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 435.

    Some posters seem to enjoy discussing these sordid affairs in a bit too much detail if you ask me. Odd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    Ruminations is right. It is far too easy to say that people should have done something now without a sense of the context. I think some of the things Liz Kershaw experienced would have been passed off ad a joke if a complaint was made and the abuse was rumour with no evidence or credible witnesses from a time when organisactions did not routinely have an understanding of child protection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    387. Your conclusion is illogical and invalid. If it was common knowledge, no-one did anything, then everyone was afraid.

  • Comment number 432.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    The allegations of abuse are obviously deeply concerning; however I find it somewhat disturbing that Jimmy Savile seems to be ASSUMED guilty when he is unable to answer to the accusations or defend himself.
    Perhaps it would be best to concentrate on learning lessons for the future, rather than trample a grave with (true or otherwise, we can never really know) gossip.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    In paragraph one you state that a councillor appeared in court on charges of sexual assault. Yet in paragraph four you ‘suspect’ that the police 40 or 50 years ago would regard such accusations as this (paragraph 3) as trivial.
    Who do you think took the councillor to court?
    Answer. = The police.
    To suggest that the police in the 70’s would dismiss paedophilia is inaccurate and offensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    @427.Macin Tosh

    Or it could be he ment that the parents would see it on tv, there is no proof the parents were there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    422. Piltdown
    >>>I started work in the mid-70's and nowhere was the kind of sexual harassment reported as happening at the BBC acceptable. Stop trying to kid people otherwise.

    Well maybe for you. My wife started work as a Journalist in the 1970s and sexual harassment was rife (and laughed about, by the men at least) at the regional paper she worked on. Likewise during my year as a junior postman.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    Well, I hardly suppose he was sexually abusing a girl whilst both parents watched - so I guess something else was going on. Today we might call it "inappropriate behaviour" (i.e. any physical contact between an adult in a position of power and a child, by today's standards). Back then, whatever it was, it was clearly acceptable to the child's parents. Or are you saying they were 'complicit'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    What poor understanding some people have on human nature...

    Jane Elliots blue / brown eyes experiment...and the Stanford prison experiment show the power of situational force..



    Your post reveals more about yer own failings, than hers, which are understandable..

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    I don't think Mark's recollections of attitudes changing is accurate. As a five year old in the very early seventies I was approached while playing by a man 'looking for a lost puppy'. When I went straight to my mother to tell her, the police response was a massive manhunt and public alerts. Vile behaviour now was also considered vile behaviour then, by the police and society, if not the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    @415. ruminations "The police will investigate criminal matters...I guess that leaves questions still to be answered...there seems to be a lack of internal reports"

    Is a cover-up not criminal? It should be.

    Yes, I too was surprised the BBC could say *next day* they had no records about it! Shredded?

    BBC good to invite comments? Farming them where they can control and maybe delete them...

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    I don't want the allegations to be true. Not because of Savile, I never liked him, but because the whole issue seems to get the worst out of people, who use this topic to indulge in their pet hates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    This article is attempting to pass off the behavior of some BBC staff as being the norm for the 1970's. I started work in the mid-70's and nowhere was the kind of sexual harassment reported as happening at the BBC acceptable. Stop trying to kid people otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    "The recording ends with the revelation that all this was taking place with both parents present."
    SO WHAT ? are people justifying this because its sir Jimmy thats accused ? He made a career out of putting himself where young girls would be ! he was a predator ! and people covered for him, and his wealth bought him immunity !

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Clearly an attempt by the BBC to distance itself from the Saville allegations. "We're nothing like we were then, honest".

    If anyone had posted this on the BBC, it would have been moderated out instantly. btw Right now, Saville is guilty of nothing, just because someone is dead does not mean they lose those rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    It's unbelievable that Savile's habits weren't reported by journalists who apparently knew of them, or reported and acted upon within the BBC. Or that the victims didn't complain to ANYONE - police, teachers, parents - who could have acted. How this could all go on without organised complicity, serious threats or bribes is impossible to understand. The BBC has serious questions to answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    So St.Esther.of child line Knew this was happening and she did Nothing, hypocrite! Talk about protect her own career

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    The recording ends with the revelation that all this was taking place with both parents present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    Kudos to Louis Theroux, who fired a shot across Sovile's bows by touching on this in his program in 2000.

    Seemed poor telly but, we now discover, well worth it - who knows how many it may have saved ?


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