Anger against the BBC goes deeper than its role in spreading the government’s anti-scientific COVID-narrative. Shockingly, it seems that some people retain the faculty of memory and can recall things that happened before Year Zero of the Coviet Revolution. From September 2020 onwards, anti-lockdown protests and their aftermaths have included subsidiary demonstrations outside Broadcasting House, the BBC’s headquarters in Portland Place in the West End of London — as well as at regional offices in other cities. These were not riots, but demonstrations of focused anger and disdain. The BBC does not report on them.
“Shame on you!” the protesters chanted, beneath the strange statue presiding over the main entrance to the original building.
“Take it down! Take it down!”
The statue is part of a series by Eric Gill, a British artist of considerable reputation when the building was opened in 1932 — a reputation posthumously destroyed when Fiona MacCarthy’s 1989 biography drew on Gill’s own diaries to reveal the sculptor’s serial incestuous pedophilia. Gill had journaled details not just of his extramarital affairs, but of his sexual abuse of two of his daughters and one of his sisters. Even his dog was not safe from his attentions.
This knowledge makes it impossible to look at Gill’s sculptures commissioned for Broadcasting House without another narrative emerging. The post-modernist insistence that an artist’s life has nothing to do with his work and cannot inform interpretation completely breaks down in a case like Eric Gill. The biographical information is, absolutely, a key to understanding these works, which carry esoteric meanings on more than one level.
Even then, Gill’s commissioned works apparently had to be toned down before their public unveiling. Calls for their removal have in fact been made since the opening of the building.
Posterity may have quietly discarded the memory of Gill as an artist; but the crowds chanting outside the building remember certain things which the BBC — and the British establishment as a whole — would prefer us all to forget. For instance, they remember the names of some of those who used to stroll in beneath that statue, which presides over the main entrance like a tutelary deity.
Jimmy Savile, for one — that is, Sir James Savile, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Knight Commander of the Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory the Great, disk-jockey, entertainer, philanthropist, charitable fund-raiser and volunteer, friend and confidant of the Royal Family; Savile wasn’t just knighted but given the keys (in some cases literally) to the kingdom’s dingier nooks and most vulnerable bodies.
When he died in 2011, his golden coffin had hardly been laid in the ground before victims started to come forward. As the scale of his predations began to emerge, so did the extent of the wilful blindness from which Savile had benefitted on the part of the police, the BBC, and the NHS over the course of nearly five decades, and the inability or unwillingness of these institutions to protect vulnerable people from this twisted pedophile, rapist, and necrophiliac.
When all this started coming out, I was aware of it, as one couldn’t help but be, even the BBC being forced to talk about it, but having got the gist of the story I didn’t follow up on the subject at all. Just too sordid, even for me. I knew about Dutroux, I’d read Cathy O’Brien, my world had already been shaken up in respect of that side of things. So with Savile I took in the scope of it and gave the details a swerve.
Only now have I gone back and read the Wikipedia entries, at least, and a few newspaper articles, and once again that’s enough. We get the gist. I’m sure many people felt the same at the time. Of course, this means that while most people knew that some weird and distasteful things had gone on at the BBC and elsewhere, they might not necessarily be aware of various connections and parallels. The question no one wants to face is whether the grotesque phenomenon of Jimmy Savile was a bizarre aberration, not connected to anything or anyone else, or whether it was symptomatic of some deep parasitism which has woven itself into the institutions of the country. Of course no one wants to think about that. It can be traumatising to even know about this kind of stuff. And that, it occurs to me, is one of the ways in which the extremity of the abuse protects, paradoxically, the abuser; it’s so bad, you don’t want to let it into your mind. This effect seems like a shadow of the coping mechanism that comes into play in dissociative identity disorder, where the sealing of traumatic memories within amnesiac compartments evolves as a survival strategy for the abused, but simultaneously protects the abuser.
It’s not the first time a nation has been brought collectively to such a point. In the nineteen nineties, the people of Belgium underwent a rapid, forced awakening in the wake of the Dutroux case. They responded to its dismal horrors with a series of huge public demonstrations known as the White Marches to express solidarity and compassion for the victims. Marchers carried white balloons and wore white garments or face-paint. The colour was chosen to symbolise hope, but I can’t help other connotations occurring to me: shock; horror; rage. There’s an old English word which comes to mind: aghast, cognate with ghastly: deathly white or pallid.
Nothing like that happened in the UK at the time — but people haven’t forgotten. The anger goes deep.
The BBC miscalculated badly when it suppressed an investigation into Savile by journalists on its own Newsnight programme, immediately after his death. It then added gross insult to injury by airing two Christmas tributes to their shell-suited jester over the holiday period. If the BBC establishment thought they could keep a lid on the festering allegations against Savile by suppressing their own journalists’ work, they were extremely naive. The former police officer turned investigative journalist, Mark Thomas-Williams, who had consulted on the Newsnight exposé, went instead to the BBC’s commercial rival, the Independent Television network, and presented the resulting documentary, The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, on 3rd October 2012. The Metropolitan Police had no alternative, now, but to reopen their own investigation. By 19th of October they had two hundred witnesses and four hundred separate lines of inquiry involving fourteen police forces across the country, and were calling the scale of the allegations ‘unprecedented’ and the number of potential victims ‘staggering’.
The Director General, Mark Thompson, got himself out of the firing line (and the country) with impeccable timing, taking up his new appointment as CEO of the New York Times on 17th September 2012. Thompson denied knowing anything about Savile’s depravities or having been involved in the Newsnight decision which had, fortuitously or not, bought him the time he needed to make a swift exit.
Complaints against Savile had been made throughout his career, and the police had initiated and subsequently abandoned two investigations more than half a century apart, one at the beginning of his Sadean rampage and one towards the end of his life — in 1958 and 2009. Rumours were so rampant that interviewers periodically confronted him with questions about his predilection for under-aged girls on at least three occasions. In an interview in 1978, punk-rock singer John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) dropped heavy hints about Savile being ‘into all kinds of seediness, that we all know about but are not allowed to talk about.’ It was comments like that that got Lydon banned from BBC Radio 1. The DJ Paul Gambaccini, who worked next door to Savile’s office at Radio 1 from 1973, later said he was aware of the rumours — including Savile’s necrophilia — saying:
“The expression which I came to associate with Savile’s sex partners was … the now politically incorrect ‘under-age subnormals’. He targeted the institutionalised, the hospitalised – and this was known. Why did Jimmy Savile go to hospitals? That’s where the patients were.”
Not just hospitals, but Approved Schools and mental institutions. Savile ‘volunteered’ at Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital, where he was given his own three-room apartment; there he befriended Peter Sutcliffe, the mass murderer known as the Yorkshire Ripper, often spending hours alone with him in his cell, drinking tea. Their friendship aroused suspicion among the staff; some wondered if the two had known each other in the past. It later emerged that in 1977 Savile had been considered a suspect in a ‘Ripper’ murder in Leeds, when a woman’s mutilated body was found just yards from his penthouse with its private elevator. West Yorkshire Police questioned Savile and went as far as to take an impression of his teeth, after being contacted by members of the public.
Do we know the depths of Savile’s depravity? Once again — as with Dutroux — a strong impression began to form of a little monster who had long been protected by more powerful monsters — and why would those with the power to protect him do so unless they were protecting themselves? It was clear to any with eyes to see that this sickness went much higher in society than these depraved but relatively powerless individuals. ‘All the way to the top,’ in Jack Ruby’s words, only that’s wrong: it doesn’t go to the top; the top is where it comes from. De Sade was a minor aristocrat who envied the immunity of more powerful aristocrats. Haute Bohème, they called it in de Sade’s time; now we just call it Sadism.
Savile’s huge, ostentatious gravestone, a tasteless marble billboard advertising his status as a ‘philanthropist’ and popularity as an entertainer, stood for only nineteen days before it was taken down in shame by his family. His name is now synonymous with psychopathic narcissism reminiscent of a fictional grotesque like The Joker. You only have to imagine this blonde demon strolling cockily into that building under Eric Gill’s sculpture to begin to understand this undercurrent of the anger of the protesters flocking to Portland Place.
Savile wasn’t the only one by any means. Once a comprehensive police investigation — code-named Operation Yewtree — started in earnest, eight entertainers, producers and DJs at the BBC were arrested for questioning. Two eventually went to jail — the presenter Stuart Hall (OBE) and the children’s entertainer Rolph Harris (CBE). Hall was charged in 2013 with multiple counts of rape and sexual assault of young girls and children, and eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison. Harris was arrested in 2013, tried in 2014 and sentenced to five years in prison. The ongoing operation eventually ensnared the pop star Gary Glitter, who was finally jailed after going on the run in South-East Asia. Later, another rapist and child-abuser was posthumously identified — and this name provides an overlap with the political world — in Sir Clement Freud, brother of Lucian, grandson of Sigmund and an institution-within-an-institution at the BBC — whose name even comes up in the sad story of little Madeleine McCann.
“This is the cry of the mothers,” sing protesters outside Broadcasting House, “the mothers who know…”
“Hey! Pedo! Leave those kids alone!”
“TAKE IT DOWN! TAKE IT DOWN!”
Or the whole institution?
Either way I say yes. The BBC is long gone in terms of journalistic and editorial integrity. It has revealed itself as an organ of pernicious state propaganda, perception management and social engineering.
George Orwell was right about the BBC. He worked there during the Second World War, and lampooned it in his futuristic horror-satire, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as ‘The Ministry of Truth’, where his protagonist Winston Smith’s desk-job is the continuous revision of the past, updating old newspapers and disposing of the evidence via his most important piece of equipment, the ‘Memory Hole’.
If only it was so easy.
Orwell also has a statue at Broadcasting House, by the way — but it is situated in Portland Place, outside the building.
Which is where I’m sure he’d prefer to be.