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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  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Amazing that the BBC knows so much about where you live & whether or not you've paid your licence fee... and so little about what Jimmy Savile and Gary Glitter were up to in their changing rooms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Someone once said that all that is required in order for evil to prevail is for good people to sit by and do nothing about it. Take THAT on board, all you BBC ostriches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Yes,attitudes have changed,I remember the News of the World in its old broadsheet days in the 70's with column after column of lurid and titillating accounts of rape trials.That in the days when victims were named.A victim would have to be brave to come forward then.

  • Comment number 72.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Comment by Carse
    "Vile generation the whole lot...................vile and moral decay................spewed after the second world war"

    I envy your tender years, but not your ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I think change in social attitudes is more of a factor than legal changes. Since modern men and women in most professions have become used to a more gender balance offices.

    Female colleagues are generally treated with more respect and viewed more as equals, so harasment tends to be seen as less socially acceptable behaviour than it was in the 70's. I think most of us agree this is progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Social context works when talking about the Romans or Greeks, and yes we have come a long way in the past 40 years, but not so far that the sexist attitudes of the 70s don't exist in the workplace today, ditto child molestation. It's not a problem of the past, it's right here, right now. It was hushed up back then and more so today because there are real consequences for offenders now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Just linking 38 and 39.
    The recent Megan Stammers (age 15) case was given a modified perspective once it was known that in France the age of consent is 15. In Germany it is 14, in Spain it is 13. Which is right? Different cultural norms in adjacent countries about a pretty fundamental issue, even in 2012.
    How much harder therefore to compare acceptable norms now with the 60s and 70s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Jimmy Savile is an absolute legend end of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    So because it happened several decades ago it somehow makes it acceptable? Are we to assume that PAEDOPHILIA is on par with sexist comments in the workplace? Get a grip. 'we need to remember the cultural framework within which it happened', right, so that means rose tinted specks for nonces of yesteryear? Not a chance a rapist is a rapist, regardless of the decade and that is the END OF IT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Bit of a stretch opening a debate over a topic like this regarding 'alleged' behaviour.... Would Jimmy Savile get away with it today? Prove he got away with it in the first place! Then maybe abuse your journalistic outspoken drivel to snipe.....

    This is what's wrong with this country, 'freedom of media speech'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I find it hard to understand why, suddenly, so many women have independently come forward to claim sexual harassment by one who is now unable to answer, or defend himself. Yes, one or two claimed his attentions in the past, but their words were dismissed as baseless. It does stretch credulity that the current allegations, having been made so late, all have the basis of truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Laws and policies do not stop these sorts of things people do.

    Excessive regulation breeds a negative attitude along the lines of 'I don't want to get involved'.

    There are lots of areas in llife and work where we an still improve, so learn lessons and move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    53 ichabod

    Even pre-Leveson, the press didn't manage to shine much of a light on these sordid (alleged) deeds. If it was such an open secret at the BBC for several decades, I refuse to believe that nobody in the rival media knew of it, and yet they either couldn't make it stick, or didn't think it was a story worth telling at the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    How unbelievably naive this article is... the reason there is so little progress is the continued and pervasive belief that harassment and rape and intimidation and recrimination is a thing of the past...no wonder women are waiting until men are dead before they speak out. See this attitude, in the courts, in the media, in the judgements on women who are endlessly held to blame for their own rape.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This article is a diversion - focussing on "workplace culture" - we want to know about the culture at the BBC? Where is the accountability ? This is an organisation funded by us - the British public - and I want to see prosecutions and incarcerations. There are clearly other people involved in this scandal and the chances are some of them are still alive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I'm now 52 & 'irritant' was just how I saw the harassment I found early in my career in advertising. It didn't really occur to me to be offended or traumatised, it was just the way of things. In retrospect it was a more empowering way for me to handle it, I didn't feel demeaned, just thought they were idiots. I don't think it affected my career either way, though I know some where it did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Today, if you work with vulnerable or young people you are given training on dealing with advances from young people...are celebrities given such training? It strikes me that the difference between somone having been taken advantage of or not is often directly linked to the attractiveness of the perpetrator..one wonder how many good looking stars have done this with impunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Oh dear, we are a conceited lot, aren't we? How long before the Romans and Saxons are pilloried for their pillage, abduction and rape of the innocents? This is not about the age in which it happened, or the social environment. It IS happening NOW, at almost every turn, at every level from the boardroom, to the stage, to the streets and stables. Power corrupts morals, everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    So can the Catholic Church not just use the same lame excuse? They damaged lives and now it looks like the BBC were just as bad!


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