Monday, 8 October 2012

Jimmy Savile

What do we make of the revelations seeping out that Jimmy Savile was a bit too keen on young girls?

I have to say that I am sorry to hear it. I always thought he was a bit unusual, one of a kind, perhaps a bit eccentric with his blond hair and funny outfits, and his big cigar, and his rings, and his catch phrases, but he was cheerful and made things happen, and he seemed very good with children. I often wondered why we never heard about what he did in his private life, but then it was easy to assume that he didn't have one, no wife or sweetheart, and that he lived the frantic life of a Top of the Pops presenter all the time. I gathered that he loved his mum, had a brother, did worthy things for charities, and owned a Rolls Royce. It all seemed fair enough. He seemed to become a national treasure with Jim'll Fix It. I was too old to ever appear on that - and of course even he couldn't arrange what I really wanted for myself.

I can't say I was ever strongly pro-Jimmy Savile, but I did think he was somebody who had made a career supporting good ideas and good causes. And when he told us it was the Age of the Train, he made British Rail seem very cool and trendy.

And now we are hearing about another side to this man. And it will undo all the good he did.

He won't be the only one. I'm waiting daily for someone else to be named and shamed. Perhaps someone still alive. Perhaps someone still working for the BBC. I can think of several other people on TV in Jimmy Savile's heyday who I most definitely suspected of Wandering Hand Syndrome, and not just BBC people either. Men who groped women were in every workplace. Maybe they still are. I mean, what has changed? Do women really get vastly more respect now than they used to?

When I started work in 1970 I quickly noticed that broadly speaking there were three kinds of men. There was the quiet, steady sort who got on with their work and were courteous towards all women. Then there were the drunks, who were often very pleasant when sober, and were frequently defended, but after a liquid lunch they were red-faced and useless at the job, and might as well have gone home for all the good they did. Sometimes these men got rather too maudlin, too inclined to seek kisses and other kinds of sympathy. Then there were the outright womanisers. At first, I thought they were sophisticated and charming. They were certainly engaging talkers. Then I saw that they preyed on the youngest of the office girls, and also some of the older ones who should have known better. I saw that they liked to place their hands on knees and thighs, casually, in the pub mainly, but often at the desk too.

I think that, morally speaking, office life deteriorated during the 1970s, so that by 1980 it was nothing to see very drunken behaviour on Fridays. And indeed any other day, when some kind of celebration was in order. I speak first-hand of the old Inland Revenue. Most events requiring the consumption of immense quantities of alcohol arose from the various stages in an Inspector's training. Such as being selected for the Final Course, or passing the terrifying exams further down the line (quite an intellectual feat, I assure you), or finally getting promotion, or being transferred to another office. Each office, especially in London or any big city, had a number of people going through this lengthy and draining process. I was one of them. For the rest of the staff it was essentially a day off in the pub. When I left Southampton 2 office in 1978, with promotion and a transfer to Wimbledon office to look forward to, the entire office came to the pub, everyone, and I bought the most expensive round of my life. Easily 35 to 40 people. It seemed like a £200 round in today's money.

Once in London, I noticed that not only was hard drinking expected of you: sexually explicit behaviour was also part of the culture. The work got done in an atmosphere charged with sexual tension, partly fuelled by the recent recruitment of many pretty girls out of school. They giggled and messed around, some of them with a very good idea of the effect they were having. The young men were totally distracted. Older men ogled lewdly. And of course come Christmastime all kinds of things went on, from the top down. In 1980, my boss, the District Inspector, invited all the girls he liked to come into his office during the afternoon Office Party on Christmas Eve, one by one, and sit on his knee. Reportedly he kissed them all. I couldn't see what pleasure they could have had from a boozy middle-aged man with cigar-breath, but then I wasn't one of those young girls. He must have intrigued them with his wit and wisdom. I kept aloof. I certainly didn't interfere. Nor did any of the older women in the office. We all pretended it wasn't really happening. And it wasn't just the boss. Each Inspector had their own room, usually private and lockable. Who knows what might be going on inside. In another office, in the early 1980s, I had it from the Management Inspector there - an openly gay man, incidentally, with a mischievous sense of humour - that one Christmas he'd blundered into an unlocked Inspector's room to find the man with his trousers down, rogering a lady sprawled over his desk. He gave her a child. I believed this was a true story. Certainly there were women in that office who behaved as if they wanted to be taken.

I'm not making excuses for the misbehaviour of some men high up in the workplace pyramid. I'm simply saying that from what I saw, or heard about, sex was part of the ordinary office culture during the 1970s and 1980s. It went with the heavy drinking. And although many women in the office stood well away from all this bad behaviour, there were some women who liked to have a drink with the boys, and liked to behave as if they could be seduced. This made life very difficult for the rest. If the BBC was anything like the Inland Revenue, then it would have been normal for a man so inclined to indiscriminately 'chat up' anyone he pleased, and to be very free with his hands. Again, I stress that I did not approve then, and certainly don't approve in retrospect, but I did let it happen, and the way these things were tolerated made it hard to stop. Jimmy Savile would have been misbehaving in this kind of atmosphere.

After 1990, the Revenue got much more serious about getting the job done, much more professional in its approach, and a lot more emphasis was placed on what was proper behaviour. This coincided with initiatives to bridge cultural differences within the Department, and remove barriers to advancement. The introduction of performance-related pay was another major factor in eliminating maverick behaviour. By 2000 the hard drinking (and the abuses associated with it) had all but vanished, at least in my office in Croydon. Perhaps it was so in other workplaces too, but I can't speak for the BBC.

3 comments:

  1. JS always made my skin crawl... Could not bear to even watch TOTP if he was involved so nothing surprises me about him. What is more shocking is that males in power have abused it for so long, then again it is often the bullies who get to the top!

    Sometimes I think that I must be one of the few whose lives have not been driven by seeking sex. There are times when the whole culture seems to be based on it...

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  2. I remember a friend of mine who was 'in the business' told me that he's rounded up a couple of prostitutes for JS after a gig. It was a long time ago and I remember being shocked at the time, so yesterday's news was no surprise to me.

    When I worked in the bank you expected at least one man in every branch to have WHT. Most of us laughed it off. I had a girl I was in charge of in tears because of the advances of an older man. I spoke to him straight away about it and he left her alone. I also told her that if she was grabbed from behind to make sure she stepped back onto his foot with her high heel shoe.

    Fortunately today, in France at least, such behavoir is against the law. What about if your job is on the line? Some of these cases take years to come to court.

    A lot of things were tolorated in the past, thank goodness they aren't today.

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  3. Society has changed a lot since the 'seventies and 'eighties. Now I have to admit to feeling a little uncomfortable now when Watching Sgt. Carter leering at passing schoolgirls in episodes of The Sweeney. And yet back then such comments would have been considered normal.

    The problem we have is the divide between social attitudes and actual illegal behaviour. The legal Age of Consent was known even back then, and people who acted on their impulses and broke the law cannot be excused just because society was a bit relaxed about such things.

    Back when I was very young I used to watch ToTP, and it never occurred to me that the young women in the audience were really only 14 or 15. I took it for granted they were adults, 18 at least.

    Given the sex and drugs, rock and pop lifestyle enjoyed by the stars and DJs who appeared on the show, what the hell were the BBC producers doing allowing girls that young to be on it? Again social attitudes, in this case male social attitudes, meant that it was just accepted as OK.

    It's all too late to do much about it now, I guess. The investigation will bring more to light, and perhaps the institutions involved will suffer some financial penalties. But I feel cynical enough to say that the only real lesson the people at the top will learn, is that they have to get better at covering things up.

    Chrissie

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