Thank goodness Britain is such a different country from that in which Jimmy Savile got away with it

This is not a country that lightly yields its rose-tinted spectacles. So we should be grateful to this scandal for illuminating how far we've come

Share

We await Aung San Suu Kyi’s official response with mounting impatience, but for now the silence from Rangoon remains deafening. When, if ever, will The Lady pitch her twopennorth into the Savile debate? Now you might contend that she has graver concerns than developments arising from the posthumous downfall of Jimmy Savile, what with leading Burma’s opposition leaving little time and energy to contemplate from afar a parochial and relatively ancient scandal obsessing us here.

Until yesterday I would have agreed with you. But then came fresh allegations about Wonderful Radio 1 – and since they concern Dave Lee Travis, whose World Service musicfest A Jolly Good Show she so startlingly cited last year as a sustaining influence through the dark, lonely years of house arrest, they will profoundly distress the democracy campaigner.

In the gruesome Savilean scheme of things, the Hairy Cornflake accusations may seem comparatively trivial. Neither involves paedophilia, though the alleged victims are entitled to be less sanguine themselves. One woman, the newsreader Vivien Creeger, relates how he once popped into a Radio 4 studio and “jiggled my breasts” as she was broadcasting live to the nation. Another, unnamed at the time of writing, has given a police statement in which she unfondly recalls how, in 1977 when she was 17, he cordially invited her into his own studio and put his hand up her skirt.

Far be it from me to offer damage limitation advice after the event, but Mr Travis’s denial would not, I think, impress Max Clifford or Malcolm Tucker. Having stoutly dismissed the claims as “ utter bollocks”, DLT – whom a female interviewer recently alleged that he touched many parts of her body unbidden – would have done well to leave it at that. Instead, before bolstering the denial with a steadfast “I refute any impropriety”, he arguably compromised his own wholly gonadic analysis with a reflection on the prevailing sexual mores of the era. “It was a different world in the 70s,” said Mr Travis. “All institutions were the same back then.”

If by “institutions” he intended to refer to the minimum-security psychiatric hospital for terminally delusional self-perceived sex gods which Radio 1 increasingly appears to have been, hats off for letting that shard of insightfulness pierce the protective bubble of righteous indignation. God knows what further allegations will ensue, and which of the station’s pool of superannuated Smashies and Nicies will next be cited as a serial groper, or worse. But with the sewer floodgates now opened, it feels safe to assume that there is more effluent on the way, and that none of it will inspire a new range of scented candles from Jo Malone.

The 1970s was a different world; an intolerant, callous and often brutal one

Stink abominably though all of this does, Mr Travis makes a sound point. It no more excuses any misdemeanours than Edwardian sensibilities justify the casual racism of a Winston Churchill. But the Seventies were a different world, and we should thank this scandal for illuminating, by contrast, the progress made since on the path towards a less blatantly uncivilised society.

It takes a perspective of about 20 years for a clear perception of a previous decade to take hold, and, by the mid-1990s, the retrospective take on the Seventies identified it as the last age of innocence. It was laden with industrial strife and social unrest, of course, of the sort that tempted Jimmy Goldsmith and his chums at the Aspinall’s gaming tables to ponder a Francoist military coup. Large sections of the Met and other police forces were monstrously corrupt, while homosexuality was almost universally regarded as “unnatural”. The most popular TV show for a few years was Love Thy Neighbour, in which a white man’s tireless use of the appellations “nig-nog” and “sambo” was supposedly justified because the West Indian guy next door occasionally retaliated with a pallid “honky”.

But however much it required the cocking of deaf ’uns to IRA bombs and the fitting up of those who never planted them, and the turning of blind eyes to other poisonous undercurrents eddying away in national life, we eventually came to reflect on the 70s as the dog days of harmless, eccentric fun before Mrs Thatcher popped along, like a scoldier Poppins, to tell Britain to grow up.

Nothing so effectively misdefines an era as its cheap music, and in this case the DJs who played it. The Beatles gave way first to the hedonistic idiocy of glam rock, and then to the engaging high camp sexuality of disco. The pompous concept album and punk had their place, too – but with the exception of John Peel (himself less sainted today than a fortnight ago) – not so much on Radio 1. Ask someone of my generation, a few years either side of 50, for one vignette to capture the Seventies, and there’s a decent chance it would feature Savile or the allegedly Horny Fruitcake playing The Sweet or Donna Summer to a sun-baked Roadshow beachful of inexplicably delirious adolescents.

A decade to forget

This is not a country that lightly yields its rose-tinted spectacles. Some generations remain convinced they were never happier than when shielding from the Luftwaffe on Underground platforms, others that the drab, sepia struggles of the gang-infested 1950s was a halcyon age. Only in the past few years, in the aftermath of the Iraq misadventure, have we begun to be free of the pernicious muscle memory of an imperial past, though such atrocities as the persecution of the Mau Mau remain widely and blithely ignored. In these historical terms, 40-odd years seems a blink of the eye removed from a time when grabbing women’s breasts and pinching passing bums was, as suggested by a DLT who restricted himself to kissing Suu Kyi’s hand when they met on her visit to London, the dominant workplace male’s droit de seigneur.

The 1970s was a different world – an intolerant, callous, often brutal world in which a myriad of nasteries were hidden in almost plain sight behind the demented, infantile forced jollity of a bunch of look-at-me-I’m-raving-bonkers-I-am grotesques whose extraordinary hold over mainstream youth culture stood in directly inverse proportion to their wit, talent and charm.

So all the weary revulsion at these allegations comes leavened by a dash of relief for the reminder that, while these are by no means easy times, they are infinitely better than the supposedly sweet and uncomplicated decade that taste forgot. For once, even the biggest sucker for nostalgia, even here in its global citadel, can hardly make the ritual observation that things ain’t what they used to be without appending a heartfelt “and thank the good Lord for that”.

React Now

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

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song  

Ukip Calypso by Mike Read? The horror! The horror!

Patrick Strudwick
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past