Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

What this country needs is a handbook on groping

We need to talk about groping. I hesitate to introduce the subject, and will endeavour to stay within the bounds of decency.

But the subject is all over the public prints, particularly in relation to the BBC, which appears to have been run as a cesspit of moral depravity.

Well, maybe that's putting it a bit strongly. But some of the people name-checked for this dubious practice have come as a surprise. Sir Robin Day, anyone?

He's dead now, right enough, so folk can say what they like. I have no strong feelings about the former presenter of the odious Question Time, though I've always been critical of those who think a bow-tie an adequate substitute for a personality.

I should say that Day's alleged groping, of a 17-year-old girl turned journalist, didn't take place in the BBC – the proper place for it – but in his flat, and neither is the gropee complaining much about it. Indeed, the same lass reports airily that Laurence Olivier, Albert Finney and Lord Lambton, a Conservative minister caught smoking cannabis in bed with two prostitutes, also had a shot.

The claims have sparked a debate about what is acceptable practice and what not. Of course, outwith a few specialised trades, it's not in anybody's job description as something expected in the workplace.

I'm not clear what the rules are for Friday nights up town. Is it compulsory? The dress code would indicate so.

As for the BBC, the gross extra-curricular activities of the peculiar Savile creature have opened a larger can of worms. Fame appears to be the spur.

A chap – and let us agree that it is mostly men whose hands are footloose and fancy-free – reaches the dizzy heights of being (rather than just having) a personality and, suddenly, he thinks the world is his crustacean.

There was a time when you could have got away with this sort of thing. For yea, even up to the 1960s, peccadilloes were something to be covered up rather than exposed in the Press.

Sir Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister in the years when Britain had it quite good (allegedly), would never have dreamed of groping his own wife, never mind a 17-year-old. But had he got it into his head, after a couple of sherries, to try his luck, it would have been with the Lord's blessing, and not a word said.

But times have changed. In some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse. Those who think a grope or fondle unworthy of legal censure say things have gone too far and want the rude put back in prude.

Others find such sentiments outrageous and call for increased vigilance. Apart from the vigilance – I feel society is over-invigilated at the moment – I tend to side with the latter. You can't go groping folk willy-nilly.

But who is to guide us? We don't have a written constitution in this country with a filth amendment specifying a citizen's right to roam free without being groped. Nor do the Ten Commandments say: "Thou shalt not grope."

These days, we take our moral guidance from the selfsame BBC which is already up to its oxters in groping.

In the meantime, all we can do with predators is give 'em enough grope – and wait 30 years for the full story to come out.

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