05 May 2013

end of an era

In the late 1960s entertainment in the UK was on the cusp of development. Our TV programming was mostly simple and bland. I fondly remember "It's a Knockout!", a riotous outdoor game show in which villages of the Shires and beyond competed in friendly rivalry. The 'games' mostly involved greasy poles, lengths of industrial elastic and copious amounts of water. Village greens turned into mud baths amid contests of strength, agility and endurance.
"Jeux Sans Frontières" was an International version of the games. It was hotly contested by several European countries, represented by the winners of their own domestic heats. By the late 1970s the show had become grandiose. The challenges were more complicated, competitors wore outsized foam costumes and the spectacle had become essential Saturday evening viewing; a veritable British institution for over twenty years.
And through it all rose Stuart Hall, a forty-something local BBC news reporter, turned game show host whose flowery commentary and manic laughter became synonymous with the harmless fun. Little did we know, the wild hilarity hid a sinister secret.
Last week Hall, now aged eighty-three, pled guilty to various sex offences against girls, both minors and adults dating back to those Halcyon days of the 70s and 80s. The media is relentless in teasing out the details and we now hear that Hall boasted of one hundred partners during one three-month summer season of "It's a Knockout!" Co-presenters at the BBC have started to speak out, branding Hall a notorious sexual predator.
So is Hall the next Jimmy Savile, the disgraced former radio DJ and presenter of kids' TV shows, who died aged eighty-five in 2011? Will more accusers creep out of the woodwork? Savile hid in plain sight using his larger-than-life, comedic, marathon-running persona as a mask; he raised millions of pounds for charity but every pound is now tainted. Police are following over four hundred and fifty posthumous accusations of paedophilia against Savile. The BBC is subject to an Enquiry into why so many bosses and colleagues chose not to expose this man.
I grew up in the 60's and 70s. Hall and Savile were part of the backdrop to my formative years. They didn't particularly influence me but I laughed along at their antics. An era has ended. An era of apparent innocence.
The veteran Australian Rolf Harris, a fixture on British TV as singer, comedian, painter and all round personality, has lived for fifty years in England winning hearts with his songs, his amazing artistic talent, his unprecedented empathy presenting the TV show "Animal Hospital" and his wit and good humour. Earlier this year he was charged with multiple historic sex offences. He is eighty three.
How many more personalities from my childhood are at home, biting their fingernails, waiting for that knock at the door, that knock which usually comes before dawn, when least expected?
Can we trust that anyone is merely what they appear to be? Probably not. Coronation Street, that bastion of British soap operas, is under scrutiny. Script writers are hastily re-writing plots to account for the sudden departure of major characters. These people are household names. William Roache, aged eighty one, who has played womaniser Ken Barlow ever since episode one of The Street in 1960, has been charged historically with the rape of a fifteen year old girl.
Michael Le Vell, chirpy motor mechanic Kevin Webster, is charged with a string of child sex offences.
Andrew Lancel, former factory co-owner Frank Foster, is charged with five counts of child sex abuse. What is it about men in their eighties? What climate prevailed that led them to their sickening pursuits. Or what is it about soap operas? Are they fooling themselves with fantasy?
And there are others. Comedians are on the list. Stalwarts of the 1970s, Freddie Starr and Jim Davidson, have been arrested to face accusations of historic sexual misconduct. Disc Jockeys are a well represented category. In addition to Savile, that predator who ingratiated himself with the Royal Family, with senior Politicians and with Charity Heads, other leading DJs of the 1970s are in disgrace. Dave Lee Travis (aka The Hairy Cornflake) is charged with historic sexual assault.
Even that inspirational advocate for fringe bands, that finder of new and exciting material, DJ John Peel has been posthumously accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Gary Glitter, glam rock pioneer and wearer of impossibly high platform boots and silver suits, whose early single "Rock 'n' Roll, part 1" was one of my first purchases, is a notorious child sex offender both in the UK and the Far East. Recent investigations have brought to light yet more claims against him.
Max Clifford is well known in the UK as a Publicist, one of those odious individuals to whom celebrities flock for guidance. Clifford has high-profile clients who are keen to keep certain details of their private lives out of the newspapers. Clifford has the ear of national publishers. He can squash salacious rumours and he can raise smokescreens. For a fat fee. If for example Simon Cowell wants to be associated with bevies of beautiful women, headlines and photos will miraculously appear portraying exactly that.
Clifford has grown very rich manipulating the truth. In the current climate of sexual allegations, he has managed to stem the tide of rumour against many well-known names. However, for too long he has been the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. The dam has burst and the public is denouncing their former heroes and clamouring for justice.
I have the utmost sympathy for victims, but imagine my grim satisfaction when a certain name hit the news recently. A household name accused of eleven historic sex offences against young women… yes, Max Clifford.
I know the maxim 'innocent until proven guilty' but it must be understood that many of the above have already been charged. In the UK the Crown Prosecution Service brings the charges after reviewing evidence with the Police. The CPS has to be satisfied there is a genuine case to be answered before committing public funds. It's a trial before a trial, of sorts, and after that point, naming and shaming is fine by me even if it encourages the baying crowd.

We have every right to know and to be angry. Youngsters exploring their sexuality under-age between themselves is one thing but men in their thirties, forties or beyond preying on kids and young children (and with kids I include anyone under eighteen) wrecks lives and destroys innocence.

As the father of boys thirty years ago I didn't worry but now as the father of two small girls I do worry. However I take comfort from the systematic tracking down of these predators and their evil crimes, regardless of how long ago those may be.