids and they seem to be trying to embody the brash, knowing coolness of whatever currently passes for youth culture. Whether this is a good thing is debatable. But perhaps it feels like a better thing than connecting kids with ageing weirdoes.

Whether the truth of the allegations about Jimmy Savile can ever be definitely established remains to be seen. But the story will rumble on a while longer and hands will doubtless continue to be wrung over that question of why nothing was ever done to prevent these alleged crimes. Whatever the outcome (if there can be any real outcome), one question sure to be discussed will be around the damage done to the image of the late entertainer. Some will lament the tarnishing of his image as a hard-working and generous charity campaigner. Others will regret a certain loss of innocence - the idea that a harmless eccentric may really have been a loathsome monster. But for those of us who were actually kids when a big part of Savile's job was entertaining children and teenagers, let's return to the thought that very few of us ever actively liked Sir Jimmy in the first place. Was he ever anything more than a strange adult with no warmth and no ability to operate on our wavelength? Wasn't he just one of a collection of oddballs that massively out-of-touch adults stuck on our TV screens while labouring under the misapprehension that we would enjoy their tedious schtick?