It was the right thing to do. What possible point could there have been in sending Dave Lee Travis to prison – bar justifying yet more (admittedly, witty) headlines on the “Hairy Cornflake does Porridge” theme?
Yes, he squeezed a young woman’s breasts for 15 seconds. That is not a nice thing to happen to any woman. Ever. But was this action, which happened nearly two decades ago, really worth a custodial sentence? The judge thought it was not, and gave him a suspended sentence of three months. Frankly, Dave Lee Travis, a man who has spent a lifetime confusing the notion of being “cuddly” with being very annoying indeed, has obviously already paid for his misdemeanours. His reputation has been destroyed. His career is in tatters, his entire standing, star status and good name permanently muddied. There is no question that he was out of line. But let’s just look at the facts.
His actions were absolutely not on a par with the likes of Max Clifford and Rolf Harris, sent down for sexually assaulting and abusing girls and women, or indeed the horrors of Jimmy Savile, who attacked vulnerable children and disabled people and performed abominations on dead people.
Yet in many people’s eyes, Dave Lee Travis – another name from the 1970s whose fame surrounded him like a blinding cloud – will have “got away” with it, as if his actions were as repugnant and evil as those of Clifford, Harris and Savile. The unnamed victim of the assault, who said she was paralysed with fear at the time, has spoken of her luck in being able to get on with the rest of her life after the event – the event being having your breasts squeezed for 15 seconds, backstage at The Mrs Merton Show. Hello? If such things really caused deep trauma, half the female population of the UK would be in long-term therapy. Women get their breasts squeezed. They get their bottoms pinched. Without asking for it. It is not particularly exciting, but it is part of life. Get over it.
In the media, where the intoxicating combination of fame is customarily wafted about in what one might deem a bohemian atmosphere, this sort of behaviour is particularly apparent. Again, not something to be proud of, but it is simply part of the setup.
I have worked in television shows similar to Mrs Merton; this sort of thing happened all the time, so much so that it was almost funny. While I was working on one show years ago, one of the executive producers was so used to it that he devised a simple slogan to yell at us humble researchers: “Look, loves, don’t fuck the turns!” Because you know, the turns would turn up and they would, well… hope to have favours granted. Again, I am not referring to or indeed excusing sexual assault. I am pointing out that there was, and probably always will be, a certain amount of irresponsible behaviour in the entertainment world, whether from Radio 1 DJs or anyone else, and women in particular have to negotiate it as they see fit.
When I was the BBC arts correspondent, I had to interview a prominent cultural figure for Radio 4’s Today programme. The interview, which was properly conducted and straightforward, came to an end. I thanked him. He leant over, but instead of the customary “arty” kiss on each cheek, he suddenly stuck his tongue down my throat. Probably for about 10 seconds, but still. It wasn’t a highlight, but did this action ruin my life? Er, no. More pertinently, would I now consider ringing up the Operation Yewtree offices and ruining his? Don’t be crazy. I have better things to do with my time.
One cannot speculate on the motives of the woman, now apparently a “household name”, who took Dave Lee Travis to court. But one has to ask whether the Operation Yewtree fervour, fuelled no doubt by the frustration that one of Britain’s sickest and most evil perverts died before he could come to justice, has simply gone a bit crazy. If we started jailing every man who has ever squeezed a breast, there would be no time for any other sort of case in our courts, and our prisons would be the size of a small city. And I also wonder whether, if Dave Lee Travis had simply been Joe Ordinary just trying it on (as some men do), his victim would have bothered taking him to court 20 years later. Would she, indeed, even have remembered the event? Or was it that there was some form of grim pleasure to be had in hauling up a famous name from the past, putting him in the same camp as Savile et al, and hoping he did time for it?
Who knows, but it is vaguely reassuring to see our justice system at least seems to have managed to keep a level head about it all.
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