Review: Jimmy Savile: A Very British Horror Story

Savile’s sins and ours.

A new documentary about Jimmy Savile reveals the horrors in plain sight carried out by the shell-suited monster and how he used the Church and the Royal Family to avoid being caught.

He admitted it all the time. To everybody. On national TV. That’s the second most disturbing thing in this excellent documentary.

From Savile’s long career in the public eye there is a vast amount of footage, and the makers of this programme have found clip after clip after clip of him alluding, suggesting, and outright saying that he was inappropriate with young girls.

Watching it now, it feels like you’re going a bit mad. This bizarre, faintly threatening figure who was on TV every Saturday night and constantly joked about his interest in young girls and everyone loved him!

The easy answer is it was a different time, but the programme neatly shows how that underestimates Saville’s total cunning and commitment to evil and is all too forgiving of every major institution in British life.

Not least the Catholic Church, and Savile’s Catholicism is addressed here. Raised in a deeply Catholic family in Leeds, it clearly loomed large in his thinking.

Mark Lawson pops up to say you can’t understand Savile without understanding his Catholic Faith and he has a point. His veneration of his mother has an unsettling hint of perversion of Marian devotion.

Savile is also shown repeatedly saying that all his charity work will mean that when he gets to the Pearly Gates, St Peter will have to judge the charity work against ‘everything else’.

This neatly underscores how easy it can be for charitable giving to be a moral whitewash. In any case, institutionally the Church was happy to celebrate him in life.

He’s seen meeting St John Paul II, being made a Papal Knight, and Bishop Arthur Roche, then of Leeds, now a senior Vatican figure, is seen celebrating his funeral.

In this instance, the Church was not uniquely foxed. His ability to win friends and influence at every level of British life was extraordinary.

Prince Charles wrote to him repeatedly, begging for help with speeches, as he believed that Savile, a former miner, had some unshakeable insight into the mind- set of the great British public.

Margaret Thatcher was also a huge fan, having him round for Christmas tea. And on it goes. The BBC, police and lawyers at best turned a blind eye. At worst poked other’s eyes out.

We also see that Savile’s greatest disguise was his work for charity.

At least journalists tried to unmask him, even though they failed. As much as anything it was the internet that forced the truth to the surface in the final years of his life.

His hundreds of victims used sites like Friends Reunited to share grim memories of his attacks.

That led to yet more journalistic questions and a police interview, which we hear in the documentary.

The 80-year-old Savile is by turns mocking and furious. Totally denying all charges, his voice cracks with fury then skips straight into the old catchphrases. It sounds demonic.

Through and through we see Savile was a master of deception. His ability to twist a question, to decoy, defer and dissemble is remarkable.

There’s no doubt he was a master of confusion and deception and used those tools to avoid being unmasked.

As to what lay behind that mask, what dark pathologies drove him, there’s not a hint. Perhaps it’s best not to know.

The most disturbing section of the documentary is a long interview with one of his victims, a woman called Sam Brown.

When she was 11, she and her family would attend Mass at a small chapel attached to one of the many hospitals Savile haunted each Sunday. She would go to the back to collect the baskets for the collection each week.

And at the back of the church Savile would sexually assault her. Every week.

It was a different time. But not that different. Faced with evil as concentrated, as cunning, as corrupting as that, would our society resist? Would it stop a man like that? I hope so. But I have my doubts.

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