Jimmy Savile scandal shows how ‘rosy’ the old days really were

Abuse claims: Sir Jimmy Savile pictured in 1998
Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features

Devil’s Advocate is a regular column assuming an alternate viewpoint on a topical subject of the week.

It’s one of those classic questions you choose from when you’ve run out of anything else of relevance to say to the clunky oaf sitting opposite you: “Which decade would you have like to have lived in?”

Sometimes it’s not even a question. Sometimes annoyed Daily Mail readers just come right out with it, usually in horrified reaction to some dastardly piece of (highly skewed) news that’s emerged from the evil new world right outside their securely bolted door.

The 80s, the decade in which I grew up, still hasn’t been given a complete whitewash, so people seem more likely to opt for the 60s or 70s. (Or admittedly sometimes the 20s or 30s, since there is nothing more jolly than living in the aftermath of, and/or the prelude to, a devastating world war.)

Oh, weren’t those the days! Well, at least if you were in a certain privileged section of society, or your choices weren’t curtailed beyond recognition by prohibitive legislation and blatant discrimination.

While I don’t think we should ever curtail somebody’s right to give their point of view (however moronic), I do think we should at least be required to add some expository information so that nobody reading is any doubt about the type of decade that’s being talked about.

For example, if I were to grab a grumpy Glasgow gent in the street and ask him which decade he’d like to be in right now, and he answered “The 70s”, it should be recorded thusly:

“The 70s: where young girls were openly groomed for sexual abuse by a number of famous TV and radio presenters, homosexuals were castigated and bullied for their choice of lifestyle, women were fortunate if they were even second best, casual racism was more readily tolerated, Love Thy Neighbour was on the air – and that’s not the half of it.”

Obviously that doesn’t quite sum it up, but at least we’re getting on to the right track. It’s not to say that we don’t face those same problems today, but the normalisation of such vile behaviour pales in comparison to the attitude that we now take. Sure, our economy may be in the toilet, but if we measure quality of life simply by a person’s pay packet then we’re doing something far wrong. (Plus, Lord Sugar and Duncan Bannatyne ought to look a good lot cheerier than they do.)

For anybody who watched Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile on Wednesday night, the evidence seemed damning. (Watch it for yourself if you don’t agree.) But for all the talk of a cover-up, at times it doesn’t seem like much of an effort would have been required on Savile’s part. Not only did his predilection for young girls seem like common knowledge within the industry, he seems to talk merrily in his autobiography about stories that would make your skin crawl. (Such as this excerpt, and another, which were posted by The Guardian’s Josh Halliday yesterday.)

And why wouldn’t he? Other examples hint at a culture in which, at best, a blind eye was turned to such antics and brushed off under some sort of idiotic “boys will be boys” mantra. In the 70s, rock bands such as Led Zeppelin were apparently able to get away with enjoying underage groupies, if you believe their unauthorised biography, Hammer of the Gods, Roman Polanski was able to carry on his career in Europe after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor – for goodness’ sake, and even the adored late Radio 1 DJ John Peel allegedly confessed to receiving sexual “favours” from a 13-year-old, before marrying a relative late bloomer at the age of 15. (As he himself was quoted as saying.)

There seems to have been a situation where the power of fame meant that celebrities could ride roughshod over the basic tenets of human decency, and be facilitated by the system as they did so. Though things are far from perfect, at least nowadays we’re less likely to continually tolerate such behaviour. (Even while he manages to top the charts, Chris Brown will never be able to escape the repercussions of his assault on Rihanna – and there are plenty of beady eyes keen to ensure nothing of that nature happens again, as there will be for any similar brute.)

So forget any ignorantly idealised notion of living in the past, as though that would be something to cherish. Let’s instead realise that we ought only to live in a society where the issue of child abuse isn’t taboo, where we are making collective efforts to ensure that victims aren’t afraid to speak up – and that they importantly don’t feel culpable for the crimes committed against them.

Today’s attitude trounces the “three wise monkeys” approach employed in the past, and for that alone we ought to say good riddance to those decades in which the likes of Savile were able to proliferate. We’re far better off the more his likes are dead and buried, and the thought of turning back the clock is horrific.

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