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
    +3

    Comment number 455.

    451. Endada
    Touch a nerve have I? Hmm what you afraid of? Could it be the TRUTH. Yep. Thats it.
    /////////
    Dream on. You're off topic. That's what it is.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 454.

    And can we all just remind ourselves that the allegations here are abuse of underage girls? The BBC's attempt to make it sound like something from Sid James in a Carry-on Film is a pretty sick and unethical attempt to distance itself from the allegations.

    I am less interested in Saville's personal involvement than finding out how deep all this went at the BBC and who else is/was involved....

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 453.

    Police (1982) was a tele-verité exercise by the BBC to lift the lid on British institutions,

    Police showed the force as all too human but sometimes far from humane. In episode three, 'A Complaint of Rape', a woman with a history of psychiatric treatment claims she has been raped by three strangers and is, in turn, bullied and cajoled by three male officers who dismiss her story out of hand.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 452.

    This is a brave invitation to 'comment'. Bet the Beeb needed extra resources to police this one! I'm wondering which 'Have Your Say' opportunity would result in the most removed comments - one about Jimmy Savile or one about Muslim child sex exploitation gangs?

  • Comment number 451.

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

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 450.

    448. Jethro Tull
    Many of the 'groupies' of the 70s were equally as predatory as the stars they stalked and knew full well what they were getting in to
    ////////
    How do you know that?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 449.

    How many people posting on this work for the BBC ?
    -------------------
    The accusations against savil date from 1970s to 2006/8 ok. If they are true they are not about a bit of grope and a few words about a girls bottom ! like meny on here seem to wish they were, they are about a person who placed himself in a position where he raped young girls !

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 448.

    Many of the 'groupies' of the 70s were equally as predatory as the stars they stalked and knew full well what they were getting in to. I hate the way the BBC (and others) always feel the need to portray these women as victims, when really most of them would have entered into such sexual relations via their own volition.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 447.

    430.
    BrianQ

    "To suggest that the police in the 70’s would dismiss paedophilia is inaccurate and offensive."

    As they did thousands of women who complained of rape.

    Or is that offensive.

    I remember a fly on the wall documentary (Reading) which opened the issue right open

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 446.

    Mark, @venerablebede is right. You're conflating 1970 views on acceptable treatment of women with 1970 views on acceptable treatment of children. Sexual activities with children was *not* accepted then: anybody suspected of them would be harshly dealt with. The premise of your article is risible and the article itself suffers as a result.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 445.

    Come back Matthew Hopkins, our society really needs you, evils abound !

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 444.

    I've only been in the work force since 1988, part-time at school in a supermarket. Memory does tend to dull things that we'd all rather forget, but I do remember very derogatory remarks made to colleagues. Being a young adult, I was aware of how to interact with people (most if the people in their 20s.I think knew the 'gig was up' and so went at it with gusto. The atmosphere was very intimidating

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 443.

    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.

    Yes, Mark. The Catholic Church was similarly constrained by the culture

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 442.

    @433
    Afraid, maybe. The reasons why it was tolerated do not enter into the argument. If everybody knows what is going on and nobody acts against it then by definition they are tolerating it. If everybody is tolerating something then we can say that it is generally tolerated. That is not to say that their reasons are sound, but nevertheless, at the time, that is how it - was so we are told.

  • Comment number 441.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 440.

    Oh, right. It's not an issue of a money and prestige magnet being allowed to do whatever he wanted by the BBC for reasons "unknown" with the sort of wilful blindness that would make some residents of the Vatican blush.

    Oh God no, not when you're the BBC, throw feminism a few bones, talk about gender equality and suddenly it's not a sickening cover-up but an issue of "workplace culture".

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 439.

    437.Macin Tosh

    Look time will tell on this, I find some attitudes on here weired, these arguments would not be put forward for some pleb off the street accused of abuse and rape of a 12y old, and if Savile is guilty of these things do you really think he stopped after working for the BBC or when the times said it was no longer appropriate.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 438.

    At last someone talks sense, reading this article was like a breath of fresh air or just a lot of common sense! but hey ho lets see how much we can all make on this bandwagon. Yes I was a teenager in the seventies.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 437.

    @429 I_am_back
    Possibly so - in which case my point is even stronger - not only her parents but half the nation would see him performing this dastardly act, with the whole thing recorded in evidence. Surely, there must be some other construction?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 436.

    My ex-wife was a journalist on a provincial paper in the 1980s and she told me about the Savile allegations then. If his activities were common knowledge all over the country in the 1980s, how the hell can the BBC claim ignorance? It doesn't say much for the BBC's news gathering abilities!

 

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