Long known to be an odd and eccentric character, famous British celebrity Jimmy Savile was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of children and raping more than thirty people during his tenure as Britain’s popular media personality. The abuse, in which nearly 75% of the victims were children, spanned a period of six decades from 1955 to 2009 and was carried out at children’s hospitals, schools, and on the sets of television productions, including BBC’s studios. It is believed that occasionally, other “pedophile” celebrities, such as flamboyant pop musician Gary Glitter, are alleged to have participated with or accompanied Savile in his acts of abuse.
According to a report released in early 2013, called Giving Victims a Voice, 450 victims came forward to allege incidents of sexual abuse or rape. The report indicates Savile committed 214 criminal offences in 28 areas of England and Wales. Most of the victims were between 13 and 16 years old but some were as young as eight years old. The victims included both boys and girls.
Savile died in October 2011 at the age of 84. Police believe there were almost certainly many more incidents of sexual abuse than have been publicly reported but even if you consider only the official reports received, the scale of his assaults was unprecedented in UK history.
Who was Jimmy Savile
Sir James Wilson Vincent “Jimmy” Savile was an English disc jockey, television celebrity, and media personality who was very popular in England (some considered him to be a “national treasure”). Savile hosted the popular BBC television program, Jim’ll Fix It and the long-running hit BBC show, Top of the Pops. He was famous for his yodel and catchphrases such as “how’s about that, then?” and “goodness gracious”. Savile was frequently spoofed for his distinctive appearance, which usually featured a track suit or shell suit, gold jewelry, and a large Cuban cigar. Highly intelligent, Savile was a member of Mensa. A lifelong bachelor, Savile lived with his mother and for 27 years, and after her death, kept her bedroom and wardrobe exactly as it was when she died.
Savile was found dead at his home in Roundhay, Leeds, on October 29, 2011, two days before his 85th birthday. After his death, his satin gold coffin was displayed at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, along with the last cigar he smoked. Around 4,000 people visited to pay tribute. His funeral was held at Leeds Cathedral on November 9, 2011, and he was buried at Woodlands Cemetery in Scarborough. As specified in his will, his coffin was inclined at 45 degrees to fulfill his wish to “see the sea”. The coffin was encased in concrete “as a security measure”.
Suspicions are raised but accusations are ignored
During Savile’s lifetime, sporadic allegations of child abuse were made against him. In retrospect, all the signs were there and tragically, ignored. Seemingly as a means to proclaim his innocence, Savile claimed that the key to his success on Jim’ll Fix It had been that he disliked children. He later admitted to saying this to deflect scrutiny of his personal life.
“We live in a very funny world and it’s easier for me as a single man to say I don’t like children because that puts a lot of salacious tabloid people off the hunt.”
In April 2000, in a documentary by Louis Theroux, When Louis Met Jimmy Savile, Savile acknowledged others had raised rumors about whether he was a pedophile, to which he responded, “I know I’m not.”
In 2009, when all the world was aghast at his crimes, Savile publicly defended the convicted pedophile pop star, Gary Glitter, saying:
“He just watched a few ‘dodgy films’ and was only vilified because he was a celebrity… It were for his own gratification. Whether it was right or wrong is up to him as a person. But they didn’t do anything wrong.”
In 2012, Sir Roger Jones, former BBC governor for Wales and chairman of BBC charity Children in Need, disclosed that more than a decade before Savile’s death he had banned Savile from involvement in the charity, because he felt Savile’s behavior was “strange” and “suspicious”, and had heard unsubstantiated rumors about his activities. The public would soon learn that Jones was dead on – Savile had used his celebrity status to hide in plain sight while abusing children and adults over a span of six decades.
Minor investigations ensue
In 2007, Savile was interviewed “under caution” by police investigating an allegation of indecent assault in the 1970s at the now-closed Duncroft Approved School for Girls, where he was a regular visitor. It was determined that there was insufficient evidence to take any further action and no charges were brought.
In March 2008, Savile started legal proceedings against The Sun newspaper which had linked him in several articles to child abuse at the Jersey children’s home Haut de la Garenne. Savile flatly denied visiting Haut de la Garenne, but later admitted that he had visited the home after the publication of a photograph showing him at the home surrounded by children.
It was clear that Savile used his celebrity status and its inherent power to sidestep accusations of rape and sexual abuse. In one instance, it was noted that Savile told police he had a “policy” for dealing with sexual assault complaints made against him. He reminded them that he had sued five newspapers in the past for bringing up such allegations. A police log of the interview quotes Savile as saying: “If these allegations do not disappear then my policy will swing into action.”
“His force of personality was powerful. He dismissed his victims afterwards; he did what he wanted to do and then just discarded them… and the victimes were too frightened to speak out.”
Victims come forward
After his death in October 2011, hundreds of allegations of child sex abuse and rape became public, leading the police to believe that right under their noses, Savile held the distinction of being Britain’s most prolific sex offender. The saga began when an ITV documentary, Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, examined the claims of sexual abuse made against Savile. The documentary led to broad media coverage and a substantial and rapidly growing body of witness statements and sexual abuse claims, including accusations against public figures and corporate organizations for covering up the accusations while Savile was alive. In the documentary, ten women, including one aged 13 when the incident occurred, claimed that Savile had sexually molested or raped them during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The documentary aired on October 3, 2012.
By October 19, 2012, two weeks after the documentary aired on British television, Scotland Yard launched a criminal investigation into the allegations of child sex abuse describing Savile as a “predatory sex offender” and stating that they were pursuing over 400 lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims via fourteen police forces across the UK. The scale and duration of his crimes was mind boggling.
In the report, several victims explained how their sexual abuse had come about:
Ms. Ward, who was a pupil at Duncroft approved school for girls in Surrey, alleged that she was sexually abused by Savile during her time there. And on occasion she recalled seeing singer Gary Glitter, now a convicted pedophile, having sexual intercourse with a girl from the school in Savile’s dressing room (despite being convicted of possession of child pornography and being deported from several countries for incidents of child abuse, Glitter denies the accusation). Ward said the room was “packed” with people when the incident took place and Savile, who was present when the abuse was taking place, “laughed about it”.
Kevin Cook is another to have come forward with claims against Savile. He alleges that as a a nine-year-old cub scout in 1976 he was abused by the entertainer at BBC Television Centre (BBC’s headquarters), in west London.
“He was almost God-like. He was so famous. Everyone was writing to ‘Jim’ll Fix It.’ When I told people at school, they just didn’t believe it. When they knew we was going on, he was just fantastic. He was the person every child, certainly, wanted to know.”
After the show, Cook presented a tie to Savile as a present. That’s when he says Savile asked him if he would like his own “Jim’ll Fix it” badge. According to Cook, with the promise of his own badge, Savile lead him backstage at BBC studios into a small, cluttered, “dingy” dressing room and sat him down in a chair.
“That’s when he put his hand on my knee and started touching me and then at the same time he grabbed my hand and forced my hand on top of his trousers. He said to me: ‘You want your own badge?’ I said: ‘Yeah.’ He said: ‘You want to earn your badge?”
Savile proceeded to molest him, he says, undoing his boy scout uniform and fondling him. It was only interrupted when someone opened the door and peeked in, apologized and immediately walked out.
Tragically, it became clear that many of the sexual abuse incidents occurred at children’s hospitals including Leeds general infirmary, Great Ormond Street, Exeter hospital, Saxondale mental health hospital in Nottinghamshire, and Wheatfield hospice in Leeds, a Sue Ryder hospice for dying children. In at least one case, and likely many more, the victim of the abuse died soon after the incident and was unable to report it (other witnesses subsequently came forward and reported the abuse after the victim’s death).
David Gray, who led the inquiry into Savile’s crimes, said:
“He has spent every minute of every working day thinking about this. Whenever an opportunity came along he took it. He picked on vulnerable victims and he was clever enough to choose people who he knew would not speak out.”
- A memorial plaque on the wall of Savile’s former home in Scarborough was removed in early October 2012 after it was defaced with graffiti.
- A wooden statue of Savile at Scotstoun Leisure Centre in Glasgow was removed around the same time.
- A sign on a footpath in Scarborough bearing Savile’s surname was removed.
- Savile’s Hall, the conference center at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, was renamed New Dock Hall.
- Two registered charities founded in his name to fight “poverty and sickness and other charitable purposes” announced they were too closely tied to the Savile name and would therefore close and distribute their funds to other charities.
On October 28 it was reported that Savile’s cottage in Glen Coe had been spray-painted with slogans and the door badly damaged.
On October 9, 2012, after a police press conference, relatives stated that the triple headstone marking Savile’s grave would be removed, destroyed and sent to landfill. The family expressed their sorrow for the “anguish” of the victims and in a statement by a nephew said that:
“We recognize that even our own despair and sadness does not compare to that felt by the victims … How could the person we thought we knew and loved do such a thing? … Our thoughts and our prayers are with those who have suffered from every kind of abuse over so many years and we offer our deepest sympathy in what must have been a terrible time for all of them … We can understand their reluctance to say anything earlier and can appreciate the courage it has taken to speak out now.”
In February 2016, a BBC-commissioned investigation by former High Court judge Dame Janet, found Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall were allowed to operate within the BBC with impunity between 1959 and 2006. In the report, Janet called Savile and Hall “serial sexual predators” and said the BBC missed five opportunities to stop their misconduct, which persisted for decades.
Timeline of Jimmy Savile’s life
Below is a timeline from BBC outlining the events that marked Jimmy Savile’s life:
One of Sir Jimmy Savile’s former bosses at Radio 1 says he questioned the DJ about rumors over his private life more than 20 years ago.
Derek Chinnery, Radio 1 controller from 1976-85, said he asked the entertainer about “these rumors we hear”. Savile responded, “That’s all nonsense,” Mr Chinnery told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, adding “there was no reason to disbelieve” the late DJ.
October 13, 2012
Metropolitan Police say allegations are likely to span six decades from 1959-2006. Commander Peter Spindler, head of specialist crime investigations, says he estimates the number of likely victims to be about 60. Twelve complaints of sexual offences have been made to the police and 14 forces are involved.
October 12, 2012
At a news conference, BBC director general George Entwistle announces two inquiries to be launching regarding the sex abuse claims made against Savile. The first will start immediately, looking at why a Newsnight investigation into the allegations was shelved last year. The second will begin when police give the go-ahead, and examine whether the culture at the BBC in the years Jimmy Savile was there enabled him to carry out the sexual abuse of children.
Earlier, The Sun reports that David Nicolson, who worked as a director on Jim’ll Fix It, claimed to have caught Savile having sex with a girl in his dressing room, but was laughed away when he voiced his concerns.
A woman tells BBC Radio Leeds that Savile abused a 12-year-old girl during a visit to a children’s home in the 1970s where she was also resident.
October 11, 2012
Further reports of abuse emerge, relating to Stoke Mandeville hospital, Leeds General Infirmary, Broadmoor secure hospital and Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey. In addition, Tayside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and North Yorkshire police are among the forces who say they have received allegations of abuse dating back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
October 9, 2012
More allegations emerge in the days following the ITV broadcast and by 9 October, the Metropolitan Police says it is pursuing 120 leads. Commander Peter Spindler, head of specialist crime investigations, tells the BBC: “It is quite clear from what women are telling us that Savile was a predatory sex offender.”
October 3, 2012
ITV airs its investigation: Exposure, the Other Side of Jimmy Savile in which several women allege he sexually abused them when they were under-age.
October 2, 2012
Ahead of an ITV program to be broadcast the following day, Newsnight editor Peter Rippon writes in a blog that he was not pressured by BBC bosses into dropping his program’s investigation of Savile.
Newsnight’s investigation into Sir Jimmy Savile was dropped in December 2011
A six-week BBC Newsnight investigation into claims that Jimmy Savile abused youngsters is dropped.
Tribute programs are aired including Sir Jimmy Savile at the BBC: How’s about that then?
October 29, 2011
Jimmy Savile is found dead at his home in the Roundhay district of Leeds. He is buried the following month in the seaside town of Scarborough.
Surrey police question Savile over allegations of child sex abuse in the 1970s. The matter is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, which advises there is insufficient evidence to take further action.
Sussex police receive a complaint of sexual assault against Savile which allegedly took place in Worthing in 1970. But police later say the victim was “unwilling to co-operate in any investigation”.
Savile is also named, although not publicly, during a 2008 police investigation into abuse at Haut de Garenne children’s home in Jersey.
Caroline Moore tells of abuse by Jimmy Savile when she was a patient at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Continues to work as a television presenter and charity fund-raiser. He is knighted in 1990, having already received the OBE in 1971.
In 1988, Savile is appointed chairman of a task force set up to advise on governing Broadmoor.
A woman told North Yorkshire Police she was preyed on by Savile in Scarborough
A woman who was then aged 15 complained to Lancashire police about an incident in the 1980s
Hosts his own BBC shows, Clunk Click in 1973, followed by the long-running Jim’ll Fix It, in which Savile grants young viewers’ wishes.
He also begins charitable work at Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor secure hospital, in addition to his work at Stoke Mandeville.
One of the former pupils Karin Ward, who waived her anonymity to appear in the ITV investigation, says that Savile abused her and others from the school at this time.
A former resident at a children’s home in Leeds says Savile abused a 12-year-old girl there.
Caroline Moore, who was a 13-year-old patient at Stoke Mandeville hospital in 1971, says Savile “rammed his tongue” down her throat
June Thornton says she saw Savile molest a brain-damaged teenage patient at Leeds General Infirmary in 1972
June Thornton said she saw Jimmy Savile kiss a patient who could not defend herself
Savile’s flamboyant personality earns him a role at Tyne Tees television where he fronts a program called Young at Heart. He then becomes the first host of BBC’s Top of the Pops in 1964, and helps present the program for more than 20 years. He joins the fledgling BBC Radio 1 in 1968.
Starts volunteering as a porter at Stoke Mandeville specialist spinal injuries hospital in 1969 and will in later years be given a room there.
A woman who was 14 in the 1960s made a complaint against Savile to Lancashire police
A woman who was a teenager in the late 1960s told North Yorks police she was a victim of a sexual offence by Savile in Scarborough.
Jimmy Savile is born in 1926 in Leeds, the youngest of seven children.
During World War II he is conscripted as a Bevin Boy, working in the coal mines.
He reportedly suffers spinal injuries in a mining accident aged just 14.
In an era dominated by live music, he starts playing records in local dance halls and later claims to have been the first disc jockey to use twin turntables and a microphone. He is later taken on by Radio Luxembourg.