Netflix’s two-part documentary, Savile: A British Horror Story, details the shocking abuse perpetrated by infamous TV presenter Jimmy Savile.
Between 1955 and 2009, Savile committed over 400 sexual crimes, preying on vulnerable children and teenagers. The series paints the picture of an unrelenting predator, protected by the ruling class for over half a century.
The documentary first looks at Savile’s distinctive public image. Over the course of his career, Savile fashioned himself as a charitable hero, recognisable by his shell suit, blonde hair, and trademark cigar.
He was a national treasure. After his death, he was exposed as a sexual predator, with over 450 sickening allegations of abuse.— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) March 22, 2022
JIMMY SAVILE: A BRITISH HORROR STORY examines archive footage to understand how he fooled an entire nation for decades. pic.twitter.com/dBxUwI6u9c
Savile cultivated the image of a ‘Father Christmas-like figure’, as one former Jim'll Fix It recipient describes. He led grand projects like the Stoke Mandeville hospital fundraising campaign. By 1990, Savile had links with over 50 hospitals and children’s homes in the UK.
While maintaining the image of a tireless philanthropist, Jimmy Savile left a trail of devastating abuse in his wake. As testimonies in this series attest, this abuse took place in hospitals, schools, care facilities, and backstage at the BBC.
The establishment’s ‘saviour’
In the first episode of the series, we see how the British monarchy fostered close ties with Jimmy Savile, despite rumours circulating about his private life. Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana were among Savile’s regular visitors.
Savile was particularly close to the Prince of Wales. As biographer Alison Bellamy comments, the royal felt he’d found his “link with the people of Britain” in Jimmy Savile. Savile advised Prince Charles on public affairs, offering feedback on his speeches and formulating PR strategies for him. The monarchy was enamoured by Savile’s ability to manipulate the public.
The political establishment also welcomed Savile with open arms. Margaret Thatcher became smitten with her ‘dear Jimmy’ during her time as PM. She praised his entrepreneurial approach to fundraising, and clawed at the opportunity to improve her image by being seen with this ‘working class, former miner’.
As one commentator argues in this series, Savile “knew that fame bought power”. Key to his fame (and thus, his capacity for unchecked abuse) was the support of the cynical ruling class.
Indeed, it was Margaret Thatcher who was behind Savile’s knighthood in 1990, having pushed for it since the early 1980s.
By 1990, the combined weight of the government and the monarchy overcame any PR concerns about knighting a man who boasted about being “feared in every girls’ school in the country”.
Savile’s knighthood signalled his successful entrenchment into the establishment. As shown in the documentary, his smug reaction was that of a man who had just been granted a royal licence to do whatever he wanted, without consequence.
Acting with impunity
Though state institutions are discussed, this documentary centres around the individual character of Savile. It fails to communicate the systemic nature of such abuse – rooted in class society – and doesn’t draw parallels with other, similar occurrences.
The ruling class is completely self-interested. This is exactly the moral standard we should expect from a class whose position rests on the exploitation of the majority. Just like Savile, they feel above the law – able to act without constraints.
Though under-explored in this documentary, the police also played a critical role in the coverup of Jimmy Savile’s abuse.
Over a decade, West Yorkshire officers cultivated personal ties with Savile. When an anonymous victim came forward in 1998, the Leeds force refused to file the letter as evidence – allowing the abuse to continue for another 11 years. As the ruling class’s ‘men on the ground’, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the police stood in the way of justice.
Rotten to the core
Despite rumours about Savile’s conduct circulating for decades – with many people clearly knowing what he was up to – the whole establishment closed ranks to protect him during his lifetime. They would rather protect their own reputations than see justice done.
It was only after Savile’s death that any serious investigation took place into his crimes. This begs the question: Did Savile know something about others in the establishment that they didn’t want revealed?
Though he was a deft manipulator, Savile went unchecked due to the protective shell handed to him by the arms of the capitalist state and its representatives – the monarchy, the police, the press, and the political establishment.
From the silencing of victims, to the BBC’s refusal to report on allegations in 2009, this series shows how the ruling class colluded to protect their own.
As scandal after scandal shows, we cannot rely on this establishment to protect survivors and prevent further abuse.
The capitalist state is rotten to the core, and as such, cannot be reformed. The only path forward is the revolutionary overthrow of this corrupt band of criminals and their stinking system.