Jimmy Savile: Family Matters

On October 27, 2012

I never really bought into Jimmy Savile as a quirky eccentric. All that now-then, now-then stuff got on my nerves. If I’m honest, I found him repellent. A bit of a weirdo. And now we know the truth. It seems he was a prolific and predatory sex attacker who abused young girls and boys over many decades. Once feted as a flamboyant entertainer working tirelessly for charities, his reputation now lies in tatters. The charities that bore his name are to fold. Serious questions are being asked of senior members of the BBC, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Leeds General Infirmary, Broadmoor and others.

In the midst of the scandal around the former DJ, I started thinking about his family and what the impact might be on them of such relentlessly chilling publicity. Presumably, they loved him and cared about him. Only recently, they gathered to mourn his passing. A niece gave a reading at the graveside in Scarborough, in November, 2011. A nephew was pictured throwing a white rose onto his uncle’s golden coffin. A few months later, the family was arranging for the removal in the dead of night of the headstone on the grave at Woodlands Cemetery – out of respect for public opinion, they said.

The taking down of the headstone encapsulated once and for all the former TV and radio star’s fall from grace. It must have been painful for the family. How harrowing to discover that a close relative is not what they appear to be – that they have become so reviled it’s not even possible to mark their grave. When the person in question had attained an almost heroic status and been honoured for doing good, the sense of shock must surely be even more acute.

A nephew has now spoken out, saying the family knew nothing of the predatory side of Savile. A great niece, however, recently described how Savile abused her, saying she spoke up about what had happened to her grandmother, Savile’s sister, but nothing was done. For many years, she kept silent for the sake of the family and is reported as saying that, ‘for him (Savile) to suddenly be destroyed over something like this, the family would have had nothing.’ Another nephew has described how as a teenager he helped procure young girls for his uncle’s parties.

For many years members of Savile’s family were proud of him and in all likelihood relished the reflected glory cast by his celebrity. It would have been understandable to want friends and workmates to know that the man on the telly in the gaudy shell suit, the one raising millions for good causes was, in fact, their uncle or brother, or whatever. Bearing in mind all that has subsequently happened, facing up to what really lay behind the mask of this most famous family member – and having it laid bare for all to see – must be traumatic for those who really had no idea what was going on.

With Savile exposed as a monster, the fame-by-association the family once enjoyed has become shame-by-association. In a statement, they say their feelings are in turmoil and ask: ‘How could anyone live their life by doing the ‘most good and most evil’ at the same time?’

On the radio recently a doctor spoke about her work counselling the families of sex abusers. At a stroke, they can find their lives shattered by allegations and revelations about a loved-one. It’s usual to experience deep feelings of guilt, as well as fear around the implications of sharing the same DNA as the abuser.

There may be little inclination to sympathize with the family of Jimmy Savile right now but I doubt any of us would wish to be them. While the scandal erupted too late for him to be held to account, his family, and many others, are now left to deal with the fall-out of his appalling actions.

Cover image by James Cridland via flickr

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