The Jimmy Savile scandal is breathtaking. That a celebrity should have undertaken abuse on a staggering scale without challenge is appalling.
The BBC and the NHS is at the heart of the backlash. How much did BBC bosses know about Savile’s crimes? Did they turn a blind eye? Did they cover up his actions? How did the NHS allow him open access to its wards?
The BBC’s new director general George Entwistle has endured a baptism of fire over the Savile scandal. That’s unfair in many ways – most of the alleged acts happened in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – but history shows that managing hot issues is high on the DG’s job description. Entwistle’s account of his response to Newsnight’s Savile investigation was very naive. A savvy BBC executive would have asked a few questions on being told Newsnight was investigating Savile. Newsnight wouldn’t have been looking into whether he unduly promoted the Beatles over the Rolling Stones. Entwistle should have realised it could impact on the BBC’s Christmas tributes to Savile.
It’s easy to think there are no lessons in this for today’s society. This isn’t a 1970s story. We’re even more celebrity obsessed today. While celebrities are more likely to be exposed today for wrongdoing, they also have more power and profile than in the 1970s.