“My name is Kafka, Franz Kafka,” is how radio presenter and music buff Paul Gambaccini aptly opens this account of the year he spent on police bail after being arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, the investigation set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Arrested in October 2013 after accusations made by two men whom, for legal reasons, Gambaccini refers to throughout the book as “Primary” and “Secondary”, he was repeatedly bailed and rebailed. Living under a hail of innuendos and smears, he had to give up his radio work and pay legal fees that ran into tens of thousands. Eventually, during an anxiety attack in New York, he was told there would be no further action.
A diary kept by someone falsely accused of sexual offences sounds as if it might be a sombre and distressing read. That it isn't is in part tribute to Gambaccini's readable and absorbing prose, but there's also a fascination at the way the Metropolitan Police act in a way that seems contrary to our conceptions of justice and fair play.
The music references that pepper the book help, too. When he was arrested Gambaccini issued a statement referring to a musical he'd just seen, The Scottsboro Boys, that centres on a group of black men falsely accused of sexual offences in Alabama in the 1930s. “Within hours I was arrested by Operation Yewtree. Nothing had changed, except this time there was no music,” he said.
Later, whether it's reflecting on the death of Peter Seeger (“the moment I think of Peter Seeger I am strengthened again in my determination to fight until my name is cleared”) or the sudden appearance of the Sixties dance hit “The Mashed Potato” by Dee Dee Sharp on his iTunes (“I give Christopher a demonstration of the Mashed Potato and the Jerk”) it seems that music eases the psychological pain.
But there are dark periods, too, of course. At one point even the British sang-froid comes under attack. “I know that most… of my Radio 2 and Radio 4 colleagues believe that the accusations against me are false. But they don't do anything about it. They are British.”
Eventually, he hears on 10 October 2014 that the case has been dismissed. There is obviously joy and relief, but he ends the book with a warning that gives the volume its title: “They said it couldn't happen here. It did. It happened to me. Unless there is reform, it will happen again. It could happen to you. What are you going to do about it? Love, Paul Gambaccini.”
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