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.

Start Quote

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

End Quote

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

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Regardless of culture Mr. Saville's conduct went far beyond what even he may have considered to be teenage infatuation with his celebrity. If the allegations are true he abused his position of influence taking advantage of his "reputation" to satiate his personal lust. Anyone who knew of such behaviour and condoned it, is equally guilty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Vile generation the whole lot, from the flower powers to the boomers, your all on your last dengenerate legs. Atleast the kids today can see the weird, wacky and wonderful but often vile and immoral decay that was spewed after the second world war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    For criminality you need proof beyond reasonable doubt. For libel it is on the balance of probability.
    Post Leveson, have the now-emasculated newspapers got the confidence to make any allegations against anyone living?
    This story looks to me like a good argument in favour of the Freedom of the Press

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    How many in the upper echelons of aunty beeb are a product of the days of rampant sexual deviation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    @46: I'm afraid I disagree as the victims of the crime (if proved) are still very much with us and so it would be wrong to brush this under the carpet just because the accused is dead.

    Unfortunately, without a full investigation we'll never know and the name remains tarnished without a trial.

  • Comment number 50.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    If there was a party at the BBC, you knew you were in for a good time. I remember attending one at BBC Wales at Christmas 1978, only to find everyone wearing their underwear over their jeans, women as well as the guys. We got through quite a bit of spray cream I seem to remember...

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Ironic really that BBC is all about preaching its awful PC values on the rest of us - when all along it has been harbouring p.d.files and permitting it's female staff to be sexually assuaulted at work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I'm not sure Jim can fix this

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    There are bad people who do bad things, but bring them to account at the time.

    Whether Mr Saville or others did wrong i don't know, but Mr Saville is unable to defend himself so all this digging of dirt is just that, as justice cannot be done,

    I abhor abuse in any form and my sympathies go out to anyone abused, but likewise everyone is innocent until proven guilty of a crime in a court of law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Those expressing shock and horror about sexual harrassment in the 70s & 80s, obviously did not work then. It wasn't confined to television or radio - it went throughout the entire working world. Whichever gender had the power abused it - I know of one particular factory staffed by women where young male apprentices feared to go. In today's world its wrong, but not then, and thats a fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.


    You make an excellent point.

    How many more "celebs" are there lurking in the shadows knowing that they are exempt from the rigours of common decency and the law?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    The BBC has a track record for 'tolerating' their stars' 'little eccentricities'; what about Frankie Howerd and his well documented predatory attitude towards young back-stage males?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Stories about Jimmy Saville and his behaviour were widely known in and around Stoke Mandeville where he spent a lot of time. The police were unable to take any action as they never received an official complaint - but as a friend of mine, a police officer in Aylesbury at the time, has said - victims of such crimes were quizzed on their actions and backgrounds in a way that they rarely came forward

  • Comment number 41.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    The horse has bolted. Lovely stable door though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    In, shall we say, certain cultures, buying a nine year old wife is acceptable and homosexuality is the big taboo. Who's to say Western social norms are the right ones?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Back in the day you could hang murderers and advertise cigarettes Homosexuality and abortion were illegal. 40+ year olds had seen the horrors of WW2 in the flesh. And women in the media appear to have valued their careers more than seeking to protect children! Easton is right that it is difficult to attribute modern standards to previous cultural norms, but not to excuse the vile behavior alleged

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    poor bloke will never get the chance to be proven innocent and or guilty. whilst i cannot say the man was either all i can say is its odd that 40 years later they bring it to light, they obviously were looking to make a buck after his death 2 years ago. previous investigations cleared him ! sad day when the scum press try and convict a dead man who cant defend himself .

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    'we need to remember the cultural framework within which it happened'

    ermm... I think people said much the same when you were following up pedophilia in the Catholic Church. It didn't work for them then. Why should it work for you now?


Page 28 of 30



  • Firth of Forth bridgeWhat came Firth?

    How the Forth was crossed before the famous bridge

  • Petrol pumpPumping up

    Why are petrol prices rising again?

  • Image of George from Tube CrushTube crush

    How London's male commuters set Chinese hearts racing

  • Elderly manSuicide decline

    The number of old people killing themselves has fallen. Why?

  • TricycleTreasure trove

    The lost property shop stuffed with diamonds, bikes... and a leg

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.