Exaro News Archive

Radio 1 chief failed to see risk posed by Jimmy Savile in 1973

Janet Smith’s review: star told head of religious programmes of ‘sex with young girls’

By David Hencke, Alex Varley-Winter and Mark Watts | 20 January 2016

Dame Janet Smith criticises a former Radio 1 controller for failing to realise the risk posed by presenter Sir Jimmy Savile to the BBC’s reputation.

The retired judge says in the draft report of her inquiry – leaked to Exaro – into sexual assaults at the broadcaster by the BBC disc-jockey that Douglas Muggeridge, former controller of Radio 1 and 2, should have recognised the dangers based on rumours about Savile’s activities that had reached him in around 1973.

Smith writes: “If all the information that was in fact available at that time and in the following year or two had been collected, there would, I think, have been enough material to give rise to a real cause for anxiety that Savile might damage the BBC’s reputation. It might even have struck somebody that there was a child-protection problem as well.”

Savile joined Radio 1 as a DJ in 1968, and continued to work there until 1987.

“For the first time, he had to confront his own state of knowledge and belief about Savile” – Dame Janet Smith, review report, on Canon Colin Semper

He presented several programmes for the station, including Savile’s Travels, Speakeasy and The Double Top Ten Show, as well as being one of the main presenters for BBC1’s Top of the Pops, which Smith’s inquiry report damns over the sexual abuse of girls.

Smith says: “At some stage, probably in 1973, Mr Muggeridge became concerned about rumours of sexual impropriety concerning Savile.”

“Mr Muggeridge set in train two separate lines of enquiry.”

“The review has tried to find out as much as it can about these events. Unfortunately, it appears that no relevant documents still exist, if they ever did. Also, several of the people who would have been able to throw light on these events have died – in particular Mr Muggeridge.”

He asked Derek Chinnery, then Radio 1’s head of programmes, to make enquiries, which included interviewing Savile about the rumours of “inappropriate behaviour with young girls”.

Chinnery told Smith that he had no recollection of the rumours or of the interview with Savile. Chinnery died in March 2015.

An executive producer at the station, Doreen Davies, told Smith that he had asked her to sit in on the meeting.

Smith sets out what Davies told her:

Ms Davies said that she had never known Savile well; he was not one of the disc-jockeys for whom she was responsible as executive producer. She did not want him to be, as she regarded him as ‘an oddball’. She felt that one could not have a conversation with him. If she met him in the genuflect, he would say, “Another boss”. She thought he was sleazy; he often had an unlit cigar in his mouth and often looked bedraggled. She had nothing to do with him. When he came into Egton House [Radio 1’s then head office], he would go straight into Ted Beston’s (his producer’s) office. Disc-jockeys did not have offices of their own; they used their producer’s office when necessary.

Ms Davies never heard any gossip or rumours about Savile. She thought Savile was asexual and was not interested in sex at all.

She remembers the meeting between Savile and Mr Chinnery. She said that Mr Chinnery asked her to sit in as an observer. That was not unusual. She did not know what the meeting was going to be about. She did not take any note of the meeting; she was not asked to and it was not the practice to do so when attending meetings as an observer.

She recalls that Savile walked into the room and started joking about there being “two bosses”. Mr Chinnery asked him to sit down and said that he had things to say that were serious. Savile sat next to her on the opposite side of the desk to Mr Chinnery. He sat back and put one leg over the other. Mr Chinnery said words to the effect that there was “a bit of a press thing going on and I have been asked to ask you if you are going to embarrass us with anything in your private life.” Ms Davies thinks that, in some way, Mr Chinnery made it plain to Savile that the issue being raised by the press was whether Savile was involved with young girls.

Savile’s response was to say that this kind of thing had been going on in the press for years and that no one ever got a story because there was no story. There were no secrets in his life. He had worked at the Mecca dance hall in Leeds, where there were lots of young girls and, when the evenings were over and he had seen girls leaving to go home, he had told the bouncers to give them money for taxis. He always protected girls and he had a good reputation as a result. The police knew him and everything about him; there were no secrets.

Mr Chinnery asked him if he was sure. Savile said that he was absolutely sure and that nothing would ever come out. Mr Chinnery then told Savile that one thing being said was that Savile had young girls in his flat in London. Savile’s reply was that sometimes girls came down from Leeds to London for Top of the Pops. He did allow them to use sleeping bags on his lounge floor. He slept in his bedroom. They would be offered tea in the morning and would go off to catch the train. So, to that extent, the story was true. He added that he stayed three times a week at Stoke Mandeville (where he had a flat) and spent time working at Leeds General Infirmary

Ms Davies said that Savile’s denial was categoric but not aggressive. He was confident, shocked, astonished and offended.

I interpose to note that Savile’s response, as recounted by Ms Davies, was, in some respects, similar to his confident response when interviewed in 2009 about allegations of indecent assault by officers of the Surrey Constabulary… He had the confidence to lie about the facilities of his flat; it did not have a separate bedroom. And he irrelevantly reminded his listeners of his good works.

I return to Ms Davies’s account. Mr Chinnery then said that, as long as Savile could assure him that everything was all right, he could go back and say so. Savile repeated that there was no truth in anything suggested. Mr Chinnery said that he accepted that. Savile then left the room and Mr Chinnery said words to the effect of, “What can one do?” Mr Chinnery and Ms Davies both shrugged their shoulders. Ms Davies herself had believed what Savile had said.

… She did not discuss the matter again with Mr Chinnery. She assumes that he reported back to Mr Muggeridge and that Mr Muggeridge would have been relieved that nothing would come out in the press. She accepted that much of this was supposition and reconstruction.

Asked why she thought that the rumours had started in Fleet Street rather than in the BBC, she said that she did not think that Mr Chinnery would have bothered to have Savile into his room, as he did, if the rumours were merely ‘in house’ BBC rumours… Ms Davies was almost sure that Mr Chinnery had told Savile that the press were “sniffing around” about his private life and about bad behaviour with young girls.

Muggeridge also asked Rodney Collins, then a press officer at the BBC to find out whether newspapers were planning to print allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Savile with underage girls, Smith says.

The significance of [his] evidence is that Mr Muggeridge was aware, from some source or other, that it was being said that Savile was behaving improperly with young girls in his caravan while out on location for Savile’s Travels and also that he had young girls to stay in the flat in London. I think it highly likely that rumours of that kind were circulating both within and outside the BBC and it is possible that Mr Muggeridge was aware of either or both.

Smith sets out her conclusions on Muggeridge’s response to the rumours that were circulating about Savile:

I do not think he should be criticised on the ground that he did not make further ‘child protection’ investigations into the rumours about Savile. I say that because child protection was not at the forefront of people’s minds at that time and Mr Muggeridge appears to have been aware only of general rumours of misconduct with girls who were not necessarily under age. However, Mr Muggeridge’s main concern had been that there was a risk to the BBC’s reputation. I find it surprising that he should have been satisfied, as he appears to have been, that there was no risk to the BBC’s reputation from Savile in the longer term. Rationally, I think he should have retained some lingering anxieties about Savile and the risk to the reputation of the BBC arising from the rumours that he knew were current inside and outside the BBC.

Chinnery later became controller of Radio 1, Smith notes.

Although I think that rumours about Savile continued to circulate and that Mr Chinnery was aware of them, I do not think that it would be right to criticise Mr Chinnery for not instigating an investigation when he became Controller… I say that Mr Chinnery remained aware of the circulation of rumours about Savile in reliance on the evidence of [name redacted by Exaro, an executive at Radio 2] in 1983. He told the Review of an occasion, soon after his arrival, when he was having lunch with a group of BBC Radio Executives, probably, at The Salad Bar opposite Broadcasting House, and told quite a shocking story about Savile arranging to provide women to a very well-known personage. [The witness] thought that the story was told by Mr Chinnery and that all others present had heard the story before. [The witness] also had the impression that Mr Chinnery was not comfortable having Savile on the network and would have got rid of him if he had felt free to do so.

Smith turns to what Canon Colin Semper, the producer of Speakeasy who went on to become head of BBC Radio’s religious programmes, knew about Savile.

Canon Semper joined the BBC in 1969 by which time he was already ordained in the Church of England. After leaving the BBC in 1982, he became the Dean of Coventry Cathedral, and later took a position at Westminster Abbey.

… He helped Savile to write God’ll Fix It published in 1978 or 1979. Canon Semper became Head of Religious Programmes Radio in 1979.

Soon after meeting him, Canon Semper became aware that Savile had a following of young girls. He said that, at the end of a recording of Speakeasy, he would always go down to the entrance hall of the studio with Savile to thank him and to say goodbye. There would always be a group of young girls, who looked about 15, waiting for him. They would have been in the audience and would have gone down to the entrance hall ahead of him. Canon Semper would then say goodbye and leave Savile with the girls so he never saw what happened afterwards. He stressed that he never saw Savile take a girl off home with him; he always seemed to be with a ‘gaggle’ of girls.

He and Savile went abroad a number of times together and talked a good deal. During a visit to Majorca, when work had finished for the day and Canon Semper was about to return to his hotel, Savile would go off alone; he would say that he was going on to a cruise ship where he would “have some fun”. Canon Semper did not know what Savile did when he went off alone. Canon Semper would sometimes ask him about his evenings, but Savile was very vague and would say only that he had “had a good time”…

He explained about the help he had given to Savile in writing God’ll Fix It. He said that Savile had recorded a lot of material on tape and he, Canon Semper, had condensed Savile’s words. This work had been done in the early 1970s when they were working together on Speakeasy. When asked about the paragraphs in which Savile speaks of his conversations with St Peter [in which Savile imagined himself at the pearly gates with St Peter: “You shouldn’t have lived like that, but you were driven by that machine of your body that caused you to do these things.”]… He agreed that all this amounted to a confession that he was having casual sex with young girls.

Canon Semper said that, quite apart from the material he had recorded for the preparation of the book, Savile would often talk about sex and girls. When asked whether he thought that what Savile said about sex was just talk or whether he really had sex, Canon Semper said he thought Savile really did… He realised that the sex could have been with a girl of 15, 16 or 17.

Canon Semper agreed with the suggestion that, although there was a lot of verbal flummery in Savile’s conversation, and a lot of boasting, he understood that Savile had sex with a lot of people including underage girls. Savile would talk about sex, often uninhibited by the fact that Canon Semper was a priest. Canon Semper thought that Savile talked in a similar way to other people at the BBC. For example, he was sure that he would have talked in that way to Reverend Trevivian… “with Roy and me he could probably say more.”

>When asked whether his understanding that Savile was having sex with underage girls caused him concern, he reverted to saying that he had never known for certain that Savile did that. He said that he would occasionally “think” but did not “for certain know” what Savile was up to… He said that, when Reverend Trevivian had been alive, the two of them had talked about it. But Reverend Trevivian was also uncertain as to whether their suspicions were true. Canon Semper was used to hearing a stream of talk from Savile about girls, all couched in Savile’s kind of language (such as “nice young ladies” or having a “nice time”), by which he understood Savile to mean that he was having sex with these girls. He thought that, if Reverend Trevivian had had any evidence that Savile was having sex with young girls, he would have been deeply disapproving and would have “taken him on”. He then said that, if anyone had presented him with any evidence of actual sexual misconduct with young girls, he, Canon Semper, would have taxed Savile with it. He would not have reported the problem to the Head of Religious Broadcasting, he would have handled it himself. He would have said something fairly anodyne like, “Jimmy, we don’t do that sort of thing, not here, not in this place. Just stop it.” He said that he would not have been more severe than that.

This part of Canon Semper’s evidence can be summarised as follows. He was used to hearing a ‘wall of words’ from Savile about what he was doing and with whom. As part of that wall of words, Savile was sometimes using words that could have meant that he was having casual sex with girls, including underage girls. It was extraordinarily difficult to discriminate as to what was truth, half-truth or boast. However, Canon Semper admitted that he had never really tried to do so.

I accept Canon Semper as a witness of complete honesty and integrity. I think he found his interview with the Review very uncomfortable. For the first time, he had to confront his own state of knowledge and belief about Savile and I think he accepted, for the first time, that he had known enough to give rise to some responsibility. I think he also regretted his role in ghost-writing God’ll Fix It.

Speaking to Exaro, Semper denied knowing enough to be able to do anything about Savile. He said: “I did not get it, and I did not know. Maybe I should have done, but I did not.”

He also denied to Exaro that the imagined conversation with St Peter amounted to a confession that Savile was having casual sex with young girls.

Smith sums up the missed chances to expose Savile at Radio 1:

There was a moment in 1973 when Savile came briefly under scrutiny because Mr Muggeridge had become aware of rumour or gossip about Savile’s sexual interest in teenage girls…

If all the information that was in fact available at that time and in the following year or two had been collected, there would, I think, have been enough material to give rise to a real cause for anxiety that Savile might damage the BBC’s reputation. It might even have struck somebody that there was a child-protection problem as well. But that did not happen… Whatever the reason it did not happen and the information that was available remained unreported and fragmented.

Janet Smith’s review: chapters 9 and 11 on TOTP and Radio 1

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

By Exaro News

Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.