My father knew Jimmy Savile. See the good in him, he told me. That was the mistake we all made

Our writer notes that behaving like a child has its uses even for adults.

Share

So, is philanthropy the last refuge of the scoundrel?

When you have things to conceal – a criminal past, a ruthlessly accumulated fortune, a predilection for underage girls, or just a hankering to be better thought of than you deserve – what works better than giving to charity? Give munificently and ostentatiously – for there’s no advantage in hiding your light under the same bushel you hide your dirty secret – and a knighthood will surely come your way, to say nothing of the devotion of your beneficiaries, and therefrom, if you’re smart, ample opportunity to pursue your secret predilections even further. Crime, charity, crime: call it the perpetual motion of the immoralist.

It’s not my intention to be cynical. The charitable impulse is honourable and more than ever necessary in these cruel times; we cannot afford it to be discredited by dubious motives – whether of the criminal or simply the inadequate sort. (I’m thinking of Kitty’s friend Varenka in Anna Karenina who devotes herself to good works because she can’t otherwise find a centre to her life.)

My father knew Jimmy Savile a little and spoke with admiration of the charity work he saw him do at close quarters. “But the man’s a creepy nincompoop,” I used to say. “He has the dead face of a thug, makes ridiculous noises, and aspires to the condition of a slow-to-develop infant. You’d have had me adopted had I behaved like that when I was three.” “As usual you’re quick to make judgements about people you don’t know,” my father replied with justice, for I was at university and dropped judgements the way an autumn tree drops leaves. “You should see him with disabled kids. You should see the pleasure he brings them.”

Predatious

My father was a taxi driver in Manchester when he met Jimmy Savile. For some reason Savile liked the company of taxi drivers and often joined them in their hut at Piccadilly Station. I attach no sexual significance to this, not least because I can’t, for the life of me, see any. It’s hard to imagine how you’d prey on the innocence of a Manchester taxi driver. But you never know. Perhaps he needed their discretion. Or occasionally craved the conversation of grown-ups.

He gave his time freely, anyway, to the annual Manchester taxi drivers’ convoy of disabled children to Blackpool, an event which my father helped to organise, chivvying other drivers and spending weeks decorating his own cab with toys and balloons. It doesn’t fall to everybody to be good with disabled children on an outing such as this. At the behest of my father, I tried once and failed. But he was excellent at it, naturally kind and jolly, not distressed into uselessness as I had been, and Jimmy Savile, he assured me, was even better. That being the case, one has to take one’s hat off to him. Behaving as though you’re a child yourself has its uses.

That I know of, my father never had to square Jimmy Savile’s charitable work with his predatiousness. Certainly he never said anything to suggest he was aware of it, as it’s becoming more evident by the day that many at the BBC were. Mark Thompson has unwisely said he had never heard a word, which confirms one’s suspicions that he didn’t have a clue about much, including what was going on in the institution he ran. But how other people at the BBC who did have a clue managed to arrange their suspicions into complaisance is a question we are bound to ask.

Blackmail

Ditto tabloid journalists who have been half inclined to use the Savile revelations as a reminder to Leveson of the importance of exposing public figures, but who should be reminded in turn of their failure to expose this public figure when no one was stopping them from doing so. No one except Savile himself, that is. It’s said he blackmailed any paper about to unmask him with the threat of putting an end to his giving, but it’s difficult to imagine a threat like that shutting any decent journalist up. Indeed, the threat itself would only have made the story juicier. That it might have silenced some of the staff of the homes, hospitals and special schools he supported, and from which he is said to have drawn a plentiful supply of victims, is easier to understand if not to forgive. You need a hard nose to survive as a charity.

So what sense are we to make of the resounding silence? Cowardice, was it? A complicit contempt for the victims? An inane regard for celebrity? Or could it have been that those who knew, or half-knew, were actually making a philosophical decision – that the good he did outweighed the bad? They wouldn’t have been the first to go down that route. Many honourable and intelligent people – intellectuals in particular – will squint at evil if it serves an end to which their ideologies commit them.

Take the late Eric Hobsbawm who held on to his belief in the Communist system long after most other rational men had dumped it in disillusionment and shame. He saw the amelioration of humanity as the ultimate goal, no matter how many millions perished to achieve it. By this reasoning the greater good must always excuse the lesser evil, from which it follows that it’s better to keep a special school going for the many than to allow it to close to protect a few. A preference which lets not only Stalin and Savile off the hook, but also those who turned a blind eye to them.

Savile was a cunning, brutal nincompoop scraping the barrel of a bankrupt popular culture, Hobsbawm a brilliant, subtle and courteous historian, an ornament to scholarship; but they complement each other grotesquely. In Savile we see the good that wicked men can do; in Hobsbawm the wickedness that good men can think.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & Commnunications Executive, London

£30000 - £34000 per annum: Charter Selection: This highly successful organisat...

Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: The Hitch on Americans, literature, liberal intervention and language

John Rentoul
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, India  

With Modi talking tough and Sharif weak, the India-Pakistan love-in could never last

Andrew Buncombe
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment