Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Abuse probes have TV veterans shaking in their boots

Soon after the Jimmy Savile scandal broke, the publicist Max Clifford said that a number of veterans of the entertainment world would be shaking in their shoes, expecting the dawn knock on the door from the constabulary investigating "historic" sex abuse crimes.

Indeed, Mr Clifford was briefly called in himself for questioning, although no charges were laid against him.

But allegations were made against DJ Dave Lee Travis, comedians Freddie Starr and Jim Davidson and presenter Stuart Hall, and now, the great family favourite, Australian Rolf Harris.

Harris (83) is much-loved for his cheerful musical presentations and pleasing TV paintings. His accuser is a woman who claims he sexually assaulted her as a teenager. He denies the accusation, but has not made any statements.

What is going on here? Was the popular music and broadcasting scene of the 1960s and 1970s awash with creepy sexual abusers of children? Gary Glitter has been convicted of such crimes and musician Jonathan King has served time in the United States for an offence with a 15-year-old.

Savile was clearly an odious hebephile (a hebephile is attracted to youngsters on the cusp of adolescence), who exploited his power and was allowed to do so by the BBC, who fawned on his celebrity. But as Savile is now dead, are the police inclined to go after other celebrities, or names, on somewhat thin evidence?

That seems to have happened in the case of Wilfred De'ath, a 75-year-old former BBC producer who was arrested earlier this year for an investigation into an 'historic' sexual offence.

An unnamed actress reported him to the police, claiming he had fondled her – put his hand on her knee – in a cinema when she was 14. Mr De'ath was held in custody, but the case dropped when the actress said she would not testify in court. She said she had only come forward to encourage others – but no others appeared.

Mr De'ath was released without charge, although he did state that "everyone at the BBC was preying on young women" in Savile's heyday of the 1960s and 1970s and "it went right to the top".

Although it's something of a cliche, I think it is fair to blame the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s for contributing to this. The 'permissive society' gave a green light to any form of sexual liberation, summed up in the catchphrase 'If it feels good, do it'.

The late DJ John Peel recalled that 12-year-old girls were "queuing up" to offer sexual favours to guys in the pop world and many an old rocker can recall young groupies whose enthusiasm and naivity were easily exploited. Remember, the literary masterpiece of the 1960s was Nabokov's Lolita, which is now sometimes seen as a paedophile's charter. But, it was feted at the time and made into a movie with the 12-year-old Lolita character posing in baby-doll lingerie.

We live in a different age now and values have altered. The feminist revolution was not the same as the sexual revolution, although the two are often conflated; feminism has sought to empower women by insisting on boundaries to sexual conduct.

From this perspective, those DJs and media personalities who thought it was okay to giggle over 12-year-olds "queuing up" for their favours are no longer viewed with jokey tolerance. But the authorities may have gone from one extreme to the other – from ignoring the heinous offences of Savile to arresting individuals against whom the slightest accusation is levelled.

It seems that Mr Clifford was right: there will still be quite a few entertainment veterans worrying about that 7am knock on the door.

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