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TV review: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile exposed a sordid open secret
Jimmy Savile at the height of his fame. Image. PA
The much-publicised and controversial ITV1 documentary into allegations that Jimmy Savile sexually abused underage girls.
Before we grab our pitchforks, light the flaming torches and set forth, mob-like, to desecrate the last resting place of Sir Jimmy Savile, a word of caution, if I may.
Twelve years ago, as chief reporter on a regional daily newspaper, I covered the Crown Court trial of Premiership football manager Dave Jones, charged with 21 counts of child abuse at the children's home where he worked in the 1980s.
The first witness, a deeply troubled former resident who'd had a sex-change operation, took the stand, pointed at the innocent, but already disgraced man in the dock and screamed: "That's him! Don't let him do that to me again!"
Only he hadn't. It was a fabrication to get compensation. The whole case collapsed within hours. Dave Jones was acquitted, rightly so, and huge question marks were thrown over Merseyside Police's investigation.
"The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, scheduled at the ludicrously late hour of 11.10pm"
Such a cautionary tale is needed when discussing ITV1's Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, scheduled at the ludicrously late hour of 11.10pm.
Because the "other side" mentioned in the programme title is the only side presented and Jimmy Savile is no longer around to answer the allegations in the hard-hitting documentary.
It is the programme's biggest and most glaringly obvious flaw.
It was so one-sided that, unless you really questioned the motives or recollections of those involved at every turn, the only conclusion anyone watching could draw is that Jimmy Savile was a predatory paedophile. He may well have been for all I know. The testimony was certainly compelling and, often, disturbing.
Former detective Mark Williams-Thomas led the investigation and, as an expert in child-abuse cases, became convinced by the women he interviewed that Savile was a habitual child molester. Their stories stacked up and his modus operandi was consistent (two spoke of "no foreplay").
"Some of the victims waived their legal rights to anonymity"
It was indeed shocking stuff, even though much of it had been leaked beforehand.
Some of the victims waived their legal rights to anonymity, but what was equally convincing was that several others still felt Savile's iron grip on them and were too afraid to be identified even now.
We also heard from people who worked with him: a former BBC employee who walked in on Savile during sexual intimacy with a teenage girl; a producer who very matter-of-factly stated that this was an open secret ("Everybody knew that he was constantly in the company of young girls"), and a journalist who saw Savile "rinse himself down" having just had sex with a teenager.
What is clear is that the DJ enjoyed his staus, and he exerted a controlling influence on these girls who he would invite back to his BBC dressing room or take for a ride in his Rolls Royce. The message from most of them was that they knew what was expected and felt compelled to go along with his sordid requests.
Esther Rantzen speaks out
With no counter-argument or claims to the contrary, the evidence mounted up against Savile, but the killer blow and most powerful part of the documentary came not from any of the girls he supposedly abused, but from a woman he did not.
Former BBC presenter Esther Rantzen, founder of child abuse charity Childline, watched the interviews on a monitor. What she saw made her visibly distressed; she held her head in her hands and was close to tears when she spoke. Here is a woman who has heard countless stories of sexual abuse over the years - and she's convinced of his guilt.
"We all colluded with this," she said as she explained that the television world had made into an untouchable "mythical creature" who was able to hide his paedophilia behind celebrity status and power at the BBC which, no doubt, has some serious questions to answer.
"I'm afraid the jury isn't out anymore."
Esther Rantzen concluded by saying: "I'm afraid the jury isn't out anymore. We all blocked our ears to the gossip, to the rumours." If there's one aspect of Exposure that continues to disturb me, long after the programme finished, it's how well known and widespread his predilection for young girls was - and the whispers went all the way back to the 1950s.
Well done ITV for having the guts to make this programme and give the women a voice, and I say that as somebody who has seen lies in this particular arena firsthand.
The sad fact, however, is that either they're lying and besmirching the name of a man who raised millions for charity and cannot defend himself, or they're telling the truth and a predatory paedophile will never face justice. It's an awful truth; nobody wins.
- Verdict: Extremely uncomfortable watching and without any right to reply, but the evidence against Jimmy Savile was pretty convincing.
What other reviews say
The Guardian - "As broadcasters including Rantzen and Paul Gambaccini have said, this film merely confirms long and relentless hospitality room gossip."
The Telegraph - "This was populist current affairs at its very best. Like many top-notch TV investigations, it has caused significant ripples"
What viewers on Twitter said
@sayhellodavid: "I'm with Esther. No doubt in my mind."
@bombaybadboy79: "Do we not live in a society where people are innocent until proven guilty. No one would condone this behaviour but he has no defence."
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
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