There is a moment in the Jimmy Savile Exposure documentary where he is talking about Gary Glitter’s assault of two children aged 10 and 11 in Vietnam and in one sentence manages to defend Glitter and expose his own attitude to children. ‘Don’t you think those two little birds attached themselves to him?’ Birds??? And it takes a few seconds to realise that he is actually talking about two little girls.
Bird was a very seventies word – demeaning and specific. My friend, the writer Stephanie Calman has written an excellent piece about the Savile scandal, reminding us that those who go all misty eyed about ‘the good old days’ in the seventies were also the times when women were routinely categorised as birds (to have sex with) or old bags (too old to have sex with) and if you were groped or assaulted you were probably asking for it. So it’s hardly surprising that in this culture someone like Savile could thrive. Remember he was quite open about his predilection for very young girls. The Director General of the BBC George Entwhistle said he was horrified by the number of revelations but insisted there was no evidence to suggest a cover-up by management during the 1960s and 70s. But the point is there was no need for a cover-up because Savile didn’t feel he had to cover up his behaviour. It was going on everywhere. At roughly the same time, Liz Kershaw found out as one of the few female DJ’s at Radio One, her job description included being routinely groped, once when she was live on air. When she complained it was treated with ‘incredulity’. Was she a lesbian? So if an adult woman employed by the BBC was treated with disdain how could the vulnerable children that Savile preyed on expect to find a sympathetic ear?
I’ve also heard from several sources that such is the size of the BBC, anyone who complained would be branded a ‘troublemaker’ and lose their job. A friend of mine was told he was ‘too old’ at forty to apply for a job inside the BBC. He kept his mouth shut because if he had complained about age discrimination he would never ever get a job there.
When I was fourteen years old in the late seventies my English teacher made a pass at me. It was during a school disco. I can clearly remember wearing a hideous fringed tabard, and white knee socks. It was dark and Mr X grabbed me for a dance. I had a huge crush on him – he was charismatic and fun and all the students liked him. Half way through Wishing on a Star by Rose Royce, he grabbed my hair, yanked it back and shoved his tongue down my throat. His other hand pulled my skirt up, working through my knickers. This was in full view of the entire school hall. I froze like a cat at the vet with a thermometer up its bum. As I pulled away he must have seen the shock in my face because he whispered: ‘It’s good for you’ in my ear. But the next day two sixth formers laughed and pointed at me and called me a ‘Lolita’ and a ‘tart’. Nobody had a bad word to say about him though and feeling confused and ashamed I decided that it was all my fault. I never told my parents and the idea of actually reporting him never crossed my mind. It didn’t help that I was brought up a Catholic, which had two female icons, a Virgin mother and a reformed whore. Take your pick girls.
I’m not trying to pretend that this encounter wrecked my life but it did start an unhealthy relationship pattern. And I’ve been thinking about the real damage done to the girls abused by Savile and Glitter and apparently a third one who has not been named, and by all the girls forced or coerced who were then too ashamed to speak up and the girls abused and ignored by the Rochdale police and what I’m going to tell my daughter when she gets to be a teenager. Not just about protecting herself but recognising that her own pleasure is as important as her partner’s. Because we don’t talk about pleasure much when it comes to discussing sex with our daughters if we talk about it all. It tends to be very bound up with ‘protection’ and ‘safety’ and ‘be careful what you wear’. Is that about protecting them as people or some nonsensical notion about their ‘purity’? We should be protecting young girls and women from predatory older men. As Grace Dent says: If you’re 42 with a 17 year old girlfriend you may be legally in the clear but you’re still revolting.