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, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor


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  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 14.

    This article has confused the issues raised since we first became aware of the Savile allegations and some of the responses to them. I find it hard to believe that the work culture of the BBC in the 1980s was any worse than that of other large organisations and what, in any way, this has to do with Jimmy Savile.

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    Comment number 13.

    This has been common knowledge for 40+ yrs. Just ask anybody who worked on security for Top of the Pops at the BBC, in Rusholme, in the late 60’s. The worrying thing is that it was allowed to continue.

    Times have changed, however the whistle-blower usually finds themselves quickly ostracized and out of a job.

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    Comment number 12.

    For the BBC to feign shock and horror about these things and to pretend that no-one knew about it is a bit of a stretch
    Like denying the culture of the 1950s, and pretending it didn't exist
    (Watch The Dam Busters movie. You'll get the idea)

    The world has moved on, the past is the past, stop pretending that all sorts of things never happened

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    Comment number 11.

    OMG folks this isn't bash the BBC. Of course Savile's behaviour (if the stories are true) was awful, but older people have used power and celebrity to abuse the young from time immemorial. People didn't speak out cos a 'bit of a grope' was seen then as part of normal works life. The point here is that kind of sexual exploitation is now becoming a thing of the past. And hallelujah !

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    Comment number 10.

    It think that using the sexual politics of the 1970's to somehow put the allegations against Jimmy Savile into context completely lacks insight. I am an over 50's lady who grew up at exactly the time these events took place, and to my mind it boils down to simply one thing - knowing right from wrong. If people chose to turn a blind eye, then just as now, they must have known it was wrong.

  • Comment number 9.

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

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    Comment number 8.

    I've heard people saying this should be forgotten as the alleged perpetrator is dead. They seen to forget the alleged victims are still very much alive & possible forever affected by it.

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    Comment number 7.

    Right now, I think that it is important that Savile should be seen as innocent, until his guilt is proven, especially as he cannot defend himself.

    So the lynch-mob should calm-down.

    But his actions, at the BBC and elsewhere, should be thoroughly investigated, so as to protect other people, today, and to act as a strong deterrent to potential offenders in the future.

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    Comment number 6.

    The BBC shouldn't be letting people become this well paid and famous on our money. They still do it - look at the 'stars' of today, they may or may not be groping their way through playgrounds but they are all grossly overpaid for what little effort they expend and such 'power' leads to all sorts of things. Worse apparently we pay for this... the star is clearly 'worth' X million a show- are they?

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    Comment number 5.

    The BBC are nearly as bad as the Catholic Church for hushing this up. By the sounds of it a lot of 'talent' were used to a groping culture of intimidation and possibly worse. Does it still go on? I'm sure it does with the Sky sports recent debacle. Will there come a time when young girls and women can go to work without this sort of thing happening to them - I do hope so.

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    Comment number 4.

    I'm just glad these victims came out when they did to prevent it happ.... oh, hang on...

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    Comment number 3.

    'Could Jimmy Savile get away with it today?'

    I doubt it.

    The more evidence emerges the more it seems that there was a full on conspiracy of silence which included BBC management, his co-workers and several tabloid editors (a fact many newspapers are currently glossing over).

    Its hard to imagaine those factors colluding together in the modern world, but then again who knows?

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    Comment number 2.

    If the BBC had their way and buried this story he still would be if he was still alive.

    I'm simply staggered that his behaviour appeared to be common knowledge for decades yet nobody came out and said so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The question should be -how did he get away with it then,if in fact it is proven he did.
    Sounds as though lots of people knew what was going on but said and did nothing about it--they are as guilty as the actual perpetrators.


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