There’s something of a furore in the UK at the moment regarding posthumous revelations about one of our most celebrated TV DJs, Sir Jimmy Savile. Savile was the first presenter in 1964 of the long running TV chart show Top of the Pops, then one of the first presenters at the launch of pop channel BBC Radio 1 in 1967, and subsequently the celebrity host of the children’s TV show, Jim’ll Fix It, the problem being that it appears Jim did fix it, rather too often with significantly underage girls, throughout his career.
The scandal is not just because so many abused minors are now coming forward, to recount episodes linking him with the convicted paedophile glam-rock star Gary Glitter, but because the state of affairs was well known in the BBC and nothing was done to stop it. Furthermore several female presenters have revealed that sexual harrassment was deeply embedded in Radio 1’s whole culture. The saddest example of all was the presenter Esther Rantzen, who also heard the rumours but, until confronted with the evidence on a TV documentary, had felt the complainants were probably unreliable scandalmongers – though she was the founder of the UK’s Childline, specifically for victims of sexual and physical abuse who felt they would not be believed.
Press reports suggest that Savile’s immunity has a lot to do with his high-profile charity work, though it seems this was often the context in which abuse took place. It’s all very sad, and of course at this point unproven. But understandably, the universal cry is, “Such things should not happen in our society.” I remember Savile appearing in a radio series called “In the Psychiatrist’s Chair”, in which he came across as the most guarded individual I’ve ever heard, even professionally, so I guess I’m not surprised at all.
What nobody seems to have paid much attention to is the whole context of Jimmy Savile’s career, and that is the Pop music explosion of the 60s. The first act he presented on Top of the Pops in 1964 was the Rolling Stones, singing I Wanna Be Your Man. I remember that first show well. But just few months after this, the Stones Mick Jagger had this to say in an interview:
In the last two or three years, young people have beenand this especially applies to Americainstead of just carrying on the way their parents told them to, theyve started a big thing, where theyre anti-war and they love everybody and their sexual lives have become freer. The kids are looking for something else, for some different moral values, because they know theyre gonna get all the things that were thought impossible fifty years ago.
Was not the whole youth revolution supposed to be about the overturning of the repressed morality of the past, especially in the area of sexuality? The cliché is that kids liked rock musicians because they were actually doing what the kids themselves were only talking about. Given another decade or so, of course, that distinction was lost. But the moral “liberation” remained the same, and even now in music, drama and comedy artists are still trying to push the limits, even though the limits are increasingly hard to find nowadays.
A famous part of popular music’s expression of sexual freedom was the groupie scene. And it’s a bit naive to suggest that the young men considering scruples about drug addiction, alcoholism, group sex and so on to be “petty morality” would retain a taboo regarding age, or informed consent for that matter. Some of the lyrics of songs of the era are, in retrospect, rather concerning. Of those coming immediately to mind, check out the lyrics to Donovan’s Superlungs (cross-reference the hit Mellow Yellow), John Mayall’s Sawmill Gulch Road from the Turning Point album, or Keith Moon’s outtake from The Who Sell Out, Girls Eyes.
Society as a whole, or at least that part of society that has a voice and influence, generally lauds sexual liberation as an unmitigated good. It has little or no regard to its victims. In that context something like the Savile scandal comes as a surprise and a shock. How could it have happened?
But did they really not expect that if you throw the concept of sexual morality out of the window, what you will end up with is … a lack of sexual morality?