One sad side effect of the shameful Jimmy Savile saga is that it confirms many people’s suspicions that there is something “dodgy” about eccentric-looking people. They will now say with the benefit of hindsight: “Oh, I always knew Savile was a wrong’un, I mean, just look at him.”
My memory fails me often, but I really cannot recall that link being made in his heyday – the gold shellsuits and bling jewellery were viewed as innocent, if garish, fashion foibles; part of his brand. That heyday began in the era of long hair, continuing through the rise of those shellsuits, bling and “leisurewear”. It was a far-off time, when you could smoke cigars on children’s TV.
Celebrities have always had more slack to be eccentric – it’s part of their larger-than-life persona. But, woe betide ordinary members of the public who fail to conform to the norm. Children, of course, have always been particularly cruel to those who appear different, notably each other and any unsuspecting teacher who doesn’t look like the other teachers. What does that mean? Most children cannot articulate it, they just think they know an “oddball” when they see one.
An obvious victim of this was poor Christopher Jefferies, the Bristol landlord and former English teacher wrongly suspected of the murder of Joanna Yeates. Half the nation wrongly mentally convicted him on the strength of his blue wispy, long combover. Jefferies is now rebuilding his life with a more conformist physical appearance.
Cherishing eccentrics has always been part of the British psyche. Perhaps it’s to do with being an island race? My hope is that we condemn the likes of Channel 4’s ex-racing presenter John McCririck for being a boorish, sexist throwback and not for his age or pantomime appearance. Be careful what we wish for, because do we really wish for wall-to-wall Jake Humphrey?