After 40 years in the public eye, dark rumours that haunted Sir Jimmy Savile leave reputation in tatters

New account of star's 'imperious' efforts to keep abuse claims secret raises heat on star's BBC bosses. Adam Sherwin reports

When Sir Jimmy Savile's death was announced last October, Cabinet ministers and the Prince of Wales led the tributes to one of broadcasting's most colourful characters.

The flamboyant entertainer, a unique presence on screens since the 1960s, famed for his cigar and outrageous tracksuits, was remembered in a series of nostalgic BBC programmes. Yet this celebration of Savile as a tireless charity fundraiser, whose eccentricities only endeared him further with the viewing public, angered a group of women who believed they had encountered a very different, darker individual.

Now, a year after his death, his reputation lies in ruins as those women use the airwaves he once ruled to expose an apparent sexual predator. Former colleagues meanwhile line up to claim that they always knew Savile's larger-than-life public image was a sham.

Yesterday, Surrey Police confirmed that the force received a complaint about Savile five years ago. "In 2007, Surrey Police received an historic allegation of indecent assault which is alleged to have occurred at a children's home in Staines during the 1970s," a Surrey spokesman said. "The allegation was investigated and an individual was interviewed under caution. The matter was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision who advised there was insufficient evidence to take any further action."

The claims that Savile indecently assaulted young girls, supported by 10 women in an ITV1 documentary to be broadcast on Wednesday night, began surfacing as rumours within days of his death, aged 84.

BBC's Newsnight reporters began to investigate claims that Savile had molested a teenage girl in the 1970s. The report was shelved, the BBC said at the time, because the story "could not be substantiated".

The BBC denied that the report was abandoned because the corporation was due to run three tribute programmes on Savile. The Newsnight editor Peter Rippon prompted a furious dispute behind the scenes when he canned the film and journalists connected with the programme privately questioned the decision. The director of BBC News, Helen Boaden, is understood to have been aware of the investigation but insiders say she did not make the final decision.

Several women who were pupils at Duncroft, an approved school for girls in Staines, Surrey, have claimed that Savile repeatedly assaulted them during regular visits to the institution in the 1970s. The floodgates opened from women who said they were too frightened to speak out when Savile was alive. He preyed on girls as young as 14, committing a series of sexual assaults in hotels, his Rolls-Royce and even inside the BBC Television Centre, according to the claims that are due to be aired.

The ITV film will also include a 2009 interview in which Savile defended Gary Glitter, the disgraced pop star jailed for downloading child porn and child sex offences. Savile argues that Glitter had done "nothing wrong… it was for his own personal gratification" when indecent images were found on his computer. Savile refused to own a computer to avoid leaving any trace of his personal affairs.

Sir Jimmy, an "imperial personality", used his charity fundraising work as a lever to prevent his private life from being exposed, his former Radio 1 colleague, Paul Gambaccini, said yesterday. Whenever rumours circulated, Sir Jimmy played tabloid newspapers "like a Stradivarius" to keep any allegations of impropriety quiet, he said.

"You just didn't mess with Jim," Mr Gambaccini said yesterday. "He was the governor, because after all he had been the first great club DJ, he had been the originator of Top of the Pops presentation, and you just let him have his turf. On another occasion, and this cuts to the chase of the whole matter, he was called and he said, 'well, you could run that story, but if you do there goes the funds that come in to Stoke Mandeville – do you want to be responsible for the drying up of the charity donations'? And they backed down."

The broadcaster Louis Theroux, who made a BBC documentary about Sir Jimmy's personal life, said yesterday: "So the rumours seem to have been in some degree validated… what is especially disturbing is the nature of the alleged abuse – the fact that it apparently took place repeatedly, in the workplace and at a school he was visiting, and that it may have been known to his bosses and co-workers. My thoughts are with the victims. I hope they find peace."

The ITV film, Exposure: The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile, presented by Mark Williams-Thomas, a former Surrey Police child-protection officer, finally puts the case for the prosecution. Wilder web rumours, of necrophiliac behaviour, may also now be explored. This is not just Savile being placed posthumously on trial, argues Esther Rantzen, the broadcaster who campaigns against child abuse. An entertainment industry that "blocked its ears" to persistent rumours about Savile's behaviour should also be scrutinised. Roger Foster, Sir Jimmy's nephew, said his family was "disgusted and disappointed" by the programme.

The charities, which Savile intended to be his legacy, will lose their funding, the family warns.

But it appears to be too late for Savile, whose inscrutable persona could not survive his death and who is now set to join Glitter and Jonathan King among the ranks of shamed entertainers who were invited into the nation's living rooms only to betray the trust of their fans – and the British viewing public.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas