Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Is dressing up as Jimmy Savile a fancy-dress joke too far?

This reader's partner has a great sense of humour that sometimes strays close to the edge. But can he pull of this exceptionally bad taste choice?

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The Independent Online


Dear Virginia,

We’ve been asked to a Heroes and Villains party. I’m going as Tony Blair but my partner wants to go as Jimmy Savile. He’s got a great sense of humour and most of our friends know he can go a bit near the edge, but there’ll be quite a lot of new people at this party who don’t know him and I really don’t want him to go like this. I wouldn’t be upset – I think it would be quite funny – but I think it’s too risky. My partner doesn’t get my concerns. How can I argue him out of it? Or should I just go along with it and see if he can carry it off? He usually does!


Yours sincerely,



Virginia says...

Yes, I think I would cringe a bit, too. It’s the fact that Jimmy Savile’s crimes are so recent that makes the idea particularly distasteful, plus, of course, the fact that his villainy comes from sexually abusing children, a subject about which many people are exceptionally squeamish. Would he go as Myra Hindley? Or Ian Brady? I wonder. Wouldn’t even he draw the line at that?

You won’t know if there’ll be anyone at this party who was abused as a child. Or whether there might not be some super-sensitive souls who would just draw the line at making a joke about such a man. (But similarly, it must be said, there may be those among the party who are Blair fans and may find your own casting of him as a villain rather distasteful, too. Be prepared for fights and brawls.)

And yet I can understand why your partner’s drawn to Savile. With a blond wig, a cigar, a pair of silky trackie bottoms and a vest, he’s easy to impersonate physically.  And he’d be a much more original choice than going as the Devil or Sweeny Todd or one of the Borgias.

I’ve got a friend who gets away with saying incredibly offensive things. On opening the door to a Pakistani friend of mine he said: “Oh, I thought you were from the Indian take-away.” He often asks my Polish cleaner when she’s going back to Poland, and has asked a black friend of mine whether she lived in a grass hut in Africa. He even pinched a friend’s bottom. Naturally, whenever this happens, I’m eaten up with embarrassment and shame but when I apologise to the people concerned, and try to distance myself from his behaviour, their faces all light up and they say: “Oh, he’s just like that. He’s a great guy! I really like him!” so I don’t know what’s going on. Some people have such generosity of spirit, energy and charm that they get away with it. You see the point of him, after all. Why shouldn’t other people? Maybe they’ll be more perceptive and accepting than you think.

If he’s got enough humour to be able to pull this off, then I’d keep quiet. At those parties anyway, people usually ditch the disguises early on, and without the cigar and the wig he’ll just look like any other guest. After all, he is your partner and unless a partner’s planning to commit fraud or murder it’s generally better to let them have the space to be themselves, however unconventional that may be.

Virginia will appear in ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’ at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms on 12 August

Readers say...

The real villain

Jimmy Savile brought joy to many and, it seems, committed abhorrent acts against some vulnerable children while doing so. Tony Blair was, at minimum, complicit in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. You shouldn’t be too concerned over your partner’s costume.

Robert Butt, by email

He might cause pain

Your partner might get lots of laughs – or he may cause real pain to somebody at the party struggling with a past history of abuse. You are concerned about the party guests who you don’t know but these issues may even have affected one of your friends. It’s his choice, and you also have the choice of whether you wish to attend if he goes ahead with his plan.

Barbara Alstead, by email

What about you?

If Jim is going as a “hero” then I reckon to many of us his choice of Tony Blair would be almost as offensive as his partner’s choice of Savile. In which case, they’ll both get pelted with eggs. Go as Batman plus Robin. Much safer.

Sara Neill, by email

Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have recently been on a trip to China organised by a friend of mine. We uncovered a pretty amazing story when we were out there, and I’d been thinking of writing it up for a magazine, but he says he wants to do it. He argues that as he booked the trip, it’s his story. The problem is that I’ve had work published, and I can write, while he, though he’s a lovely person, has never written anything in his life and I know, from experience, will never get around to it. Do I risk losing a friendship by going ahead?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Frances to do?

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