Friday, 19 April 2013

Oh no, not Rolf as well

The latest person to be named in Operation Yewtree, the police inquiry into persons accused of historical sexual misconduct following the exposure of Jimmy Saville as a serial sex offender, is Rolf Harris. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22212131.

Yes, Rolf Harris the well-loved Australian (but UK-resident) entertainer, musician, and artist, of Animal Hospital fame, the man who sung the sentimental but heartfelt Two Little Boys (a celebration of noble unselfishness in childhood and adulthood), an icon of my childhood, whom I would have credited with as solid a character as any person alive. I can't believe it. Look at his life and career here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Harris. I never thought there was anything remotely suspect about him. All I will say is that I never liked men's beards: but it's not a crime to have one.

And yet the police have something on him, and his name has been made public in connection with an accusation of an act or acts that should not have taken place. Even if completely innocent, the damage to his reputation may be irreparable.

The damage to my own childhood equally so. Maybe yours too. There was, when I was young, a host of male TV entertainers and personalities who seemed whiter than white, and utterly 'safe'. So you could watch Blue Peter, and Crackerjack, and other programmes like that, with complete confidence that the male presenter or co-presenter was a Nice Person and no threat whatever. Indeed the very notion of a man being a possible threat to any child was not part of my world: men (well, reliable-looking kinds of men) were people you could run to, and appeal to for help if lost or hurt. (Children in less protected circumstances may have been more worldly-wise, of course) As you grew older, you naturally saw these men differently. Some time after I outgrew Children's TV, I began to hear of these presenters' sundry human failings, such as behind-the-scenes affairs with adult women, and health problems from too much booze. But nothing that would attract the attention of the police.

It's easy now to say that a person like Jimmy Saville was odd and creepy, and 'obviously' the sort of man to abuse his powerful position. Back in the sixties he merely seemed zany, a strong TV personality full of life and energy, a DJ with his own very individual style. The sort of person that the BBC would hire in order to seem hip and trendy to young people. They wanted a big audience for the newly-launched Radio One, and it was important to make Top of the Pops on the telly an unmissable weekly event. So that 'Did you see the Beatles - or the Hollies, or the Tremeloes, or the Small Faces - last night on Top of the Pops?' (or, later on, 'Did you see Pan's People?') would be the buzz. People like Jimmy Saville were perfect for such programmes. All the original Radio One DJs - such as Emperor Rosko - had their own quirks, their particular catchphrases. Strange, outlandish behaviour was expected. I dare say the BBC was anxious to get well away from bland, lounge-suited presenters of the past, such as David Jacobs. And perhaps was institutionally unable to spot the signs of questionable behaviour until that person had established an unassailable position.

It seems now that the people who commanded our respect, whether extrovert or not, should all be looked at in a fresh light. I find it all very saddening. It is right that those who misbehaved should not get away with it. Even if they are now in their seventies or eighties. You have only to imagine the feelings of their victims. But I do feel let down and disillusioned, and something about my young life has been destroyed.

And it wouldn't have just been men on TV. What about ordinary people, the men who lived in my town, in my street, and may have harboured thoughts that would have frightened me if I'd ever known what was in their minds? Who made a habit of saying hello to me, when I was a child? Thank goodness it's so long ago that I can't remember. (And I won't be having therapy to recall it from my subconscious)

And what about the ladies I knew? The social culture of the time made women's misbehaviour a forbidden secret so enmeshed in taboo that it was unimaginable or at least undiscussable. But of course a minority of women, some of them in public life, must have been abusing children. It will rock the nation when we find out who.

I do wonder what else is coming. And what the long-term effect will be on how people feel about each other. 

I am all against maintaining artificial assumptions about what certain types of persons are like. It is a stupid kind of blindness, it makes it easy for crimes to occur, and makes it impossible for victims to be listened to. But it will take a strong society to fully examine its members and come out of that with the notions of trust and innocence intact.

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Lucy Melford