After Jimmy Savile's death in 2011, an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against the TV personality revealed at least 500 victims — some of whom were just two years old.
When British TV and radio personality Jimmy Savile received his knighthood in 1990, many asked: What took so long?
A beloved DJ and BBC presenter, there was something about Savile’s cigar-chomping, eccentric on-air personality that put audiences in the United Kingdom at ease. In the eyes of Savile’s most staunch supporters and loyal followers, a knighthood was a fitting culmination to his career.
As a very public supporter of children’s hospitals across England, Savile raised an estimated £40 million for various charities. Positive media attention followed wherever he chose to volunteer, and he shamelessly pursued the trust of sick children and their families in the process.
However, after his death in 2011, a deeply sinister side to his public persona came to light. A U.K. investigation found that Savile sexually abused at least 500 victims throughout the course of his career. Many of the alleged victims were between ages 13 and 15, but some were as young as two years old.
Not only did Savile use his star power to prey on children, a network of fear reportedly kept anyone from learning the truth about him — until recently.
Who Was Jimmy Savile?
If Bill Cosby was America’s lovable dad, then Savile was the kooky uncle across the pond in England. Savile first rose to fame as a DJ on the radio, but it was his work on TV — including the kids show Jim’ll Fix It, running from 1975 to 1994 — that made him a household name.
Born James Wilson Vincent Savile on October 31, 1926 in the city of Leeds, Savile was the youngest of seven children. In interviews, he often said that he didn’t have much of a childhood.
Despite this, he quickly gained favor among parents for his ability to make their children smile whenever he appeared on TV. Little did they know, horror was happening behind the scenes.
According to CNN, a former boy scout named Kevin Cook said he was excited to be featured on one of Savile’s shows in the 1970s — until the TV personality lured him into a dressing room at the BBC studios.
The ex-scout, who was just nine years old at the time, said Savile told him that he could receive his own Jim’ll Fix It badge if he did as he was told: “He said to me: ‘You want your own badge?’ I said: ‘Yeah.’ He said: ‘You want to earn your badge?'”
According to Cook, Savile then proceeded to molest him, undoing his boy scout uniform and fondling him — only stopping when someone opened the door of the room. Horrifically, the intruder reportedly apologized and walked out. Then, Cook said, Savile threatened him to remain silent.
Per Cook: “He said, ‘Don’t you dare tell anyone about this. No one will believe you because I’m King Jimmy. Don’t tell your mates. We know where you live.’ And that’s it. That’s the last I ever spoke to him.”
A timeline of sexual abuse allegations against Savile shows a correlation between his rise to fame as a so-called “King” and allegations of abuse.
At the BBC, reports of sexual abuse date back to 1965, shortly after Savile started working for the network. A review of the culture and practices at the BBC during Savile’s tenure is documented in the The Dame Janet Smith Review Report, which was released in 2016.
The investigation, conducted by Dame Janet Smith, DBE, found that at least 72 people were sexually abused by Savile in connection with his work at the BBC. This includes eight victims who were raped, one of whom was just 10 years old. There was also one attempted rape.
The largest number of victims are in connection to Savile’s work on the BBC’s Top of the Pops program, which premiered on January 1, 1964.
“I conclude that Savile committed many acts of inappropriate sexual conduct in connection with his work for the BBC,” said Smith in a summary of conclusions in the report.
“Savile abused boys, girls, and women, usually young women. His preferred target seems to have been teenage girls. Most, but not all, of the more serious incidents of rape and attempted rape and some of the more serious sexual assaults I have described took place on Savile’s own premises and not at the BBC.”
How Jimmy Savile Exploited Children
Evidence from an investigation into Savile’s hospital volunteer work shows that he was trying to acquire a position of power early on that would give him access to children — including cancer patients.
In 1960 at the age of 34, he began what would become a 50-year relationship with Leeds General Infirmary as a volunteer. He regularly visited the hospital as a fundraiser for the hospital’s teaching efforts. Then in 1968, he unusually requested to be a part-time “porter” for the hospital — meaning that he’d transport patients to and from various wards as needed.
“When Mr. Savile offered his services as a voluntary porter, I was a little concerned about the press implications and how he would fit into a busy teaching hospital,” said a hospital administrator at the time, according to an investigational report released in 2014.
“My concern was wholly unfounded and he has done an extremely good job and is accepted by all sections of the staff.”
Savile’s request was formally approved by the hospital’s chairman of the Board of Governors, and he had an active presence in the hospital from the 1960s to the 1990s. With his link to the Infirmary, Savile used media to promote various fundraising campaigns in public.
But in private, vulnerable patients said they suffered from Savile’s abuse. One male victim at Leeds, who was 14 years old at the time, said that Savile approached him while he was in a wheelchair and wearing a hospital gown.
“He came up to me because I was literally just sat in the wheelchair at the
front in the waiting area there, and he came and lent over me and told me to cheer up and said, ‘Things can’t be that bad,'” he said.
“He put his hand on my leg, as he said it and then all of a sudden just moved his hand under my gown because I had a hospital gown on, I just had me dressing gown draped over me, put his hand on my genitals and squeezed them. How long it lasted, I don’t know I can’t say. It was five seconds, 10 seconds. It wasn’t a long time and then looked at me and said, ‘Now then, I bet that’s cheered you up.'”
The more famous Savile became, the more opportunities he had to use his star power to inflict pain. As his celebrity rose among Great Britain’s elite, whispers about his history of sexual abuse became screams.
The Power Of Jimmy Savile
As a popular DJ, Savile quickly weaponized his media pedestal into power that awarded him access to the vulnerable. With the right access, he charmed everyone from sick children to the British royal family.
After first meeting Prince Charles in the 1970s, Savile soon began making regular visits to his royal residence. Soon he had the prince’s ear on royal politics, with Charles reportedly consulting Savile before appointing a senior aide for himself and Princess Diana.
According to some reports, Charles even asked Savile to look over speeches and requested his opinion on health policies.
As much as Savile seemed comfortable rubbing elbows with the upper echelons of power, his childhood upbringing told a different story.
“I grew up with adults, which meant I didn’t have anything to say,” Savile shared in an interview with writer Dan Davies, author of In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile. “I finished up with big ears, listening to everything, and big eyes, watching everything, and a brain that wondered why grown-ups did what they did.”
In interviews, Savile is mostly mum on his relationship with his father. However, Savile’s relationship with his mother Agnes, whom he called “the Duchess,” was a clear cause of contention in his life.
“I wasn’t her favourite by any means,” Savile once said about growing up in a household where he had to jockey for her attention. “I was fourth or fifth in the pecking order.”
When his father died in the early 1950s, Savile used his DJ money to make up for lost time. He bought his mother an apartment and regularly showered her with expensive gifts. She later became his public companion.
It’s now believed that Savile used his relationship with his mother to rebuff the idea of him ever getting close to someone romantically.
Signs That Something Was Wrong
When Savile’s mother suddenly died in 1972, it was expected that he’d be devastated. With his newfound money and fame, it was clear he was on a mission to prove that he was worthy of her love. However, Savile talked about her death bringing him peace — a very disturbing sort of piece.
“We were together all her life and there was nothing we couldn’t do. I got an audience with the Pope. Everything,” Savile explained in one interview. “But then, I was sharing her. When she died she was all mine. The best five days of my life were spent with the Duchess when she was dead. She looked marvellous. She belonged to me. It’s wonderful, is death.”
To psychologist Oliver James, Savile’s relationship with his mother was just one sign of the deeply disturbed man he was.
“He had what is known as the dark triad of personality characteristics: psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. These are common in famous or powerful people, and part of that mix is a strong likelihood of sexual promiscuity,” he wrote in a column on Savile’s psychosis.
“Such people often are able to slide effortlessly between personas. They are usually impulsive stimulus seekers, easily attracted to substance abuse, risky sex and gambling. Savile must have had a fantastical inner life – grandiose, wild, and desperate. While his main predilection was for girls and young women, he sometimes ranged from five to 75-year-olds of both sexes and, it seems, may have engaged in necrophilia.”
In a now infamous interview with Lynn Barber published in The Independent on Sunday, Savile talks about finding relief in being knighted in 1990 because it got him “off the hook.”
“Ooh ay, I had a lively couple of years, with the tabloids sniffing about, asking round the corner shops – everything – thinking there must be something the authorities knew that they didn’t,” Savile said. “Whereas in actual fact I’ve got to be the most boring geezer in the world because I ain’t got no past. And so, if nothing else, it was a gi-normous relief when I got the knighthood, because it got me off the hook.”
In a limp attempt at addressing the sexual abuse rumors of the time, he told reporters that “never in a million years” would he let “a kid, or five kids” past his front door.
“Never, ever. I’d feel very uncomfortable.” Nor, he said, would he take children for a ride in his car unless they had their parents with them: “You just can’t take the risk.”
Jimmy Savile: From Knighthood To Dark Knight
Jimmy’s career as a DJ and TV presenter was his ticket to fame, but using his name to raise money for sick children is what made him a beloved star. And even the most powerful people in the United Kingdom wanted to associate with him, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In a heavily redacted correspondence between Prime Minister Thatcher and senior civil servant Robert Armstrong in 1983, Armstrong shares his misgivings about granting Savile knighthood.
“Fears have been expressed that Mr. Savile might not be able to refrain from exploiting a knighthood in a way which brought the honours system into disrepute,” he writes.
In 1980, Thatcher appointed Savile as fundraiser for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. He had already won her favor and influence. So, despite warnings, Thatcher lobbied for his knighthood anyway.
In another letter to Armstrong, Thatcher’s secretary writes, “She [Thatcher] wonders how many more times his name is to be pushed aside, especially in view of all the great work he had done for Stoke Mandeville [hospital].”
To which Armstrong responded: “The case of Jimmy Savile is difficult. Mr Savile is a strange and complex man. He deserves high praise for the lead he offers in giving quiet background help to the sick. But he has made no attempt to deny the accounts in the press about his private life.”
In the end, of course, Thatcher got what she wanted and Savile received his knighthood. Later, a sexual assault investigation at Stoke Mandeville found that Savile abused patients as young as eight years old at that hospital.
One attack even took place in the hospital’s chapel, according to a 2015 report: Savile, who claimed to be Roman Catholic, abused a young girl — named only as Victim 24 — in the presbytery for a period of five years.
Victim 24 said, “Every time I went in that room I just knew that he would touch me wherever he wanted to touch me.”
The Reckoning Of Jimmy Savile
For many years, endorsements from Savile’s famous friends smoothed away any suspected cracks in his character. When sexual assault allegations against the presenter did make it to the light of day, network executives and journalists didn’t press him on his flippant denials.
In a 2000 documentary, famed British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux asked Savile why he said he didn’t like children.
Savile infamously replied, “Because we live in a very funny world. And it’s easier for me, as a single man, to say ‘I don’t like children’ because that puts a lot of salacious tabloid people off the hunt.”
When questioned about the pedophilia rumors, Savile said, “How do they know whether I am or not? How does anybody know whether I am? Nobody knows whether I am or not. I know I’m not, so I can tell you from experience that the easy way of doing it when they’re saying ‘Oh, you have all them children on Jim’ll Fix It‘, say ‘Yeah, I hate ’em.'”
Theroux later acknowledged that he was “gullible” for letting Savile get away from his line of questioning about the sexual abuse of underage girls. In hindsight, parents of Savile’s victims and the public saw it as a missed opportunity to really expose Savile for who he was in private.
As much as Savile’s knighthood did to quiet doubts about his character, there was rousing evidence of his guiltiness. Savile was in the midst of several legal battles leading up to his death in October 2011.
Days after Savile passed away, Newsnight on BBC launched an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault that followed his career and sought to make contact with former pupils who had been in contact with Savile.
For months, then years, a series of grim and graphic discoveries began to detail Savile’s deep-rooted history of sexual assault, leading police to launch a separate investigation into more instances of child abuse.
With each new finding, public mea culpas followed from Savile’s co-workers at the BBC, administrators of hospitals where he volunteered, and other celebrities who had been in Savile’s social circle.
“It is now clear that Savile was hiding in plain sight and using his celebrity status and fund-raising activity to gain uncontrolled access to vulnerable people across six decades,” concluded a 2013 report on the sexual abuse allegations against Savile.
In June 2014, the Department of Health published results from investigations by 28 medical establishments, including Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor Hospital.
And the results were deeply disturbing: During his time at Leeds, Savile apparently abused 60 people, including at least 33 patients aged from five to 75. At Broadmoor Hospital, he abused at least five individuals, including two patients who were subjected to repeated assaults.
Although there have been many investigations into the extent of Savile’s sexual crimes, the exact number of victims remains unknown.
As years pass and more victims come forward, Savile’s name has known no peace in the U.K. He’s become a cautionary tale of how a powerful, respected, and widely beloved man can still be a monster.