Petronella, paedophilia, and the wrong lesson to draw from Olivier’s pass

Plus, why all engaged couples should be forced to watch the Huhne/Pryce trial

Related Topics

If this week’s stories about Petronella Wyatt and Alan Bennett – both of whom were touched up by adults when young but claim not to mind – mark a trend, then a gripping new genre of fiction should hit shelves soon to counteract the “Harrowing Life Stories” book trend. Oh, those depressing books called grim stuff like “The Secrets Kids Keep” or “Please, Daddy, Not Again”. Now’s the time, it seems, for the “Abused and Not That Bothered! Stiff Upper Lip everyone!” genre.

These would be books for forthright folks who think this whole terrific fuss over Savile, child abuse, Operation Yewtree, yadda yadda is just a load of leftist, hairy-legged mollycoddling PC brigade wotnot. Or, as Petronella Wyatt put it in the Daily Mail yesterday: “It is time all of us grew up. What is wrong with the occasional wistful pass made by a man whose youth has faded?”

But Petronella, regardless of her jolly Swallows and Amazons swagger, doesn’t talk about wistful passes. To my mind, “a pass” is someone floating the notion verbally that they’d like to have sex with you, then retreating. Petronella’s story about Laurence Olivier, for example, is that when she was 15 and Olivier an old man, he waited at a family event until they were alone, invited her on to his knee, touched her breasts, told her she was “St Quentin Quail” – his jokey term for jailbait – kissed her on the mouth and then thanked her for being obliging.

Albert Finney, Robin Day and other men in positions of power also made passes, allegedly. But – importantly – it was all jolly and she was thrilled, and her family laughed it off, and in actual fact it’s young girls who are to blame, and isn’t modern life rubbish now that we take these things so seriously.

But the Olivier story, to me, doesn’t sound like “a wistful pass”. This sounds very much like a predatory old sleaze shoving his hand down a young girl’s top. Petronella’s memories of everyone’s part in this event, feel like the very typical behaviour of a child abuse case. The grown-up took a calculated risk to get his jollies with a child. The child felt flattered/confused by an older man, in this case a celebrity, telling her she was pretty. The parents didn’t want to rock the boat with their social circle so they laughed it off – and then laughed several other incidents with other men off – and now, decades later, the woman feels she brought it on herself by being manipulative. But it wasn’t your fault, Petronella; your parents let you down greatly. I’d prefer it if you didn’t extend your own method of dealing with this betrayal to telling other women to put up and shut up, too.

Petronella goes on: “That many teenage girls are simply not to be trusted around attractive older men is a fact that appears to be all too often ignored – but it is high time we reminded ourselves of it.” This concept is quite troubling. Obviously, there’s the whopping great victim-blaming brickbat that, “What we really need to realise about child abuse is that teen girls are bloody sexy, wa-hey!” But the notion that we all should “remind ourselves” of a teenager’s allure is peculiar. I don’t remember a time in the past 30 years when we haven’t acknowledged the headstrong, 14-going-on-25, knows-everything-better-than-you, hormonal, self-obsessed tornado which can often be the teenage girl. I was one myself.

Teenagers think they’re adults, but they’re not. So to assist these poor, put-upon “attractive older men”, faced with a child in lipgloss “making advances”, we also have police cars, court appearances and jail terms.  “But when I was growing up,” says Petronella, “so many of my father’s friends made passes at me that if I had sued each one, I would still be in court to this day.” Knowing what the Wyatt family classes as a wistful pass, and Petronella was probably not the only victim, it’s a shame that they all thought court was too good for them.

The trials of marriage

For everyone getting wed this summer, it’s common to seek advice from friends and family about the pitfalls of married life, only to find a distinct dearth of plain-speaking offered. “Oh, you’ll have your ups and your downs!” is as much as most people will mumble. From now on, I think all engaged couples should be forced to watch edited highlights of the Huhne/Pryce trial. There is no better modern example of the worst case scenario of marital breakdown and how quickly it can snowball into irretrievable chaos. Sure, my wedding classes might feel like shock and awe tactics, but think how many John Lewis toasters we’ll all avoid buying.

So, SJP, heels don’t hurt if they cost £600 a pair?

Sarah Jessica Parker – for those who live as hermits, that’s Carrie Bradshaw of Sex And The City fame – has admitted that high heels have ruined bones in her feet. The fact that SJP – queen of the shoe idiots, of which I am one – has bones protruding in places they’re not typically found, and that there are doctors making meaningful sounds about Dr Scholl Orthopaedic sandals, is a very sad time. But it’s cheap high heels that she wore recently, she claims – not the £600 a pair ones she ran around in for 18 hours a day playing Carrie – that did the damage. No, nothing bad can happen in a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti’s finest. I’m glad SJP still believes this. Even if she might be on a Zimmer Frame by 2020. I felt like giving up the shoe habit of a lifetime last week when I fell over during pre-cocktails at the British Press Awards in a pair of 120mm-high Dolce & Gabbana heels when they gave way on plush, shiny carpet. To be fair, if I’d known that writer Craig Brown was going to win my category I’d have laid there all evening.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd put the creative industries at the top of the agenda

Christopher Frayling

How I’ve backed the winner in every election since 1959

Andreas Whittam Smith
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power