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.

6 comments:

Russell Duffy said...

I too recall those halcyon days of pioneering TV. Now we have 800 channels and nothing on worth watching. I should very little worth watching. I liked TV then and like it still but there is such a deal of dross to work your way through before tripping over something worthwhile. Northern Europe lead the world these days in crime fiction but as i am not a great fan of such stuff I seldom watch it. What I have seen leaves the rest chewing dust.
Paedophiles of whatever age need to meet some old friends of mine from South East London all of whom are exponents with a crow bar.
Our shared history has been tainted somewhat by Savile and now Hall. Disgusting men both but at least Hall has, finally, been caught.
The Daily Mail is, along with the other members of the gutter press, stirring trouble and not allowing the law to uncover evidence before presenting it as fact.
I too shall soon be arrested no doubt as I had sex with a minor. I was eighteen, she wasn't. I wonder how many groupies, desperate to sleep with this rock star, or in the case of John Peel, DJ, gave out their real age?
Maybe Mick or Keith or more likely Bill, had one or two teenage girls themselves. Mind you, they were only in their early 20’s and no doubt didn’t check the girl’s passports.

Matthew Hopkins has been reborn and now we are witch hunting all and sundry and sadly missing the point.
The bastards that did these vile acts are either dead or decrepit. Thank goodness your girls didn't grow up in such an age
Radio 4 had the boss of Savile on the Today prog recently. I forget his name. He was a very honest, very forthright man. He said that everyone knew of Savile’s depravity but no one, himself included, had the guts to say anything. Why? Savile was connected. The self-same man, admitting his guilt and the shame he now, rightly, has to live with, reminded us all that back then sleeping with young females was accepted. Not children, but teenagers of sixteen. Middle aged men having sex with 16 year olds?
It beggars belief but then again why should it be such a shock? The age of consent in Spain is 13!!!!
Can you believe that?
I think we should hold fire for the moment and not run with the mob. If we start accusing anyone who inadvertently and unknowingly slept with young females or young men who knows who might suddenly be shoved in the frame?
I strongly doubt that in these enlightened times such a creep as Savile or Hall would be allowed to function. You cannot even take photos in public these days of your own children without be accused of committing a potentially paedophilic act.
I have no sympathy at all with paedophiles. They deserve all they get. Hopefully a long prison sentence with some nice, kind hearted Glaswegian gangsters. I do, however, think we need to not over react to allegations until proofs are presented.

Perfect Virgo said...

You're safe as there's a world of difference between screwing a 16 year-old girl when you're 18 or when you're 35, 45 or more. It's not a fair comparison.

I know the age of consent in Spain is 13 but that very fact SHOULD shock us. It's deplorable and can't impact the conviction of sex criminals in the UK. Childhood and innocence are already so short nowadays and the baying crowd is a natural phenomenon of furious indignation.

I've been careful to point out whether the above names have been arrested, charged or convicted but history teaches people to remember there is seldom smoke without fire.

Russell Duffy said...

I agree with virtually all your post says. I cannot fault it for its condemnation of the likes of those mentioned who we now know are guilty.
I hope we continue to expose truths no matter who they reveal as being sexual predators.
History teaches a valuable lesson. We should learn from it and I think we have.
As your post clearly identifies these are old men many of whom lived life in some sort of dim lit zone.
They are reprehensible.
They will be caught and they will be punished but by the office and authority of the law not the baying crowd who should, with lack of intelligent thought, be muzzled.
Let us agree this...we both want those deplorable people, men and women, caught.

robertmadigan said...

I have been a fan of British programs for some time. Shows like “Absolutely Fabulous”, “Father Ted”, “The Young Ones”, and “Benny Hill” were formative in the development of my sense of humour. I listen to BBC4 while I work and so I am familiar with these horrible controversies and scandals that are unfolding.

It is most bothersome that the BBC seemed to play role in protecting Savile. This appears to be an existential crisis, and perhaps a systemic problem.

I have so many questions about these scandals. Is this an issue of status and privilege? How high up the broadcasting food chain does this behaviour (or the knowledge of it) go? Will the BBC survive this, or should it?

Unbelievable and sickening. Nice piece here, though. You have done a nice job of quantifying these scandals and showing the size of the problem, Scary.

Best,
Bobby

Perfect Virgo said...

Bobby - I think you're right. Each additional name to hit the news seems to confirm the BBC was institutionally rotten, and those who stood by and averted their gaze are guilty by omission.

I get the sense the BBC (and others) are probably a great deal 'cleaner' these days. Whistle-blowing and witch-hunting are accepted now.

Apart from those I've named, who have been arrested and or charged, there are a similar number whose names circulate on the Internet. They belong to a roughly quarter century age band from early fifties to mid eighties and so were prominent during my formative years.

I was a huge fan of Benny Hill. His humour, though saucy, was more boyish and never sinister. He lived all his life in semi-obscurity in Southampton, my former home town.

I agree, BBC Radio 4 is without doubt the best Talk Radio station out there.

Michelle said...

Another great read. You are in "journalist" mode these days. In light of the recent news that came out of Cleveland, sex scandals are everywhere in the news. It breaks my heart and I have a hard time contemplating such things. A similar scandal occurred in the US with the PENN State sex abuse cover up, but it wasn't as far reaching as the BBC's -not even close.

I can't find fault in your writing, so I can't offer any constructive criticism, but I'd really love to read some FICTION soon :)