Could anyone who ever watched “Jim’ll Fix It” and did not think Jimmy Savile was a bit creepy please put their hand up now? So, it’s not just me, then. And we appear to be in good company: Lord Patten, former Tory cabinet minister and current BBC Trust Chairman, said “I always thought Jimmy Savile was a pretty odd customer” and George Entwistle, newly appointed Director General says Sir Jim was always regarded by insiders as “a bit peculiar”. Yet the TV personality’s predilection for young teenage girls was allegedly well known by the institution for which he worked for over forty years. The show’s director, David Nicolson, reported an incident of Savile having sex with a sixteen year old girl in 1988 to the higher authorities, but he was simply told “That’s Jimmy”. When a nine year old boy scout was abused in the 1970s he was told by Savile to keep quiet because no one would believe a word against “King Jimmy”.
It is that level of corporate acceptance that calls into question the culture of the BBC both then and now. Those in charge of managing the crisis communications for the Beeb certainly have their work cut out for them and their efforts are being hampered in no small part by the limited material they have been given to work with.
Although it was announced on Friday that the first inquiry into the dropping of the Newsnight investigation will be launched immediately there is still some vagueness about the second inquiry into the “culture and practices” of the BBC at that time. Chris Patten described the scandal as “a cesspool of allegations” which is “appalling” for the BBC but has made it clear that nothing can be done until he gets “the green light from the police, who wanted us to stand back for a bit”. Not knowing when the inquiry can start is no excuse for not appointing a respected chairperson to be waiting in the blocks for the starting pistol. So far a statement simply says that someone who carries “credibility with the nation” should head such an inquiry but that “the identity of that person… will be agreed between the director general and the BBC Trust.” Both inquiries are due to be overseen by Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director General of the National Trust, but I would advise the BBC’s crisis managers to go further than this: to prove that the corporation’s endemic cover-up culture is a thing of the past and to emphasise zero tolerance for sexist behaviour, I would like to see the appointment of an independent representative, ideally a woman, to specifically chair the second inquiry. This should be announced as soon as possible so the investigation can hit the ground running.
There is so much for the BBC’s communications team to contend with: from alleged underage sex in the dressing rooms to the dropping of the Newsnight investigation; from references to the “gropie culture” to Conservative MP Rob Wilson’s accusation that the BBC had developed a “rotten” atmosphere at that time, and that its senior executives “turned a blind eye…to young women being targeted by predatory senior men”. Of particular interest is the possibility that the independent inquiry might criticise any current executives for failing to act on claims about Savile. All these could and should be addressed through the formal process of the second inquiry but by not yet naming the individual charged with the task it will seem to many like delaying tactics which simply give the rest of us more time to think how very right we were all along.