Louis Theroux’s Jimmy Savile documentary last night on BBC2 provided a moment that jumped out of the television and grabbed you round the throat.
Speaking about her abuse at the hands of Savile and her own grandfather, survivor Sam explained why she tried to think about the happy times she had with her abuser. “Where does your nice bit ever be?” she asked, if everything was to be tainted by him. Childlike words, yet so articulate. Why allow the abuser to claim every memory?
“I never said to him, don’t, because I knew he could.”
You try to minimise things, at first. You try to imagine it might not have happened. You’re angry that it happened. Did it happen? Maybe it didn’t really happen. Maybe everything else was OK though. Up until that point, it was fine. Afterwards, it was fine. Maybe if you can just isolate that one event, it makes it fade. Maybe you should, because it means you own the memory, and not that other person, and maybe that’s how it should be.
That’s why the lady from Stoke Mandeville kept the Lego Savile head in her shed; it’s why she kept a discreet shrine to Jimmy on her Welsh dresser; it’s why the former PA said that she couldn’t believe the accusations. You do what you have to do to make yourself be able to live.
Theroux himself, up to that point painting himself as some kind of well-meaning idiot, one in a long line of people to have been “beguiled” by Savile, had been trying to look at why he had failed to spot that Savile was a predator, why so many people had failed to spot the signs.
Angrily, Sam said that Theroux had been “mugged off” in his documentary, and that he had been groomed himself by Savile. Theroux, in the moment, disagreed, but I don’t think he ought to have done. He was used by the abuser, not in the horrific way the other victims were, but used for a purpose. Savile saw something in him that he could use. I remember the first documentary coming out at the time, and the rumours I’m sure I’d already heard about Savile being a paedophile, an abuser, a dirty old man, whatever you want to call it.
Theroux was an enabler, of sorts, though only a minor player, a mediocre enabler of evil in the great scheme of things. Others knew about the accusations and suppressed them; other brave victims came forward, and were dismissed. Savile needed those enablers more.
And then, too, throughout the whole documentary, you had the sense that everyone was trying to confess. Theroux, despite his denials, was trying to confess to being an enabler of Savile. The victims who had come to him with a half-story, and another he met, who’d told a radio station half a story about meeting Sir Jimmy – up to the point where he’d committed a sexual crime – had wanted to confess. Savile himself was always trying to confess to what he was. Leave anyone talking for long enough and they will tell you; you just have to try and see what they’re saying, through all the words.
True, it’s easy to look back and see it as more obvious than it was, but to some people it was obvious. Some people were vocal, and were ignored or dismissed. Some people were overwhelmed by power, which was created by others who enabled the abuser to commit his crimes. It’s those voices you have to listen to, even if they aren’t telling you something you want to hear.