(And how Criminals Get Away With It)
Out Spanish holiday culminated with a special visit to Barcelona. We’d spent the previous week walking amongst (and up and down) the foothills of the Pyrenees. The weather had been warm and sunny, the walking by and large within the limits of our fitness, the food, views and quiet of the countryside marvellous.
Barcelona has a particularly bad reputation amongst European cities for its pickpockets. Visitors are warned to be watchful in crowded places such as railway stations and busy streets after dark. We did our best.
Late in the afternoon, we walked along a wide pavement in a well-to-do area, with no one else in sight, chatting about the sights we had see earlier.
Then Ros said, angrily, ‘Mess off, bird’, or words to that effect. I saw that her back was stained with liquid brown patches. Even then, I think, I was half-aware that these had not originated in the guts of any bird.
From behind us, a man we had not noticed, and who had sprayed us with liquid mud from a water pistol, rushed up, all concern and helpfulness. ‘Let me help you clean yourselves up.”
In a nearby apartment block he produced water and tissues. We set about cleaning ourselves, assisted by our mentor. Then, announcing an urgent appointment for which he was late, he left us, taking with him my wallet. The incident had lasted less than three minutes.
We realised immediately what had happened. We were sickened that a well-spoken, good-looking chap could be so callously underhand, and by our own gullibility. Even at the time, however, the drama critic in me was impressed by his role-playing and stage-management.
As it happened, he had not got away with a large sum. But for an hour or so, we felt as if the stuffing had been knocked out of our holiday.
But Barcelona is a stylish, often spectacularly beautiful city.
We saw wonderful museums (Calico, Picasso) and very enjoyable productions of La Forza del Destino and Ruddigore.
Yes, I do mean Ruddigore. Gilbert and Sullivan would have recognised all their songs and choruses, performed in Spanish with great competence and brio by the six-strong company. The show has been a hit all over Spain––but Gilbert would have harrumphed at the sexiness of the performance.
Back in London the autumn has eschewed mellow fruitfulness in favour of scandal and back-stabbing.
Sir Jimmy Savile, who died last year, hosted two of the BBC’s most successful popular programmes, Jim’ll Fix It and Top of the Pops, and did charitable work for disadvantaged young people. He received knighthoods from both the Queen and the Pope.
Now it is abundantly clear that he used his employment to gain access to impressionable young people and satisfy his gargantuan appetite for sex.
Did nobody know what was going on?
Some people certainly did, since sexual episodes occurred occasionally in crowded backstage areas in BBC studios. But those present either saw nothing out of the way about Savile’s proclivities, or actually shared them, sharing too the same unfortunate young people.
How did Savile get away with it? Largely, it would appear, as did our pickpocket, by sheer effrontery. He made jokes about his reputation and the numbers of youngsters who visited him in his caravan, sometimes even on camera.
The BBC, Broadmoor Asylum and Stoke Mandeville Hospital all have damaging questions to answer. It has been suggested that nothing was done because the victims were viewed as marginal persons who behaved stupidly.
Some people now say they knew something was amiss. But what they ‘knew’ was rumour and, at that, the kind of rumour that is commonly explained away as exaggerated or malicious. Very few of Savile’s victims went to the police, and apparently no case came up that was strong enough to be taken before the courts.
Now, unsurprisingly, hundreds of people have come forward. One of them has been interviewed on television and she was heartrendingly convincing.
Nothing much can be done about Savile himself. His devastated family requested the removal of his gravestone, which has now been ground up. Many people (and the Catholic Church) want his knighthoods to be cancelled.
His victims, who lives were laid waste for anything up to four decades, may get some financial compensation from his estate.
A subsidiary factor in the uproar (to the amazement of people from other countries) is that certain vociferous groups within British society hate the BBC.
Right wing newspapers announce routinely that it is a hotbed of pinkoes and outright communists. The licence fee paid by all British households able to receive television, is denounced as an unjustifiable tax.
More rationally, many claim that the BBC is too big for its own good. How can anything so large and disparate be efficiently administered?
One of its problems is that it has to provide programmes to suit every taste. Thus, from the point of view of any individual user, it produces (a) the stuff you like and (b) boring rubbish aimed at other people.
I never watched Savile’s programmes. When I glimpsed him I saw a cackling, noisy show-off. To many others he was a heroic saint.
The uproar began when a commercial rival, ITV 1, revealed that a BBC investigation of allegations against Savile had been suppressed because posthumous Christmas tributes to him were scheduled.
The BBC recovered some ground by belatedly broadcasting an updated version of the investigation. The programme pulled no punches in showing up the corporation’s various failures. In its way, it was a triumph. But much treacherous ground lies ahead.