Jimmy Savile and workplace culture today


The Metropolitan Police's Operation Yew Tree is looking at eight allegations against Sir Jimmy Savile

When I was a cub reporter on my local newspaper in the late 1970s, I returned from the magistrates court with what I thought was a front page story. A councillor had appeared on charges of sexual assault on young girls, an alleged abuse of power that had left me shocked.

But my disgust turned to outrage when the news editor told me they wouldn't be running the story. "Our readers don't want to hear about that kind of thing," he said. I remember he used the word "paedophilia" - a term I hadn't heard before. Whatever it meant, it was not a subject deemed worthy of space in that evening's paper.

It is a reminder of just how attitudes have changed. Many readers will recall how, 40 or 50 years ago, children were warned about the uncle with "wandering hands", the local flasher who hung around the playground or the PE teacher who took particular pleasure in getting small boys to do naked press-ups (that happened at my school).

But all too rarely were these kinds of concerns taken to the authorities. In fact, one suspects that the police would have regarded accusations of such improper behaviour as domestic or trivial. Rather like my news editor, the desk sergeant would probably have shrugged and suggested the complainant worried about proper crime.

The Jimmy Savile story takes the sexual politics of the present day and applies them to another age. The teenage groupies in the 60s and 70s who hung around the pop scene, hoping a bit of the glamour and excitement would rub off onto their own lives, were entering very dangerous territory - a world where sexual liberation was colliding with traditional power structures.

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Many career women over the age of 50 will have a story of being touched up or groped by some senior colleague at work”

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It is obvious now that many young lives were seriously damaged by powerful men who took advantage of the new freedoms and opportunities, exploiting their position without thought for their responsibilities. The sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll philosophy glorified hedonic pleasure, living for the moment and to hell with the consequences.

But consequences there were for the victims, if not for the perpetrators.

Today, of course, the word paedophilia is a familiar term in the news lexicon. Those found guilty of crossing the boundaries face the full force of public condemnation as well as the full force of the law. There is nothing trivial or domestic about the sexual assault or rape of children.

A similar cultural change can be seen with the sexual politics of the office. Many career women over the age of 50 will have a story of being touched up or groped by some senior colleague at work. From the 60s until relatively recently, there existed a pervasive attitude that unwanted sexual advances were an irritant rather than a disciplinary matter or a crime.

1960s office life Has office life improved for women since the 1960s?

Although the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 did provide some protection for women in the workplace, it was not until the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 that employers were obliged to take seriously the issue of female staff being bullied or sexually harassed in the office.

Bosses covered their legal obligations by introducing equal opportunities policies and training sessions, requiring staff to discuss and consider the meaning of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the work-place. I think this open debate had a much bigger impact on male behaviour in the office than the threat of legal action.

The Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations of 2005 provided clear protection for any woman subjected to "unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating her dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her".

The TUC has said that law means "that if, for example, a colleague persists in making remarks about what nice legs a female employee has, or her boss promises her promotion if she goes away with him for the weekend, she should be able to claim that this is sexual harassment".

Legislation Aim

Sex Discrimination Act 1975

To protect women and men from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage - established the Equal Opportunities Commission (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Protection from Harassment Act 1997

To criminalise stalking and bullying in the workplace, and to make employers vicariously liable for harassment claims by employees

Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005

To introduce new definitions of indirect discrimination and harassment, and prohibit discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave

At the time these laws were being debated, there were plenty of voices arguing they were unnecessary - more red tape binding business from the "right-on brigade". Today, I suspect few people would demand the repeal of such legislation. Office politics has changed markedly over recent decades.

So, again, when considering the lecherous behaviour of disc jockeys and other pop celebrities in the past, we need to remember the cultural framework within which it happened. That is not to excuse the boorish, thoughtless or vile activities of powerful men who should have known better.

But it is a reminder of how far we have come and how recent some of those changes have been. We sometimes fail to notice how civilizing forces are improving people's behaviour.

Anyone with information into these allegations - or who needs support on the issues raised in this article - can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk, or call their local police station by dialling 101.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

Savile: 'How could this be allowed to happen?'

Today's investigation into Jimmy Savile reveals how his criminal behaviour "was facilitated by ministers or civil servants".

Read full article

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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Apparently Savile had friends in high places. Margaret Thatcher was a personal friend, and he would often spend Xmas at Chequers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Comment number 21. ThinkingReed
    "Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jimmy Saville has been accused of rape. In what age has rape been acceptable?"

    He's not talking about the alleged sex assaults, more about the general "men can manhandle as and who they please" generalisation that was already fading out. Besides which, as a slightly off-topic example, marital rape wasn't made illegal until 1991.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Innocent until proven guilty but as he is dead we will only ever hear one version of the events.

    Shame none of the accusers said anything during the past forty years while he was alive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The only thing to come out of this will be the 15 minutes of fame (or extra fame in the case of some) that the persons allegedly groped will gain.

    Saville is dead, he cannot defend himself in a court of law, and as such the issue should be buried.

    If people have concerns about people still alive allegedly doing the same then by all means speak up - stop hiding behind the "I'm too scared" excuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The whole Jimmy Savile episode has opened a can of worms, and the people I feel most sorry for, apart from the victims, are the friends and family members who stood by the guy and defended against these accusations. It's the most terrible thing to be betrayed by the people you care about most

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I was referring to Mark Easton who's been at the BBC since 1986.
    It's people like Esther Rantzen who heard the rumours and did nothing. She's been on Radio 2 today saying she couldn't have done anything! Oh yes she could and should have done something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    This article completely makes the point that no, it wouldn't be all that different today. The naivety that insists "we've come a long way baby" is absolutely shocking. There is still enormous pressure on young girls and women to keep quiet and shut up about harassment, abuse and assaults by men in authority. If the writer doesn't understand that, I am not sure where to start with his education....

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    ...You've been at the BBC since1986. Did you do anything about rumours you heard?

    Well, the first I heard about it was on the recent news bulletins. If anyone other than the girls concerned knew anything about these rapes and sexual assaults before now, then it should have been made news and reported accordingly. Maybe then, if found guilty, Saville could have paid the price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Groping at the BBC had nothing to do with the "hedonic pleasure, living for the moment and to hell with the consequences" character of the 1970s as you say - it had to do with lecherous, vile and brutish men exploiting their invulnerability to criticism. No one criticised Savile because he was - to coin a phrase - too big to fail. We've made saints of the mediocre and downright perverted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @24. HarryKeogh
    @17. chartier

    The problem is that all we are left with is empty words like "allegedly" and "victims". Jimmy Savile cannot defend these "allegations" by so-called "victims" in a court of law because he is dead. What you are left with is potential defamation of an otherwise good character. He needed to be tried when he was alive. This exercise is futile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Before we all pat ourselves on the back about how much more enlightened we are now maybe we should consider the recent case in Rochdale. Girls as young as 12 and 13 reported rape and sexual assault to social services. The result? Social workers (of all people) branding them as prostitutes making a "lifestyle choice". Denial still runs very deep.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.


    Never have I read such arrant nonesense. Your views are as vile as the acts allegedly carried out by Saville

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @ 4.GlobalYawning-

    It's extremely difficult to come out as a victim of sexual abuse. I can only imagine it's probably made worse when the person you are accusing is as high profile as Jimmy Saville was.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Mark is right: attitudes have changed and for the better.

    When I was 13 in 1961 I was the victim of a sexual assault by an older man in a public toilet. Other people using the facility turned a blind eye. I escaped but never went near a public toilet for years.

    The attitude in those days was that you adjusted to what was going on and dealt with it. Savile knew he was too big to be fronted up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "The Jimmy Savile story takes the sexual politics of the present day and applies them to another age. "

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jimmy Saville has been accused of rape. In what age has rape been acceptable?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The BBC seem to be in denial about this. This article is trying to confuse two separate issues. Firstly sexual harassment in the workplace, secondly the sexual abuse of minors. And in the 70s the sexual abuse of minors was never considered OK. Stop trying to fudge the issue.

    The BBC doesn't get it, this abuse was subsidised by Licence Fee payers money. And the BBC did nothing to stop it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Vile actions at BBC - nothing to do with cultural framework of the time. Strict duty of care applied when children were in BBC building as there were rumours about Savile. Nothing to do with career women either. Slur on women over 50! In 60s many women gave a good kick where it hurt. You’re confusing two issues. You've been at the BBC since1986. Did you do anything about rumours you heard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I agree with every safeguard put in place to prevent sexual harrassment at work place or related to work.
    Chairman of the BBC Trust ruled out investigation into Savile Case. Lord Patten said "the" inquiry was already underway by Scotland Yard, under Detective Superintendent David Gray from Metropolitan police force's Child Abuse Investigation Command.
    Too bad Savile is dead and cannot sweat.

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Sounds to me like the BBC making excuses for Savile's dispicable behaviour, this is an affront to the licence payer.

    If this had happened at ITV the BBC would be demanding heads roll.

    While your at it, investigate the massive tax avoidance as well.

    The BBC is going down hill morally, I think it is time the BBC opened the books and access to everything it is doing.


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