Janet Smith’s review: Andy Kershaw, Esther Rantzen, Terry Wogan among witnesses
By David Hencke, Alex Varley-Winter, Mark Watts and Tim Wood | 20 January 2016
Several well-known BBC presenters told the inquiry into Sir Jimmy Savile’s sexual assaults at the broadcaster of their personal dislike for him, Exaro can reveal.
Many said that they had heard rumours about Savile’s predatory sexual behaviour, even if the bosses were oblivious.
“Nicky Campbell, radio disc-jockey and presenter, heard rumours that Savile was a necrophiliac but thought it utterly incredible” – Dame Janet Smith, review report
Smith had evidence from more than 100 BBC employees who had heard about Savile’s misconduct, although top executives at the BBC told her that they knew nothing about his exploits.
Their comments to Dame Janet Smith, the retired judge, are recounted in the draft report of her “review”, which has been leaked to Exaro.
In the chapter in Smith’s report on Savile’s career and perceptions of him at the BBC, she writes: “Many laudatory comments came from quite senior people, most of whom were male.
“Derek Chinnery, who became Controller of BBC Radio 1 in 1979, described Savile as an ‘amusing fellow’ and ‘a unique character’. He died in March 2015, after giving evidence to Smith.
“Stanley Dorfman, a producer on Top of the Pops, found him to be a funny, jokey and likeable man.
“Canon Colin Semper, who produced Speakeasy… thought that Savile could be quite funny and that the words that came flooding out of him could be quite attractive.
“He described Savile as a clown in the sense, as he wrote in God’ll Fix It, that ‘a clown is a highly-skilled performer who wears a mask.’ Canon Semper did not know what lay behind that mask but he knew that it contained ‘a clutter of stuff’.
“The words used regularly to describe Savile were “weird” and “creepy”. It is no exaggeration to say that he was generally seen as a sleazy, unpleasant, self-important and self-obsessed loner. Other words used to describe him included “strange”, “cold”, “peculiar” and “loathsome”.
“Women were particularly unsettled by Savile, some feeling sexually threatened by him.”
“Several women mentioned Savile’s inappropriate and sexual manner.”
A researcher on Jim’ll Fix It in 1985 “was one of a number of women who told me that, when she first met Savile, he kissed her right up her arm. She, like most of the women I spoke to who felt they had to put up with this, found it deeply unpleasant.
“[She] had felt unable to complain about it because of his position and his celebrity status.
“[Another witness], who was involved in setting up Jim’ll Fix It in 1975, saw Savile as a sleazy, strange man and did not want to be in the same room as him.”
“An assistant floor manager who worked with Savile found him ‘as cold as ice’ and a predatory and controlling individual.”
“[A witness] told me that he had the impression that Savile was ‘not a particularly liked person’ among the BBC disc-jockeys. This impression was supported by several to whom I spoke.
“David Simmons, who worked as a presenter and producer for BBC Radio 1 and Radio London during the 1970’s, had no time for Savile, regarding him as a self-publicist who felt that he was doing BBC Radio 1 a favour by being a disc-jockey on the station.”
Another example, she says, was Andy Kershaw, who became a DJ for Radio 1. “Mr Kershaw was scathing about Savile. He told me that Savile lacked social skills and did not have social contact with his BBC Radio 1 colleagues.
“He describes Savile as a ‘very, very unpleasant, self-obsessed bloke’, who, through his charitable work, had reinvented himself from ‘a gangland enforcer’, which was his reputation while working in the entertainment industry in Leeds in the 1950’s, to ‘Saint Jimmy of Stoke Mandeville’.”
In a later chapter on “rumours, stories and jokes” about Savile, Smith recounts further views of some well-known BBC names about Savile.
She writes: “Louis Theroux, the documentary film maker, heard rumours, well before he joined the BBC in 1998, that Savile was a paedophile and a child molester. Later, he also heard rumours that Savile was a necrophiliac and had a sexual interest in disabled people.”
The following is a selection of Smith’s summary of comments on Savile by other BBC presenters to her review.
Esther Rantzen heard that Savile was sexually interested in young girls. She first heard a rumour about him in the early 1970s from a researcher who had come into the BBC from a job in Fleet Street. She heard that the people making a programme about Savile in the ITV series This is Your Life had wished to include the parents of a young girl with heart problems for whom Savile had provided financial help. The parents refused to allow that and she said that “the implication was that there was another side to it, which was a darker side.” But, she said, this rumour was one of many which “swirled around” at the time in respect of all sorts of famous people. Ms Rantzen said that she was told by the sound editor of Savile’s Travels that Savile had recorded himself having sex with nurses at Stoke Mandeville; there was no suggestion the nurses were unwilling. Her personal experience of him was that he was repulsive in the way he kissed or, rather, licked her hand and up her arm when they met.
Sir Terry Wogan
Sir Terry Wogan is reported to have described a conversation about Savile with well-known columnist Jean Rook, in which she asked, “When are you going to expose him?” And he replied, “That’s your job.” I assume that he meant it was the job of the press not of Ms Rook personally. Sir Terry is reported to have commented to the press, “And nobody ever did (expose him), even though everybody had heard the rumours.” The Review wished to speak to Sir Terry but unfortunately he said that he was too busy working on Children in Need. The Review then asked him whether he could confirm the accuracy of the press report, to which he replied confirming that Ms Rook had made the reported remark (or something very like it) but that his recollection was that he had not replied to her directly but had only thought to himself, “Surely that’s your job.” He added that he knew nothing about Savile other than vague rumour, which, he said tended to be about Savile’s sharp commercial practices and his shameless use of his charity work for his own greater glory, rather than his sexual behaviour.
Andy Kershaw, who became a BBC Radio 1 disc-jockey and presenter, first heard rumours and stories about Savile while at Leeds University in the early 1980s. As Entertainment Secretary, he came to know people involved in the entertainment business in the city. He heard from many sources that, in the 1950s and 1960s, Savile had a reputation as a gangland enforcer and would personally use physical violence against anyone who upset those who ran the nightclubs and dance halls in Leeds. When Mr Kershaw arrived at the BBC, he was advised by John Walters, who had in the past produced programmes with Savile, to steer clear of Savile because he was “a bad lot” and “a nasty piece of work”. Mr Kershaw found that that was so. He heard stories relating to Savile’s interest in underage girls; for example it was said that he had sex with young teenage girls in his campervan… Mr Kershaw added that these rumours had been rife throughout the entertainment industry and were not limited to the BBC. He also believed that the press were aware of them.
Nicky Campbell, radio disc-jockey and presenter, heard rumours that Savile was a necrophiliac but thought it utterly incredible and regarded it as an urban myth. His personal impression was that he was sexless.
Mark Lawson, the journalist, broadcaster and author, heard rumours about Savile before he joined the BBC and afterwards. Whilst at the BBC, he heard that Savile was a groper and a paedophile. [He told the review of a “joke” that dated from two decades ago:] “What do Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Saville have in common? They both screwed miners/minors.”
It is only fair to mention that some people who one might have expected would hear rumours did not. One such example is Peter Rosier, who was for some years the Head of the Information Division and later the Head of Corporate Affairs and Media Relations.
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