In the autumn of 1980, Dan Davies was taken by his mum to watch a recording of Jim’ll Fix It at Shepherd’s Bush, west London. At the time it was one of the biggest family shows on television. Presented by mad-capped, Top of the Pops DJ Jimmy Savile, the formula had worked since 1975, making every Saturday night Christmas Day for a handful of the thousands of children who wrote into the show hoping that Jim would make their dreams come true.
Dan, however, came away nonplussed. Disillusioned by seeing the unvarnished reality of a TV show being recorded – and anyone who has knows that it’s a stop, start affair that can go on for hours – Dan noticed something else about Jimmy Savile that bothered him.
“In his gruff manner there seemed to be a suggestion of menace. For someone we all felt that we knew so well, there was something remote and cold and untouchable beyond the façade. I spent the car journey home in silence.”
It wasn’t until his mid-teens that Dan’s interest in Jimmy Savile was re-kindled. He happened to read a copy of Savile’s autobiography As It Happens. It was, he said, read in one sitting and became his Rosetta Stone. From that moment on his obsession began. He started to collect anything he could on Savile; newspaper clips; magazines and old Jim’ll Fix It annuals. Friends thought he was joking when he spoke of his ‘Jimmy Savile Dossier’ and how he “was going to use it to one day bring him down”.
Dan later went on to become a journalist. In 2004 he was working for Jack magazine when the editor had heard enough of Dan’s conspiracy theories and decided that he should do an article on him, subsequently sending him to Scarborough to interview the man himself.
It was the beginning of a relationship that was to last seven years. He went on write several articles about Savile. The result is a book that is deeply disturbing and timely, as new allegations begin to emerge.
So how did James Wilson Vincent Savile; Knight of the Realm; Order of the British Empire; marathon runner; pioneering disc jockey; hospital reformer; television presenter and competitive wrestler actually groom a nation? And why did none of these allegations come out whilst he was still alive?
Dan Davies’ book starts with the removal of Savile’s headstone from Woodlands cemetary in Scarborough less than twelve months after it was erected. It was done at night to avoid further controversy. Before it had been removed a bottle had been thrown at it, and relatives of those buried in neighbouring plots expressed concern about their loved ones.
We get to hear how Savile was the youngest of seven, and how he was always a sickly child who came close to death at a very young age after a pram accident. It’s actually quite telling that Savile’s account of this story is quite different from other people’s. It was the start of a game of smoke and mirrors, which he continued to play for the rest of his life. Polished and embellished anecdotes which worked well in interviews fell apart after the simplest of scrutiny. Piece by piece, Davies fits together Savile’s life story with the abuse we now know about.
The narrative is intertwined with the investigation that was being carried out by journalists Liz MacKean and Meirion Jones for the BBC’s Newsnight programme. After Savile’s death they pursued the rumours that he had sexually abused young girls at the Duncroft Approved School for Girls during the 1970s, which was a security facility for the criminally minded who were above average intelligence.
Davies dissects the disaster of Newsnight, who chose not to run the story claiming that they didn’t have enough evidence, only for ITV to break the story over a year later. He charts how the revelations nearly engulfed the entire BBC and the subsequent enquiries that were established – not only at the BBC, but in other organisations such as the NHS and West Yorkshire Police – to find out who exactly knew what and why nothing was done to stop it.
This is a well researched book that sheds new light on Savile’s depravities. It’s a tale that staggers belief that it was never revealed at the time and it’s a story of robbed childhoods and shattered lives by a man who was deeply entrenched in the establishment – and who was, whilst he was alive – simply invulnerable.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of this story involves an anonymous letter send to the Vice Squad at Scotland Yard, dated 13 July 1998. It reads: “He thinks he’s untouchable because of the people he mixes with,” and it closes with, “When Jimmy Savile falls, and sooner or later he will, a lot of well-known personalities and past politicians will fall with him.”
Steve Clatworthy – Senior Bookseller