Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, ITV1, Wednesday
Hunted, BBC4, Thursday
This exposé's unpalatable, no-frills revelations were strong enough to speak for themselves
Sunday 07 October 2012
That Jimmy Savile fancied young girls is beyond doubt. He never married, and colleagues say he simply wasn't interested in women over 20. As long ago as 2000, Louis Theroux was publicly raising the possibility that the shell-suited entertainer might be a paedophile. And yet, nobody wanted to know. Newspapers, politicians, the thousands of people who loved the saviour of vulnerable children, they all turned a blind eye.
Like MPs' expenses and phone hacking, the Savile case is another example of a crime so familiar within its own industry that nobody thought to address it. Childline founder Esther Rantzen last week accused the world of TV, herself included, of "colluding" in a cover-up. Even as recently as last year, the BBC was so terrified of revealing that a national treasure, created largely by itself, was also a cold-hearted monster.
So, it's fitting that the medium that made Savile has now destroyed him. I can't remember the last time a TV documentary broke a major story, and former police detective Mark Williams-Thomas is to be applauded for conducting a thorough and level-headed investigation in Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile. He interviewed five women, whose allegations against Savile were startlingly similar: each spoke of a short, brutal encounter, either in his dressing room, or in a caravan, or in his car.
It made for depressing viewing, as each victim told her tale. There was no sensationalism: the unpalatable details spoke for themselves. It was a rare event in modern television: a documentary with no need for flannel or fancy camerawork. It was a straightforward piece of investigative journalism, a story the News of the World would once have prided itself on running.
All credit to Williams-Thomas for tracking down Savile's victims and persuading them to go on the record. Since the programme aired, at least 11 women have come forward, and Paul Gadd, aka Gary Glitter, and a third celebrity have been accused of indecency. The pity is that Savile isn't around to defend himself, but the similarity between the testaments has convinced experts on abuse that they are genuine.
Williams-Thomas's documentary is only the beginning. Now, the BBC, investigative journalists, and everyone who knew about the rumours but failed to act must ask themselves why. The interviewed victims and colleagues all said that they were frightened of Savile, and that even if they did speak out, they wouldn't be believed. If anything can be learned from this story, it's that we ignore uncomfortable evidence at our peril. The trouble is, with each revelation of this kind, we lose a bit more trust in society, especially in those who work with vulnerable people.
Trust, or lack of it, is the dynamo of all good spy dramas: you never know who's crossing who. In Hunted, the BBC's keenly anticipated eight-parter from Frank Spotnitz, creator of The X-Files, ex-Home and Away star Melissa George plays Samantha Hunter, a spook for a private London intelligence firm. In episode one, she survives a gruesome attempt on her life, apparently set up by a colleague, and disappears for a year before coming back, possibly with revenge in mind. The conceit of a star operative being betrayed by their masters is what made the Jason Bourne films so thrilling, so who can blame Spotnitz for using it here?
There are sub-plots and twists aplenty: flashbacks to Hunter's traumatic childhood; a sinister agent out to get her; and her moral conflict over the orphaned boy she has to dupe. The plot is so tightly packed that it's better to watch on iPlayer; that way you can replay the vital one-liners you miss with every blink. It all makes for a scintillating ride at a cracking pace.
No expense was spared in elevating Hunted to cinema-standard. Scenes were shot in Morocco and Scotland; the cinematography is almost Paris art-house; and there are even French characters who speak in French, with subtitles! The heart-pounding chase in Tangiers was so exciting that for a moment I thought I was watching The Bourne Ultimatum. Sadly, a clunking script and some wooden minor parts soon reminded us this is just telly. And, as with all spy movies, we could have done without the tawdry love plot. What is more guaranteed to shatter belief than a pair of super-cool sleuths going all gooey on each other. Jason Bourne wouldn't do that.
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