Private Eye once characterised the espionage writer Chapman Pincher as “‘Body’ Pincher”, adding the observation “dead men don’t sue”, after the publication of books such as Their Trade Is Treachery, where Pincher made a number of allegations against those who had worked for the security services, and several Labour politicians, but only after they had passed.
Pincher’s characteristic has been seized on this week by the Oldie magazine – coincidentally edited by former Eye man Richard Ingrams, who occupied the hot seat at a time when the magazine was in receipt of rather more writs than nowadays – which has hardly allowed the body of Jimmy Savile to go cold before alleging that the former presenter sexually groomed and molested under-age girls.
And there the story might have rested, but for the allegation that at least some of this activity took place at Television Centre. Beeb bashing is a popular sport among right leaning hacks and their editors, and a lifetime of hosting much-loved shows and pulling in tens of millions through his charity work – not to mention his unpaid volunteering at Stoke Mandeville hospital – has not protected Savile’s memory.
From the Oldie, the piece went first to the Maily Telegraph, the kind of paper whose demographic might be more likely to be in tune with Ingrams’ mag. Here, Anita Singh tells that “BBC ‘buried Savile sex abuse claims to save its reputation’”, a most unsubtle title from what was once a paper of record. As in the Oldie, it is suggested that Newsnight had investigated the former presenter.
Then it is asserted that “bosses” had the investigation dropped, with a “BBC News source” (which could mean anyone who had ever appeared in any part of the Corporation’s news coverage) telling of “the extreme nature of the claims”, that “the allegations directly involved the BBC”, and that a number of young women “were abused on BBC premises”.
It was only a matter of time before a paper that really hates the Beeb picked up the story, and so the Mail has thundered “BBC shelved Savile sex abuse investigation ‘to protect its own reputation’”, with hack Emma Reynolds drawing the short straw, and the same “BBC News source” quoted faithfully. The Mail does, however, mention that Surrey Police had investigated a complaint against Savile, but took no action.
What proclivities Jimmy Savile had I do not know, and nor do I care. The story may be partly or even entirely true, but that is hardly the point. What this is about is the righteous part of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet trampling on a dead man’s reputation to kick his one-time employer. This episode shows us all that is prurient and desperately opportunist about so much of the print media.
But it’s good for circulation, so that’s all right, then.