ITV delve into Savile: Portrait of a Predator

Thursday: Savile: Portrait of a Predator; (ITV, 9pm)

On October 29, 2011, Jimmy Savile passed away just two days short of his 85th birthday.

He was a hugely popular figure in his home city of Leeds, so much so that around 4,000 people visited his closed satin gold coffin when it went on display at the Queen’s Hotel before his funeral took place in Scarborough, where he had had a second home for many years, on November 9.

For many of a certain generation, Savile had been a childhood hero. A former pro wrestler and miner, they’d grown up listening to his Radio 1 shows or watching Jim’ll Fix It, the BBC series in which he helped make dreams come true; millions wrote to him in the hope of appearing on the programme – those who didn’t make it into the show may now feel they had a narrow escape.

Sir Jimmy Savile at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in September 2003

Immediately after his death, the BBC’s Newsnight began an investigation into claims that Savile was a serial sexual abuser, but it was eventually shelved. Allegations had apparently been made against him as far back as 1958, while various rumours appeared over the years; John Lydon even alluded to them in an interview with Radio 1 in 1978, but his comments were edited out of the eventual broadcast. After Savile’s death, while appearing at Sheffield’s Off The Shelf festival, he remarked, “I’m disgusted at the media pretending they weren’t aware.”

Savile’s behaviour was investigated by the police during his lifetime but insufficient evidence meant no charges were brought. He also defended viewers of child pornography – including Gary Glitter – although the interview wasn’t released until after his death.

When Louis Theroux touched on the subject for his memorable documentary in 2000, Savile replied, “We live in a very funny world. And it’s easier for me, as a single man, to say ‘I don’t like children’ because that puts a lot of salacious tabloid people off the hunt… How do they know whether I am (a paedophile) or not? How does anybody know whether I am? Nobody knows… I know I’m not.”

Despite the rumours, Savile was revered for his charity efforts, having raised an estimated £40million, and was knighted in 1990. It wasn’t until The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, an ITV documentary made as part of its Exposure strand, was broadcast in 2012 that the public and the authorities really began to sit up and take notice.

Ten women made claims against him in the programme; many, many more came forward after it aired, leading to the launch of Operation Yewtree, which was dedicated to investigating Savile and other high-profile personalities accused of committing historic sexual abuse crimes, predominantly involving children.

Now, 10 years since his death, ITV is delving into Savile’s sordid world again. This time the people telling their stories are those who worked alongside him, as well as those who investigated the man now believed to be one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.

Among the interviewees are key witnesses and an Operation Yewtree detective. There are also insights into how Savile used his celebrity status and charity work to evade arrest, avoid being held to account and, most shockingly of all, continue his appalling activities.

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