Jimmy Savile scandal

Jimmy Savile on Top of the Pops in 1975 Jimmy Savile's abuse has only come to light since his death last October

Millions knew Jimmy Savile as an eccentric TV personality. To some, he was Saint Jimmy, who changed lives by raising £40m for charity. But after hundreds of allegations of serious sexual abuse, it has transpired that few people knew the real Jimmy Savile.

What his fans and many friends did not know was that he was also, as police put it, a "predatory sex offender" who preyed on vulnerable under-age girls and boys in dressing rooms, his caravan and his Rolls Royce.

Savile once famously said he had no emotions.

"That would make me bad news for a psychiatrist or a psychologist because there's nothing to find," he told Dr Anthony Clare in BBC Radio's In the Psychiatrist's Chair in 1991. "What you see is what there is."

But that was the carefully constructed Savile myth. It ensured very few people ever really got close to him, or knew the truth about what made him tick.

The public persona portrayed him as eccentric and flamboyant, but essentially straight-forward and good-natured.

The mask rarely slipped during his lifetime, and it helped him deflect accusations of anything more sinister. He would attract speculation because he was odd, he would say - but that was all he was.

"It's a nice thing that I have nothing to hide from people," he told a documentary titled The World of Jimmy Savile OBE in 1972.

"They ask me, are you queer? I say no, but if I felt that way I would have been. They ask me, why don't you get married? I say, well I've never felt the need.

"I've got nothing to hide from people and when you come to think about it I lead a dead simple sort of life, which is OK, and definitely enough for me."

But in one rare moment of candour, he was asked by the interviewer Louis Theroux in 2000 why he had said he had no emotions.

Jimmy Savile in 1965 Savile, pictured in 1965, first rose to fame as a dance hall DJ and manager

"'Cause it's easier," he replied. "You say you've got loads and then you've got to explain them for two hours. The truth is that I'm very good at masking them."

Savile, one of seven children and the son of a bookmakers' clerk, had survived serious spinal injuries while working in a coal mine as a teenager before becoming a dance hall DJ and manager after World War II.

His clubs included Mecca Locarno club in Leeds in the early 1960s. Post-war austerity was being blown away and Savile claimed to be the first person to DJ with two turntables so there were no breaks between records.

Speaking in October 2012, Jeffrey Collins, a DJ at the club, said: "Yes, it was common knowledge that he would take girls into his office.

"It was usually the girls that would come on to the guys. You wouldn't think of asking 'Are you 16 yet?'

"Obviously Jimmy was older. He should have asked questions. He should have asked their age if they were under 16. I'm not saying it was right."

Dennis Lemmon, who worked as a bouncer at the club, said Savile gained a reputation for liking younger girls.

"You'd get a group of 15- and 16-year-olds who'd sit together and Jimmy always seemed to concentrate on these groups instead of the older ones," he told the BBC.

Start Quote

I heard through his office, just in conversation, 'Jimmy's at it again'”

End Quote Roger Holt Former record plugger

"We'd chat anything up with a skirt on in those days but Jimmy seemed to make for these younger groups."

One day, when Savile arrived in a bad mood, Lemmon asked a colleague what was wrong. He was told Savile was due in court the following day after "messing about with a couple of girls".

When Lemmon later asked how the case had turned out, his colleague told him: "It never got to court - they dropped the charges."

"I said 'How the hell did he wangle that one?'" Lemmon continued. "He said 'He did what he did last time - he paid them off.'"

If the case had gone to court and Savile had been found guilty, Lemmon reflected, "it would have nipped all this in the bud".

So how did he get away with it? "He was a very powerful man, wasn't he?" Lemmon replied. "A very powerful man with a lot of influence."

Even at the start of his career, his forceful personality was fully formed and he claimed to have the muscle to back it up.

Savile told Louis Theroux that during his club days, he "invented zero tolerance" and was "judge, jury and executioner" when he locked trouble-makers in the club basement.

Jimmy Savile on Top of the Pops in 1969 With flamboyant dress sense and persona, Savile cultivated an image as a larger-than-life celebrity

Lemmon did not remember it that way and said Savile "wasn't a physical type of bloke at all".

But he did recall Savile asking him to accompany him around the dancefloor in case someone threw a punch. He was not to be messed with.

The aura remained as Savile became more famous and influential. He later boasted of friendships with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles.

It is not difficult to see how a young girl could have believed that her word may have counted for less than his.

And yet, for many of Savile's friends and acquaintances, the recent revelations are harder to deal with because Savile could also show great kindness.

Lemmon recounted how the star spoke to his son when he was dying of leukaemia in the 1980s after recognising the surname on a hospital ward.

"He said to Russell, are you a relative of Dennis Lemmon? He went in and chatted for half an hour and our Russell thought the world of him. Jimmy hadn't seen me for 20 years but he remembered the name. That's his good side."

'Open secret'

After the clubs, Savile went on to become a familiar presence on Radio Luxembourg, Radio 1 and BBC TV, with hit shows including Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It.

Weighed down with jewellery and with cigar in hand, the tracksuit-wearing, platinum-haired showman cultivated a reputation as a larger-than-life celebrity.

After the allegations emerged, figures from the music industry and TV world have claimed to have heard rumours about Savile's behaviour, but without seeing any evidence.

Roger Holt, a former record plugger who would visit the Radio 1 offices every week in the 1960s, said Savile's predilection for young girls was "an open secret".

"I heard through his office, just in conversation, 'Jimmy's at it again,'" he said. "He used to travel the country with his colleagues at the BBC [who would say] 'Oh he gets these young girls in his Rolls or the caravan when he was travelling around.'

"They'd just say 'Oh he's after these young girls.' It was an open secret in the record industry."

Start Quote

Because of his clumsiness with women, which was not in the least sexual, I thought he was one of those asexual people”

End Quote Susie Ordish, Wife of Jim'll Fix It producer Roger Ordish

Savile would not socialise like other DJs, Holt recalled.

"He was just a very strange person. You couldn't really have a conversation with him. I used to see him at Top of the Pops and didn't talk to him unless I had to go to his dressing room.

"When I had to go to his dressing room the last time I was there, there weren't any young girls in there - there were a lot of his mates who I thought were as weird as he was. There was definitely a clique in that dressing room."

Some suspicions have centred on Savile's activities in his caravan while on the road with a Radio 1 show called Savile's Travels.

In 1973, Radio 1 controller Douglas Muggeridge asked the station's press officer Rodney Collins to check whether any newspapers were planning to print rumours about his exploits.

"There were allegations that there were girls, underage girls involved, maybe, in the caravan," Mr Collins told the BBC.

He reported back that the papers had "heard these allegations" but were unwilling to print them "whether they were true or not" because Savile did a lot for charity and was "perceived as a very popular man".

Jimmy Savile reading a copy of his autobiography Savile's autobiography had a photo of his mother on the back cover

Savile persuaded the tabloids not to run stories by telling them they would be responsible for the end of his charity fundraising, according to broadcaster Paul Gambaccini.

Savile was said to have raised £40m for charities and it was an effective form of emotional blackmail.

His caravan was mentioned again when Savile appeared on TV panel show Have I Got News For You in 1999. Panel member Ian Hislop asked him what he did in the caravan.

"Anybody I can lay my hands on," Savile replied, letting his guard down for the sake of an apparent smutty joke, and getting loud applause from the audience in response.

Jim'll Fix It was Savile's most successful TV show, running for almost 20 years between 1975 and '94. But the show's producer Roger Ordish said he never suspected any wrongdoing.

When Savile stayed at the Ordish family home one night, they put him in a bedroom next to their 14-year-old daughter. "We, in our innocence, had no idea," Roger Ordish's wife Susie said, speaking in October 2012.

Mrs Ordish said Savile treated every woman the same way - "a very unsophisticated, naive, clumsy way".

"He would kiss every woman's hand. He thought he was being gallant. It wasn't gallant. It wasn't seedy. It was just very naive. There was no depth to him," she said.

"Because of his clumsiness with women, which was not in the least sexual, I thought he was one of those asexual people."

Jimmy Savile in hospital Savile had access to several hospitals through his role as a volunteer

Despite her shock at the revelations, Mrs Ordish, too, had tales of Savile's good side. When her mother went into hospital for a serious operation, he sent flowers and phoned the hospital to let the nurses know he was a friend, in the knowledge that they would make a fuss of her as a result.

"He could be very kind and his acts of charity were not always for publicity," Mrs Ordish said.

One of Savile's tactics for keeping his friends in the dark about his private life was to keep them apart.

Many fellow DJs, with whom he worked on BBC Radio 1 for decades, admitted that they barely knew the man at all. But it transpired that he had a separate set of friends in his home city of Leeds, with whom he would go running or have weekly meals in the Flying Pizza restaurant.

As well as Leeds, he had homes in Scarborough, London, Scotland and Bournemouth, and had rooms at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire and Broadmoor in Berkshire.

He had different groups of friends in different places. They were his "teams", he called them.

In Scarborough, Louis Theroux was let into the flat where Savile's mother had lived, and discovered Savile's continuing attachment to her, 27 years after her death.

Savile kept clothes belonging to his mother - who he dubbed The Duchess - in her wardrobe, just as they had been when she had died.

Jimmy Savile and Louis Theroux Film-maker Louis Theroux gained some insight into the real Jimmy Savile in his 2000 documentary

Savile also revealed other foibles, like the fact that he only took a single pair of underpants away with him, which he washed in the sink every night. After that documentary, the view many held of Savile shifted from odd to creepy.

One key element of the public Savile persona was that, despite hosting children's TV shows, he hated children.

"I think he was always slightly defensive," Roger Ordish told BBC Radio 4 last year. "In interviews, I felt he was saying 'you're not going to catch me out' when the interviewer wasn't wanting to catch him out."

Savile's defensiveness was telling. Theroux again managed to get Savile to open up when he asked the star why he insisted that he hated youngsters.

"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," he replied.

Was that because such a reply would stop questions about whether or not he was a paedophile, Theroux asked?

"How do they know whether I am or not?" Savile said. "How does anybody know whether I am?

"Nobody knows whether I am or not. I know I'm not, and I can tell you from experience that the easy way of doing it, when they say, all them children on Jim'll Fix It, is to say, yeah, I hate them.

"That's my policy. That's the way it goes. And it's worked a dream. A dream."

More on This Story

Jimmy Savile and the NHS

More Entertainment & Arts stories


Features & Analysis

From BBC Culture


  • Robbie RogersHARDtalk Watch

    Gay footballer Robbie Rogers on locker room homophobia and the ‘pack mentality’ in soccer

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.