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Jimmy Savile: Young girls were just another victim of the rock'n'roll years

Teens were easy prey in an era with different morals
  • @davidhepworth

The music industry has always been awash with salacious rumours about the sexual tastes of its more prominent figures, particularly when they look as though they might fit the bill. Most of the time, people prefer not to see those whispers confirmed, enjoying instead the satisfaction of being one of those who can tap their noses knowingly without being required to provide full details.

I never heard a specific story about Jimmy Savile but it would be heavily hinted within the industry that anyone who dressed like a toddler, spent so much time in a caravan and could find a professional excuse to be in the company of teenage girls would probably find himself in a compromising position from time to time.

Most radio DJs of the 1970s and 80s had come up via the ballroom circuit or holiday camps, and thought it part of their job to make sure the prettiest girls in the audience were hauled up on stage to pose with them during personal appearances or TV spots. In this they were only going along with the form expected of a TV presenter or comic; a lascivious squeeze, a silent movie look of longing before another solitary night in the Travel Tavern. Even the sainted John Peel kept up a running gag in his Sounds column in the mid-70s about how he preferred the company of fans when they were dressed as schoolgirls. Nobody considered it anything but a joke.

Young girls were all part of the rock knockabout. When Blind Faith's debut album appeared in 1969 with a topless pubescent girl on the cover, it wasn't widely considered to be a sexual image. The hugely popular sampler album Fill Your Head With Rock featured a seven-year-old girl sucking a stick of rock – and no impure thought entered anyone's head. Original copies of Alice Cooper's 1972 album School's Out were shipped with a pair of panties (available in four different colours). Mary Whitehouse was so busy campaigning against Cooper's on-stage mock executions that these barely warranted a mention.

Rock's aristocracy didn't seem too worried about how their love lives might appear. Alice Ormsby-Gore, the daughter of a former UK ambassador to Washington, was only 16 when she went out with Eric Clapton in 1968 and nobody blinked. Four years later, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page was, in the trade paper speak of the time, "squiring" Lori Mattix, a 14-year-old model, around Hollywood. Only in recent years have eyebrows been raised.

Savile, like most Radio 1 DJs, didn't move in those circles, but he was one of the presenters on Top Of The Pops, which at times was one of the most sexually provocative shows on TV. On Thursday nights in the early 70s, every male student in my hall of residence would pile into the TV room to watch the diaphanous writhings and thrustings of Pan's People.

This didn't end with the professional dancers. TV has never had any shame about finding the most physically attractive members of any studio audience and moving them to the front. This was an era when all any star-struck teenage girl wanted was to be in the audience at TOTP. The podiums were high, skirts were short and the camera angles low. Elsewhere, in those days before MTV, the pickings were slim.

Many deejays have a tenuous grasp on reality. They broadcast only at the pleasure of their masters, who may decide to dispense with their services at very short notice. They enjoy fame that, in their more candid moments, they must realise is undeserved. When they go out into the real world, to open supermarkets as they did in those days, or to sit at a laptop at some freshers' ball as they do nowadays, they encounter people who are every bit as impressed by them as they would be by the people whose records they play.

In 2012, now that all of society's disapproval has been funnelled into the single issue of under-age sex, they would be all too aware of how things would look. If it does still go on (and as long as there are desperate young things and unscrupulous gatekeepers in the music business, it may well go on) nobody will be showing off about it.

The publisher and music journalist David Hepworth is a former editor of 'Smash Hits' who oversaw the launch of magazines including 'Q', 'Empire', 'Mojo' and 'Heat'