Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Mount Against Former BBC TV Host

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: In the UK everyone knew Jimmy Savile. He was a TV host, DJ, and cultural icon all rolled in one. He was known for BBC programmes like this.

[Clip plays]
Jimmy Savile: Welcome to January the 1st, 1964. It's 6:34 p.m. and this is a programme that you've never heard of before. It's called "Top of the Pops" and there's the charts.
[Clip ends]

Werman: And he was known for his philanthropy. He raised around seventy-five million dollars for various charities in the UK. His public service included getting people to wear seat belts.

[Clip plays]
Savile: For a safe journey, make yourself the remember this drill: Clunk the car door and click the seat belts. Clunk, click, every trick.
[Clip ends]

Werman: He was knighted by the queen and when he died last year, more that four thousand paid their respects. But now, Jimmy Savile is known for something else — allegations of sexual assault.

[Clip plays]
Woman 1: Jim didn't do kissing. He didn't do emotion or foreplay or anything. It was just basically what he wanted, in and out, and that was it.

Woman 2: He restrained himself just to my breasts. He'd also had a little bit . . .
[Clip ends]

Werman: That's a clip from a TV documentary that aired in Britain earlier this month. The programme interviewed a number of women who say that Jimmy Savile molested them when they were teenagers. Sarah Lyall is a London-based correspondent with the New York Times and has been following this story. Sarah, Jimmy Savile was a respected personality, but these allegations of sex abuse have set off a firestorm. Why, a year after his death, did this controversy erupt now?

Sarah Lyall: ITV, which is one of the BBC's competitors, as you said, put together this program where a bunch of women who said that they had been assaulted by him when they were kids or when they were teenagers came forward to tell their stories. And it has raised a lot of issues within the BBC and then within the charities. among the charities where Jimmy Savile worked, where a lot of people are now coming forward and saying, "We thought there was something wrong with him all along," people who say they were victimized by him have come forward. One of things that's most troubling is it seems that there were rampant rumors about him and even evidence about his behavior all this time both in and outside of the BBC and nobody acted on it.

Werman: Well, the issues surrounding Jimmy Savile's employer, the BBC, which co-produces this programme, I mean that's been very toxic, as you pointed out. There have been even allegations that the BBC killed an investigative news reporter about Jimmy Savile?

Lyall: Yeah, it's an interesting thing that happened. In December, they had put together on their Newsnight programme, which is a current affairs programme that goes out every night, a piece about these allegations. They killed the Newsnight programme. The Newsnight people say that they killed it for editorial reasons because the allegations didn't stand up, they went back and looked at the records and the police had actually investigated some of these allegations and presented it to prosecutors who decided not to press charges. So they decided that there wasn't enough, they say, to actually run with the programme, but there has been questions over whether there was any influence or pressure put on them by BBC executives, whether there were some worries about, because he'd been such a celebrated BBC figure, whether this would adversely affect the corporation's reputation.

Werman: Sarah, you mentioned some of the investigations into these allegations when Jimmy Savile was alive. Why suddenly now are all these investigations now sticking?

Lyall: Well, I mean it's new investigations and the police decided to restart an investigation after this documentary came out and they're now saying that they have hundreds of leads they're pursuing. They think there might have been sixty victims. People have been coming up from hospitals where he worked, from charities where he worked, children's homes, people who were kids back then or teenagers back then have said, "I was molested," "I was groped." And so many police departments around the country are involved in this investigation. So it really was touched off by this documentary. That's the only real thing that happened to push all this forward.

Werman: What's been the public reaction?

Lyall: Well, real revulsion. I mean he was a very odd-looking character. People sort of thought he's this funny eccentric bachelor and he can get away with his behavior because we like eccentric characters here. And when he died, there were tributes to him, as you say, all those people went to his funeral, lots of stuff is named after him, wings of hospitals, streets, all sorts of thing. And now, suddenly, his family has had to go and take down his gravestone because they were worried it would be defaced, and no one suddenly wants to be associated with him. The thing that's hard, as you say, is that he did give so much money to charity and the charities really, really benefited from it.

Werman: Sarah Lyall, a London-based correspondent with the New York Times telling us about the case of the late Jimmy Savile and allegations of sexual assault. Sarah, thank you very much.

Lyall: Nice to talk to you.