Subtitled The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, this is an attempt by Dan Davies to explain (if that’s at all possible) how Savile became (as far as we know, and I shudder at the thought there might be someone worse) the most prolific sexual offender in UK history while maintaining a high-profile career as a TV celebrity over several decades.
Given the subject matter I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this, but it’s been nominated for a major non-fiction award and just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it should be avoided when, as here, it tries to provide answers to the questions those of us who grew up listening to Savile on the radio or watching him on TV have been asking about his crimes.
I was then not at all sure if I wanted to talk about it, but here we are.
The most interesting aspect of the book, and something which I didn’t expect, is that Davies actually started looking into Savile’s life a long time before he died. He spent a lot of time in Savile’s company trying to get underneath the famously prickly personality but didn’t get terribly far; this is a man who protected himself through a combination of misdirection, threats, wilful eccentricity and peculiar charm.
The book alternates between a straightforward chronological telling of the life and the exposure of his crimes, with special focus on the travails of the BBC, almost entirely self-inflicted as they flinched from taking forward an investigation into what were long-standing rumours about Savile’s predilections.
He was a big part of popular culture when I was growing up so reading the stuff about his career took me right back to my teenage years. We all thought he was a bit odd but it was always put down to cleverly manufactured eccentricity. And of course that’s how he got away with it all for so long – a famous man with friends at the highest levels of all walks of life who raised huge amounts of money for charity and used all of this to access vulnerable people who wouldn’t be taken seriously if they told anyone. Appalling.
Well written and in my opinion not at all salacious, but as I was reading it I kept wanting to wash my brain out with soap. I can’t in all conscience recommend it, it’s so grim, but it’s also totally compelling.