Jimmy Savile was a very bad man, there seems little doubt about that. So how did he hold such an elevated place in British society? Was it hypnosis or misdirection, blackmail or sheer force of will? Did he groom the UK? Are we all his victims?
Well, you'd think so. Whenever the issue is raised everyone now jumps to say that they suspected him all along. Nobody ever liked him or trusted him, everyone always found him creepy - so why was he on telly in the most prominent possible position for nearly forty years? Why did we all used to watch him? Why did Britain lower its collective head when he died, and play along with the outrageously self-serving funeral rites he had put in place?
I don't have any answers, and there are simply far too many questions. I don't believe that it was all a massive conspiracy, because that way madness lies, but I also can't think it could have been possible without some sort of collusion. That said, Savile was clearly a resourceful and horribly self-possessed kind of monster - he almost seems capable of anything. Perhaps that's why they concreted his grave, not to keep thieves out, but to keep him in.
What I keep coming back to is his public persona: how very weird it really was and how very normal we all once believed it to be. Was it a case of misguided faith in the tradition of British eccentricity, in the notion of the card, the character? Or was it that, without knowing what he was really capable of, we were happy to balance his good works against his obvious personality issues and, because we are predominantly a fair minded people, consider one adequate compensation for the other? Some sort of strange national psychological shift must have taken place, as Jimmy Savile, loner, oddball, misanthrope, exhibitionist, bully and narcissist (these are just the traits he freely exhibited, the ones he showed us) somehow became a man qualified to tell the nation how to behave - a person chosen to warn us against danger.
It would have been the bitterest of ironies if Savile had ever presented a public information film about stranger danger or not accepting sweets from people you don't know (he didn't, although he did write the foreword for some cautionary books on the subject), but it still seems incredible to me that he was ever allowed to present anything, simply because he was such a deeply and unapologetically strange person. Take a look at this PIF from 1971. Try and watch it as objectively as you can, judge him on what you see, not what you now know.
So, objectively, what is going on here? Forget the mismatched outfit and the jewelry and the dirty white Perkin Warbeck haircut, these are as much props as his cigars and that chair he used to have that made cups of tea. What we have is a brittle, brusque man, full of anger, seething with contempt. When he starts shaking the box he becomes visibly agitated, his shoulders squaring as if ready for confrontation. He doesn't smile once, not even when his serious point is made. He's all stick, no carrot - and if you don't listen to him you're going to get smashed to bits: very unfunny.
In the second clip he's het up about women and their inability to shop and pick up the kids without causing an accident, although the idea that they might be badly disfigured seems to satisfy his desire that they get what's coming to them. And is it just me, or do they hold the final shot a little too long? Don't look into his eyes, you will start to feel that he is unblinkingly appraising you, and that you are not coming out of it at all well. Basically, he hates you, regardless of whether or not you wear a seatbelt.
Here's a short clip from his Saturday primetime variety show 'Clunk Click'. This is a low-key, more adult Savile than we're used to. He's actually quite somber and thoughtful, which is much more disconcerting than his usual sinister tomfoolery, especially if you listen to what he's actually saying. He's basically comparing himself to Jesus, and telling Uri Geller to use his gift to heal the world, just like Jimmy has. Savile seems convinced that he has overcome incredible odds to be on the telly, but he may of course be thinking of his double life, which must have been extremely difficult to maintain.
When he stops talking about himself and lets Uri do his thing, the subject of his drawing gets some indulgent titters from contemporary audiences used to the idea of Jimmy as a 'ladies man', but it obviously gives pause now. Interestingly, this clip (and the next) were taken from the BBC tribute show broadcast a couple of months after he died when he was still considered a high achieving weirdo and national treasure rather than an evil monster.
Finally, here he is in conversation with Russell Harty, one of the most apparently artless but insidiously offensive interviewers who ever lived, a man who was always pissing off his subjects. There's something chilling about the control Savile exudes in this sequence: he's being interviewed live on national telly in front of a hundred people in person and millions at home, and he doesn't even bother to stop eating his dinner. When Harty puts his foot in it, Savile destroys him. It's all done under the pretence of banter, but his eyes aren't smiling - he's deadly serious, even about the chips - and the message is quite clear: this is not a man to be fucked with. If he was this aggressive offscreen, it is perhaps not surprising that people waited until he was dead to tell the truth about him.
I don't have a conclusion. I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist or even a particularly astute people watcher. I'm also looking at a completed jigsaw, not trying to work out what the picture should be, so it's easy to see everything as a puzzle piece. But it bothers me this Savile business: the awful things he did; the impunity with which he did them; the fact that he got away with it his whole life, and that he implicated us all simply by being such a public figure, the fact that it was 'good while it lasted', and it lasted so very long. Like I say, it bothers me. It bothers me a lot.