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Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Savile Enquiry

With pressure building on the BBC and senior staff working during the 70s and 80s to explain what they knew about Jimmy Savile sex abuse claims, a book by a top journalist reveals details of alleged paedophilia involving another children’s broadcasting star at the corporation.

In the late 1960s, the current BBC world affairs editor John Simpson was tasked with reporting the death of a former BBC children’s entertainer – given the pseudonym ‘Uncle Dick’ in his book Strange Places Questionable PeopleCalling a former co-star for reaction to his passing, Simpson was shocked to hear Uncle Dick described as an “evil bastard”:

“Week after week, children from all over the country would win competitions to visit the BBC and meet Uncle Dick. He would welcome them, show them round, give them lunch, and then take them to the Gents and interfere with them.”

Does that sound familiar?

Uncle Dick’s partner for many years — Auntie Gladys — told the BBC that she was deeply saddened by his death. She said “He had a wonderful way with children.”

“If their parents complained afterwards, she said the Director-General’s office would write and say the nation wouldn’t understand such an accusation against a much loved figure.”  Relating this discovery to his editor, Simpson was then admonished for being a “destructive young idiot”  before a full scale newsroom cover up was orchestrated. The copy written up for newsreaders read as follows:

As with the fawning tribute to Jimmy Savile broadcast after his death in 2011, BBC managers wouldn’t allow serious allegations of child abuse to tarnish the reputation of one of their stars. So far at least the BBC has been totally silent about what appears to have been a complete failure of its child protection obligations in relation to Jimmy Savile over decades.

However, since 1933 successive child protection laws and regulations have laid down strict rules on the protection of children in theatres and film and broadcasting studios. These require under-16s to be supervised and protected at all times when on such premises by suitably qualified chaperones licensed by the relevant local education authority.

Ofcom’s regulatory framework includes specific provisions for the protection of children who participate in television and radio programming through their Broadcasting Code (rules 1.28 and 1.29). The Ofcom Code sets standards for the content of television programmes and the protection of viewers from inappropriate material in the content of programmes. The rules balance the right for under 18s  to participate in programmes with the requirement that broadcasters take steps to ensure the protection of their physical and emotional well-being and their dignity. These rules are supported by guidance developed by Ofcom which covers the involvement of people under eighteen in programmes and requires that due care should be taken at the pre-production, production and post-production stages

The BBC has additional and specific guidelines relating to children in programmes. Their management structure includes a lead person on child protection in each major department. The BBC Executive is held to account by the BBC Trust and in certain aspects of content, by Ofcom. Other broadcasters have similar internal guidelines and management arrangements.

It might be argued that children who are merely sitting in public audiences during broadcasts do not need to be chaperoned, but those actually taking part in filming or live broadcasting, as in many Jimmy Savile programmes, certainly do. The regulations make this very clear. In the context of the present allegations and the case of 'Uncle Dick', they specifically refer to supervision by chaperones at all times in dressing rooms.

Which is why the BBC are making such a fuss over their own investigation.  No doubt it will come up with a result of "lessons must be learned", when the reality is that the scandal should be investigated by the police, the harmed should be compensated, the guilty should be prosecuted and the individuals responsible should be imprisoned or fined.

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