The crimes of Jimmy Savile will haunt British television for years to come
October 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of Operation Yewtree, the police crackdown that put sexual predators Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall behind bars. It was too late to hold Jimmy Savile, who died a free man, accountable. His story will, however, be told in an upcoming BBC drama, in which Steve Coogan is set to play the cigar-biting monster as some kind of demon Alan Partridge, as well as next week’s Netflix documentary series A British Horror Story.
But first there was National Treasure, National Disgrace: Savile, Harris and Hall (Channel 5), a sprawling insight into the crimes perpetrated by Savile, Harris, Hall and Glitter. If slightly opportunistic – someone clearly wanted to pre-empt the inevitable deluge of Yewtree’s birthday coverage – it at least gave victims a voice. Among them was Vanessa Walker, who was attacked by the It’s a Knockout Hall presenter while vacationing in Yugoslavia in 1981. “I’m terminally ill,” she said. “I will never again have the opportunity to express what he did to me and others.” Walker died shortly after filming for this documentary was completed.
But while there are never enough reminders of the evils perpetuated by these once-beloved family entertainers, the film, narrated by Judi Dench-soundalike Karen Archer, didn’t break new ground. He was to be commended for never lapsing into sensationalism and the kind of cheap shock tactics so expensive on true crime television (on Channel 5 in particular). And yet, for anyone familiar with these men and their crimes – and it’s hard to imagine anyone in Britain who isn’t – there was a sense of raking in old ground.
One problem was that National Treasure, National Disgrace did not directly hold the representatives of the institutions responsible for turning a blind eye to these misdeeds. No BBC executive was interviewed about his shameful dishonor of a Newsnight expose on Savile after his death (although one of the reporters behind the story, Meirion Jones, did appear) . And the only cops we’ve heard of were officers involved with Yewtree — rather than those who had done nothing about Savile and his ragtag peers in previous decades.