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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Are not those who knew what Saville got up to guilty of both complicity and joint enterprise?
    Or is it one law for the common person and another for the rich and powerful?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I agree with Meerkat; however the problem is precisely, alleged perpetrator & alleged victims.

    After so much time evidence will be hard to find & if the complainant is unwilling to co-operate with an investigation it would seem that little more can be done.

    I hope that today the BBC wouldn't cover it up, but JS is certainly no danger to children anymore, assuming allegations are true.

  • Comment number 93.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    To Carse@54.So your generation is totally wholesome and beyond reproach then is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    One could argue that the teenage groupies etc, of the 60's & 70's were as much acting in a predatory way, as the stars they were stalking? Childhood innocence was left behind at around 12-14 back then & us teenagers thought we knew it all.
    Let's not judge the actions of that era of stars by today's standards. It wasn't THAT long ago that sex with 14 yr-old boys & girls was commonplace!

  • Comment number 90.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    What this whole sorry saga shows is just how wrong people are when they say "but we don't have anyone like that round our way"......

    .....maybe, maybe not, but the only way you'll find out is by not taking a few simple precautions, like getting those with access to our kids a CRB check.

    Despciable behaiour always went on, it just wasn't spoken about until rcenet times......

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    If true whilst it is a shame nothing can be done about Savile bar his reputation and legacy this episode may give others the courage to come forward and obtain prosecutions for similar offenders who are still with us.

    It's unbelievable people can suggest that because he's dead we should let it go, they completely fail to appreciate what the girls may been through then and since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Two totally seperate issues.

    And as an aside why haven't Liz Kershaw, Sandi Togvig etc told us who it was that assaulted them? Surely it's their responsibility to protect others even now? Their behaviour is pretty poor when you wonder what those same people might have done since as they weren't made public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I do NOT hand over my hard earned cash every year to the BBC to finance the wages of a PDfile. The BBC should do the honourable thing and calculate how many millions it payed this man over the years and then apportion a refund to all licence fee payers - as a gesture of good faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Whilst it's going to be hard, maybe impossible, to prove guilt. It's hard to imagine that sleepers have been implanted into our communities waiting for the day Mr Savile dies before being activated to start a smear campaign. People defending him should try to answer why so many people have come forward with these allegations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Although one can never ever condone such behaviour we have to look at the culture of the 60's & 70's in context. Women had become 'free' for the first time and many men took that as a green light to 'fondle' I saw it in my own office with a girl wearing hotpants. Good for her she told him in front of everyone that was not on!! many girls were afraid to make a fuss, particularly if it was the boss

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Yeah, we've come such a long way.

    When is Roman Polanski's next film out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    In the case of Jimmy Savile, the truth must come out now good or bad. It is too late for anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Referring to "groupies" implies that the girls/women concerned are prepared or even hoping for a sexual encounter: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/groupie?q=groupie
    That was not the impression given by the women who appeared in the ITV documentary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Mark: Are you saying that, seen in the context of the social mores of the '70's, this behaviour may be less reprehensible?

    Very bold point to make!

    But it does seem to me that we should think very carefully when we condemn JS's behaviour in the '70's, - he can't defend himself - in the light of present-day mores.

    He was wrong, but we have come a long way since those days - as you say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I do think the Jimmy Saville thing has become a bit pointless since after so long there will be no physical evidence none of his accusers are willing to support a CPS investigation and the man himself is not here to defend himself, but it's kind of not relavent to the rest of your article about attitudes in the workplace today.

  • Comment number 78.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It would appear that what Jim got up to was common knowledge at the BBC but a philosophy of the 3 wise monkeys prevailed whilst he was alive.
    I would imagine there are others who are guilty of such behaviour & wonder how long it will be before their names are revealed & they also become as vilified as Jonathan King.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    milvusvestal; your comment shows your utter ignorance of such matters. you can't understand? what about fear, what about adding to the horror of such a thing, being discredited by a powerful man? the very powerful man who perpetrated the act? Your garbage only serves to further the stigma attatched to sexual abuse. Not on.


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