9 Oct 2012

Savile provokes dark memories, but also hope

How was it all those years ago? I joined the television industry from the voluntary sector way back in 1976. I came from running a day centre working with dispossessed and vulnerable teenagers in central London to a world in which alcohol and fast-living outstripped anything I had ever seen before.

In common with the rest of the industry the social centrepiece of the workplace was the bar. We worked antisocial hours and the bar provided the lubricant that seemed keep the whole thing going.

The on-screen people appeared to occupy a higher place than the rest. Women were few and lived what I perceived to be difficult work place lives. Affairs inside TV companies were commonplace.

Queasy questions

I have been recalling those days, provoked by the dark revelations surrounding Jimmy Savile and others in TV showbiz. I can’t pretend that Jimmy impinged much upon my working life. We regarded ourselves as a breed apart from his likes. But I do remember the queasy questions that surrounded his strange persona.

I remember too the way in which women were treated and alcohol was tolerated. Smoking was everywhere too. The office I worked in was littered with ashtrays. There were well known “anchors” who went to air effectively drunk. One in particular, who could not go to air without a drink. Women were regularly ‘sized up’, and spoken of in a way which today would scandalise any audience.

The past is a foreign country?

The Jimmy Savile scandal represents a reckoning with the past. But it also has something to say of the present. I know of no one who goes to air drunk. I know very few who would ever drink in the working day. Women are more plentiful in the workplace today, and I rarely, if ever hear the sexist remarks of old. Individual sexuality, if less commented upon, is still an issue.

But for the most part, three decades on, we should celebrate the reality that in our behaviour towards each other we have come a vast distance.

We have not yet arrived at that ultimate place of respect and equality, but we have come a very long way. I still hear builders on the sidewalk whistle at a woman, white vans honking their horns too. Once upon a time television lagged behind the populace. I dare to believe that we have caught up and may even have begun to overtake some in our treatment of the opposite sex.

I’m confident too that these days tolerance of the pedophile allegations against Savile and others would be properly investigated. The BBC needs to get to the truth of what he and others did three decades ago.

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