Jimmy Savile and the dangers of received wisdom

25 October 2012

6:13 PM

25 October 2012

6:13 PM

What does the Jimmy Savile case tell us about received wisdom? Over the last few weeks it has become clear that one of the most famous people in Britain was known by very many people to be an active, abusive paedophile.

Many other people in broadcasting knew it. People in charities he was associated with knew it. People in hospitals he was associated with warned child patients about how to get around it. The person who founded Childline, no less, had heard about it. But nobody said or did anything.

We are told that there were various reasons for this. Savile himself is said to have threatened that there would be some funding shortfall for Stoke Mandeville hospital should claims about his rape of children be made public. In recent days many people have said that even in retirement Jimmy Savile was just too powerful. They appear to have mistaken him for Pol Pot or Stalin in their prime. It is like someone saying that they couldn’t testify in a murder case against Timmy Mallett or the Chuckle Brothers (note to lawyers: not that they would need to) because of the great power of life and death these men held.


Which brings me back to received wisdom. I have just been reading Daniel Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage about Britain and the EU, and the thought keeps recurring of how swiftly received wisdom can change. In the 1990s when ‘Business for Sterling’ was arguing that Britain should keep out of the Euro there were endless paid and unpaid panjandrums saying that people who wanted to retain the pound were every imaginable type of idiot and worse. In recent weeks and months many of these same people have now been declaring what a good thing it is that Britain never joined.

Now I do not want to compare the European Commission and its disgraced cheerleaders to rapacious paedophiles, but there is something similarly striking in all this. One day everybody believed one thing, the other almost everybody believed the opposite. And it is worth remembering that in the case of Jimmy Savile this is paedophilia we are talking about – that is, about the only thing in Britain that everybody can still find it in themselves to express moral outrage over. If the sexual abuse of children – and the sexual abuse of children with disabilities at that – is something that can be an unspoken secret because of fear and group-think (and when the fear is of a crappy low-grade entertainer) what does it say about our inability to deal with major issues arising from people who have real power?

Two things about human nature always come out of such stories: one is completely gloom-laden, the other inspiring. The gloom-laden one is this: that we are such appalling, gullible, fearful, weak and sheep-like creatures that we are willing to put up with anything – including (and as many figures in the Catholic church also recently demonstrated) massive on-going abuse of children – rather than make our lives difficult for even a moment by pointing to a terrible thing that is happening.

The positive thing is that it should remind us of the power that even one individual armed with the truth has to correct a terrible wrong. It is one of the most vital arguments for nearly limitless free-speech, that even one person with a dissenting view must be heard if we are to correct the errors of a whole people. If a person has truth on their side, and they are willing to speak up, then they can do anything: turning round the course of a lifetime, a government or a nation.

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Show comments
  • Daniel Maris

    One thing no one mentions in relation to the Savile case, including you Douglas, is the F word…that powerful network that was clearly at work protecting Savile and that is embedded in the armed forces, the City, local government, the health service and the Police.

  • rndtechnologies786

    Good thought.

  • Burt

    He’s dead so the accusations can’t be proved. Ergo you should stop yapping on about this.

  • James H.

    I walk down the opposite side of the footpath to most people. The majority point their
    fingers at me from the opposite side of the road and whisper to each other They’re
    saying, “Look at that strange man, there’s something wrong with him, he dares to speak up and challenge authority. .” Occasionally I have a win over authority and the herd (majority) stop pointing the fingers at me, cross the road and want to be my friend. They’re not my friends, they’re the gutless silent majority who allow bullies like Jimmy Savile to exist. The herd are just glad it’s not them being bullied or molested. Many of you have been trained like dogs. Our society rewards silence and penalises

    those who dare to speak out. You may be 100% correct about something, but if
    you dare speak out, you are still considered a disruption.

    Can you now see why JimmySavile got away with his deeds?

    Those with authority and power, bullies included, all use herd mentality to manipulate the herd and hold on to power. Most of you were probably trained in herd mentality at school. It’s safer to run with the herd.

    What happens if you beat up the bully? The answer is: The bullies friends now want to be your friends. The herd has shifted behind the bigger bully. That bigger bully is
    you. Well……, if you beat up the bully, you have to be the bigger bully, that’s
    how herd mentality works. Herd mentality is based on an unthinking fear that
    drives the herd to follow the scariest most powerful bullies in the hope they will be given protection

    You may call them the silent majority, I call them the gutless majority who allow bullies to rule.

    To those girls who tried to speak out against the odds; you are very special people. I applaud you.

  • What_Tyler

    Last paragraph — Bravo!! Very well said.

  • Unbition

    The Revered are reviled
    when the truth is revealed
    and the reviled are revered
    for telling truth concealed

    You have to wonder if Diana’s death was connected to all this

  • Iain Hill

    Is this farewell to groupthink? To mass hysteria? To celebrity mobbing? To Top of the Gropes?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I have to own to a certain sadistic pleasure as the great and the good start to lose the protection they considered their right. Because this is not just about those aging rockers Authority always resented and now feels it can hang out to dry as scapegoats. Consider the knock-on psychological impact as many of those the nation looked up to and admired (entertainers, media personalities, politicians, sports persons) are accused of child sexual abuse? Labelled guilty until proven innocent in paedo-crazy UK: Imagine what this will do to the national psyche and morale. How high is this going to go? Royalty? Open season on all those files previously marked, “Hands Off”. Now that would really make my day.
    And what will be the end result of this out-of-control witch-hunt? Will, for example it result in a spike in emigration figures? ”That’s it, I’m out of here.”

    Jack, Japan Alps

  • Pat

    …..If a person has truth on their side then they can do anything………… You must be joking! The media is bigger than the truth. They own the truth. They are the people who make the truth up. How many people have testified as to the circumstances of the JFK assassination as just one example. They were rolled over; discredited, villified and murdered. You truly are a delusional idiot.

  • Bob

    The weirdest example of a sudden, almost over-night reversal in received opinion has to be the baffling case of Lady Diana-on 30 August 1997, a more than slightly ridiculous figure, widely mocked as being shallow, dim, avaricious and a bit ‘fast’, and then miraculously transformed after her death into a bizaare cross between Mother Theresa, amd Cinderella, and woe betide anyone daring to point this out. I have sometimes felt , over the past few weeks that the UK is going through another ‘Diana Moment’, only this time in reverse.

  • William Reid Boyd

    Yes, thoughtful piece I broadly agree with.

    By and large we don’t make individually informed decisions about stuff. We just go along with the consensus. When that consensus shifts, it can sometimes do so swiftly and dramatically. Thomas Samuel Kuhh, a 1960s philosopher of science, famously anlaysed scientific revolutions in these terms, introducing the term ‘paradigm shift’. What we are witnessing is certainly just such a paradigm shift in the way we perceive celebrity entertainers such as Jimmy Savile.

  • Sarah

    Well he’s far from the only one, all your favourite musicians, they were at it; all your favourite actors, they were at it; all your favourite politicians, they were at it; all your favourite artists, they were at it; all your favourite writers, they were at it; all your favourite photographers, they were at it; all your favourite journalists, they were at it. I’m so looking forward to all the world’s groupies rising and all the powerful men coming tumbling down.

  • Hector House

    I agree with the previous poster who said that fear of Savile’s QC would prevent victims from suing. It seems likely that J.S. knew many other highly placed paedos (politicians, lawyers etc) all of whom would presumably go down if he went down. Therefore it’s possible that any prosecutions were nipped in the bud by a quiet word from above. Now he’s dead the whole house of cards can come down.

  • Rachel De Shurland

    I just have to say – I love this article – not so much for its connecting of dots to the european union.. but more appropriately because I am a student of criminology and am going to set my research project precisely on the idea of the frankfurt school, “culture industry”.. something like “the dangers of pop culture” – “the jimmy savile network co. case: elite power house and their paedophilic emansipation”

  • Rachel De Shurland

    Perhaps more to do with an ignorant paedophilic populace being conditioned..

  • Philip Whittington

    Now that is a really, really nice piece.

  • Andy Gill

    I heard on the news that duirng his life Savile was questioned six times by the police about allegations of abuse. Surely somebody at the Beeb should have joined the dots?

  • Eddie

    ‘One day everybody believed one thing, the other almost everybody believed the opposite’

    Yes indeed – it’s called conforming to majority opinion for one’s own self-interest. Just like all the Frenchies who joined the resistence in the last days of the War.

    I find it absolutely appalling that so many people seem to have known Savile had abused youngsters, (allegedly), and yet no-one – healthservice hypocrites, charity chicks, BBC buffoons, and even that stuck-up goofball Esther bloody Rant-on – had not the GUTS to report him! I would like the system to try and make amends by arresting the lot of ’em – yep, even than self-righeous slimy Childline chump. (One could argue that Childline has done nothing but feed on the victims of child abuse anyway and has wrongly identified strangers and teachers as being most likely to abuse children – when it is parents and step-parents who abuse most kids! If you want to keep kids safe, take them away from their parents!)

    Having said that, people do lie and we should no more automatically believe an acuser than not believe them.

    But I agree absolutely with your point here: an individual can through having the guts to say that the emperor is stark bollock naked, change the world. However, it certainly helps to have a private income if one does so – because being so honest if one works, for example, as a teacher in an education system obsessed with political correctness, will ruin a career and may well get you suspended (I was told when I was a lecturer that if I refused to teach a student wearing a burka then I’d never work again! Happily, the burka-clad don’t usually do courses in English literature…)

    It’s all just human nature – the one that says ‘always conform’ with the tribe. Pathetic really.

  • Susan

    This is BBC’s phone hacking moment, only many times worse. They cheered Murdoch’s discomfiture, and in my opinion, even assisted in the process. But now that their own dirty laundry is hanging out on the wash line, albeit still unwashed, their sheer hypocrisy, political skullduggery and contempt for truth is exposed for everyone to see. Just like the Guardian, they are nothing but a lefty, anti-Judeo/Christian, pro Hamas, Islamist propagandist institution. Now delete this comment and prove yet again that you’re no different.

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      Do you enjoy pretending to be a victim?

    • Rachel De Shurland

      quite hypo all those “lefty” things… actually.

    • Iain Hill

      Do you have indigestion ?

  • Gerry Dorrian

    I have to disagree with your point in the third-last paragraph, where you said that everybody can still find it in themselves to have moral outrage over paedophilia. On 24 July 2012 in an article called “Racism of the Respectable”, your colleague Nick Cohen spoke of how left-wing racists are happy to ignore abuses against women and children when the abused and/or the abusers are from certain minorities. For Islamophiles, the Jimmy Savile case is the best thing since sliced cheese because it takes the heat off Muslim grooming gangs and allows them to say the problem is primarily British/western.

  • CraigStrachan

    ” The person who founded Childline, no less, had heard about it. ”

    Yes, there’s no way to couch this, so I”ll just go ahead and say that said person seemed to me to be unsurprised, over-rehearsed and insincere when reacting to the allegations about Savile in the ITV documentary.

    • WhiteSkye

      Well said. Her crocodile tears did not impress me.

  • Daniel Maris

    Douglas – I normally approve of your posts challenging received wisdom but here you are failing to face up to what happened. How can you start the EU story in the 1990s? The truth is that the people of the UK were bamboozled into joining the EU (then EEC) back in the 70s and Conservatives led the charge – Heath and Thatcher in the van.

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      Bamboozled? Were you confused about what “ever closer union of the people’s of Europe” meant?

  • Cee Valentine

    Savile was a cross between Marty Feldman and Aleister Crowley..of course everyone at the BBC, NHS, etc. knew what he was doing, but turned a blind eye, like Penn State bigs re Sandusky..’When Louis Met Jimmy’ is a great doc of Savile, done in 2000, when he was 73, 49 minutes, you can find it on Youtube..

  • Baron

    Good stuff, Douglas, abit on the idealistic, good nevertheless.

    The most powerful argument against the Old Australian was that his Empire was by far too powerful, yet unaccountable. Not many seem to be making the connection of massive power cum unaccountability vis-a-vis the BBC, very few commentators have the guts to suggest that it was the BBC Empire that everyone was scared of, Sir Jimmy was but a tool of that power, a natural conduit for its exercise. Hence, even after the pervert’s death, nobody was keen exposing the man’s wrongdoings, not even the tabloids, for the reason Silas Tomkyn Comberbache points out, the perceived cost of litigation wasn’t worth it, it was ‘the good’ the BBC spreads against the misfortune of a few hundred troubled young lives.

    To impose an effective check on the BBC seems beyond any of the mechanisms we have as a society, the only way to ensure it never happens again would be to break the £5bn plus monster into smaller chunks, better still, break it, scrap the license fee, privatize it.

    Regretfully, this may never happen, the great unwashed has formed an affinity with the Corporation that goes beyond the rational. It’s regarded on par with the NHS, the pissing climate, the love of queuing as a part of the nation’s DNA. It would take someone of by far greater stature than the current political elite to reshape it seriously. We’re stuck with it, Baron fears, unless the reception of TV broadcast on platforms other than the traditional TV in the corner helps to break the license fee handcuffs.

    • Daniel Maris

      Baron – I think you raise an important issue. Back around 1900 the Americans – the most pro-private enterprise people on the planet – decided that companies shouldn’t get too big and enacted anti-Trust legislation yet we seem happy to have huge media corporations: Murdochia and BBC. I think there is now a strong argument for breaking up the BBC. If you don’t like the idea of state funded media, feel free to say the broken up bits should be hived off to private companies. I like the idea of independent state funded media. But let’s maybe have a BBC News, a BBC Popular, a BBC Culture and a BBC Sports.

  • Moneycircus

    That fact that some people did complain about Savile during his lifetime does not undermine the argument in this article: received wisdom is powerful and usually wrong.

    The way in which the majority switched from “Saint Jimmy” to “bloody pedophile” is proof. The first reaction of most people, when the contents of the ITV programme were revealed (even before its broadcast) .. the first reaction of most people was to deny it as not possible. Even evidence will not immediately overturn received wisdom.

    Bertrand Russell wrote that most people would rather die than think. I think that’s evident. It is why people prefer to “receive” wisdom rather than think for themselves.

    It really blows a hole in the trendy notion of the wisdom of crowds.

    • Baron

      does the change in the public perception of the pervert really blow a hole in the notion of the wisdom of the unwashed? Hmmm.

      The hoi polloi formed their opinion of him from what they were fed by the likes of the BBC, the MSM. If hey knew what they know now, you reckon they would still have worshipped him as much as they did?

  • DrCrackles

    Savile was well-connected and may well have procured children for powerful people. To liken him to Timmy Mallet is idiotic and naive.

  • Frank Sutton

    What does the picture at the top of the page have to do with this blog?

  • Silas_Tomkyn_Comberbache

    This is naïve at best. People didn’t say anything because they didn’t want Savile’s QC up their arse. The truth has nothing to do with it. Powerful legal teams win cases. Losers face financial ruin. Every point you make is fantasy.

    People went to the police and we’re not believed. Good luck in court.

    • Swanky for Romney

      You make a good point but so does D. M., and I don’t think his argument for freedom of speech should be dismissed by you so readily.

  • Ravenscar.

    Galileo Galilei, one voice is enough.

  • extradebaby

    It is beginning to be ‘received wisdom’ that ” nobody said or did anything” and that is not true, read the many many press reports now that say that some of the victims spoke out but were not believed, BBC workers reported Savile to their superiors, nurses reported it to their superiors, policemen reported it to their superiors, and it was the people in charge who did nothing.

    • James H

      People power is the only thing that can shift authority. There was still a silent majority who did nothing.

  • FrenchNews

    “It is one of the most vital arguments for nearly limitless free-speech, that even one person with a dissenting view must be heard if we are to correct the errors of a whole people”. Absolutely. Well said, just delete “nearly”.