In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies.

Review by Rose

I never liked Jimmy Savile, I did not understand his popularity. I was not alone, Dan Davies, the journalist and author, also thought that there something disturbing and in his words ‘evil’ about Savile. Davies was obsessed with Savile’s personality as a youngster kept a notebook about him. As an adult, he wanted to unmask the monster that lived behind Savile's invented celebrity character. Davies became a journalist, he interviewed Jimmy Savile for extensive periods. These unsettling interviews are documented in this book and provide a window into the mind of a voracious sexual predator. The book also presents a portrait of how society can be deceived, how many people looked the other way, and the power of celebrities. Additionally, it exposes how a famous predator can use mainstream media to establish his public image as a trusting charity worker. Davies’s investigations and interviews uncover something disturbing about humanity, society and the impact of the media during the historical period that Savile committed his crimes.

How do ordinary individuals react to meeting television celebrities and wealthy people? What does this ‘celebrity effect’ create? How did the attitudes in the 60s and 70s towards females enable a sexual predator to be so prolific and yet also hide his crimes? How does a TV personality openly talk about his need to ‘be around the dead,’ and work as a hospital porter in a mortuary for years without anyone thinking his behaviour is revealing something sinister?! So many questions. This book leads you into the bizarre discussions with priests that knew him, and the people that worked with and for Savile. Savile was photographed with royalty at fundraising events and had lunches with Margaret Thatcher. This book emphasises the need for society to listen to victims stories, even if they involve celebrities, as a seriously mentally ill criminal did find a path to the highest ranks of UK modern society.

This would not be my book of choice. Right now, I’m studying psychology and the topic of victims of child sexual abuse. The methods used by offenders, the backgrounds of sexual predators, the way that they commit crimes and how they think, including the long-term effect of child abuse on the victim and wider society. We are, unfortunately, also studying the Savile case, as an example of a historical criminal case of child abuse. It’s not a pleasant subject. However, it is a crucial issue, as psychological research is used to assist police authorities, charities and mental health organisations including helping teachers in schools recognise signs. By assessing the challenges vulnerable children face in society, researchers can provide significant information to agencies, including the NSPCC.

The statistics of child abuse in the UK are shocking. Many offenders are much younger than you might imagine. I am not going into too much detail here due to the sensitive nature of the subject. Historical cases of abuse can pose difficulties for police authorities. Deciding on whether they can make a case to prosecute and be successful after many years have passed is a difficult decision and it may be costly. Psychological research also identifies a critical disclosure problem, as many child victims do not talk about the abuse committed until decades have passed. Disclosure is even tougher if the abuse was intrafamilial. There are complex reasons that children feel they cannot speak up. However, the quicker a child is provided with help, the easier that child’s future life will be. Without appropriate help at an early stage, a child may suffer throughout their adult life.

The ability of one person to deceive millions can never be underestimated, one human being can use calculated methods to mislead others, while committing extensive crimes, even in show business in a modern era. A person with no empathy, with few morals or ethics placed in a position of power (either male or female) surrounded by powerful figures and television companies like the BBC, can cause great destruction in society as a whole. Savile was not averse to using religion. Savile’s case presents critical questions. One teenage girl testified that she told a nurse that she has been sexually abused in the hospital by a porter (Savile), and that nurse responded with either laughter or ‘just forget it and don’t’ tell anyone’. What does this say about society? It’s an insight into how his crimes were committed and the shocking way that some people acted when confronted with victims. Savile is a man that left a trail of misery and vulnerable victims that were treated like objects, yet as Davie’s book shows, he felt no real emotion about anything, except himself.

Savile idolised famous men like Winston Churchill, he was also fascinated with Mafia Godfathers and often depicted himself as one in dialogue, bragging about having young men beaten in clubs as a young DJ. Likewise, he watched documentaries about Hitler and revealed an interest in Hitler as a leader. This tells us something about his warped personality. He admired anyone famous, men with morals and men with none. If they managed to be famous it didn’t matter to him. Similar to Ed Gein, Savile kept his mother’s room a pristine shrine for over three decades, Shocking? Even having her dresses dry cleaned after death. Their close relationship was far from normal and tells us that his early caregiving years, were possibly more unusual than he led others to believe.

Beneath the joking jester, the young Savile was ruthless and hungered for fame and wealth. He was an attention seeker from youth, an emotionally cold person who frequently reminded Davies during interviews that he had ‘no feelings.’ He was truthful in this statement in many ways. As a sexual predator, he assessed situations in cold mathematical terms, even when evaluating his chances to be intimate with females in a room, he would calculate the number of the women in the room and subtract the number that he might not be able to coerce, and the number he was left with. He lacked empathy from childhood, though he understood that to be popular he needed to appear to care. Savile was intelligent. He excelled in publicity stunts to attract media and public attention, taking up many roles: rasing cyclist, DJ, TV Presenter, hospital porter, mental health advisor and charity fundraiser.

Jimmy Savile had always described himself as an odd child. certainly, he was a loner in a family with many siblings. Repeatedly others, when asked to describe him, would use the word ‘eccentric.’ The English eccentric can add colour to society, eccentrics can do things the majority would not, so ordinary people can be amused by an unconventional personality. They know they would never dare dress like that or behave like that. They feel safe to laugh about the exoticness of such a character they could never imagine being. That sense of fun relaxed people. However, after reading ‘In Plain Sight’ one quickly understands that Jimmy Savile’s oddities, his very eccentricities, were devised and created to exploit. From a young age, Savile realised that he could garner attention from people if he did shocking things, either in his manner, lifestyle or his appearance. Thus his eccentricities were not all-natural, they were designed for effect. He bleached his hair blonde as he knew he would get more attention. After asking the BBC if they had any jobs available, he turned up with pink hair and a Rolls Royce. The car caused interest among the staff, his pink hair also attracted comments. He’d often use that Rolls Royce to get the attention of other people. Wealth captivates people, on one hand, many people wish they had that wealth themselves, they can also be awe of it. Savile was quickly given a job at the BBC. Jimmy Savile’s public persona was a part artificial construct. It was a way, like the DJ’ing, it was way for him to achieve fame and create a vast amount of wealth. Even when he was asked about music, he would say ‘it was just an opportunity for money.’

I hated Savile's glaring shell suits, sometimes worn open and bare-chested, the giant cigars stuck in his mouth, the way he chatted with them wedged between his teeth repulsed me. There was something that Savile did well, vulgarity. He reminded me of a cheap conman at a seaside resort, his wild eyes and catchphrases irritated me. He emanated on the screen a type of ‘fun fun fun’ personality. Savile once stated on his way to a charity event that to succeed the way he did, you had to be a good conman, and he was right about that. Jimmy Savile knew what he was, he was not in denial like some criminals, he was completely self-aware. He’d do his wink-wink and nudge-nudge while gazing provocatively at young girls in the audience. He was hardly what one would call discrete. He was loud, colourful and often said things that revealed his murkier sider. ‘I don’t like women, I like girls, women know too much.’ Just one of his many controversial comments. Strangely, as Dan Davies realises in his research, he didn’t always conceal his predatory behaviour. Sometimes, in interviews, he’d weave in statements that uncovered some of his criminal methods. He’d talk about befriending the parents of young girls, before taking the daughter out in his car. Sometimes showing off his Rolls Royce to the fathers. These days, this would be called a ‘grooming process’ where you go through others establishing trust until the predator gets access to your underage victim.

Savile used his many personas (presenter, porter, charity funder) to gain media attention and to abuse vulnerable people. In his dialogue he used frequent sexual statements in conversation with others, often making sexual jokes. The dialogue itself can reveal aspects of a personality. He would also make offensive jokes that were clearly racist, though at this time this type of conversation and comments were unfortunately seen as acceptable. Like most child sex offenders, Savile used grooming techniques to commit his crimes. He picked his victims with care, only choosing victims that were vulnerable or in weak situations. Girls that had been in trouble with authorities were unlikely to be believed. This was similar to cases in the hospitals where he worked, usually, he picked victims undergoing treatment, that may have been on medication. Some of the authority figures at the school he visited appeared overwhelmed by Savile’s fame and fortune.The celebrity effect and his wealth enabled him to create friendships and make offers to teachers at the school, in order to take girls out for rides in his Roll's Royce.

Savile cultivated an illusion to the public and media. He could, as some interviewers saw, turn dramatically vicious if anyone dared ask him a question he did not like. He was good at using others to help him build a lifelong smokescreen, some of these people benefited financially. Savile knew how to misdirect, he would happily play the King’s Jester and look foolish and stupid, as long as it misdirected you away from his crimes.He often exaggerated events and lied about his past. He used his time working in a coal mine during the war to show how he had suffered, yet Dan Davies realised that he left the place much earlier than he said in interviews to the media, he had appeared in cycle rallies and even made an appearance in a film while he was supposed to have been still employed working down the coal mines. Savile was also an egotist who believed he was untouchable. He often bragged and name-dropped in most interviews. The fact he had access to the famous pop stars of the day and name dropped with others, would have caught a young girl's attention.

Savile raises vital questions, not just about why he managed to elude authorities for so long, his criminal record covering a vast amount of time. Other questions are just as terrifying when you think about them. Why was this man working as a famous DJ and TV presenter, a man who had a vast amount of money also working as a voluntary porter in a hospital mortuary for decades? Did no one find this odd? Despite him appearing as a man willing to help the dying and invalid patients, I find this completely bizarre. Talking to someone on one occasion during an interview, he said he had to dash as many people died at two am at the hospital and he wanted to be there to move the bodies. He was very open about his need to be around dead people at the hospital, sometimes talking about what it was like to be around the bodies in the hospital, as much as he was open about his need to spend time with young girls. He also managed to get access to patients at Broadmoor, a place where he met many patients, sitting with them in the recess room. Some victims testified to staff turning a 'blind eye' to his abuse in Broadmoor, including the female nurses. Many of the sexual crimes committed by Savile were very similar, he didn't change the way he committed his crimes. Some female patients at the hosptial said he immediately within seconds of taking them to a place where they could not be seen sexually assaulted them.

Many people turned away when seeing him commit acts of abuse, often due to his powerful stature, his built-up status as a man that saved hospitals and his wealth. Many other porters were offered free holidays at his many caravans and properties.

One of the significant problems is the allure of fame and wealth, which can, unfortunately, overly affect others, the social standing of a person can often mean a person doesn't see the darker sides. Some can often feel that those with wealth and power should not be questioned, some are in awe of anothers social standing, even when evidence is placed in front of them. If people do complain, these complaints can be thrown out by employees in high up places because they may be recieving some kind of benefit from the wealthy celebrity.Their organisation may also be expecting funds. Are we expecting a person who raised millions for charities to be a bad person? Would we believe a man that used the newspapers and media to help him raise this money, often millions from hospitals to be a predator? In society human beings often think that someone giving to charity must be a good person, most of the time the person has good intentions, but not always. Psychology teaches you that giving raising large amounts to charity can up your social standing in society, can make you seem more trusted.

Often we accept social standing without looking past it. This is why Dr Shipman managed to elude authorities for as long as he did. He was a doctor, doctors are revered in society. Does that mean that they are cannot be psychopaths? No. It does not. So Savile’s charity work for the disabled and vulnerable at hospitals and the way the media portrayed him doing this fundraising, all affected how he was viewed by the public. In his later life, he mingled with royalty at events. He was given an OBE, again upping his status in society even more. He was invited to lunch by Margaret Thatcher, pushing for his knighthood. He was extremely wealthy and used this to his advantage with others. If you see a man raising charity photographed with royalty, are you going to believe any rumours of negative behaviour? Royals were also easily taken in by his bizarre eccentricities’ most likely as a sense of fun. His odd character could create laughter. Yet, royals were no worse than anyone else in being taken in. There were many Lords, Journalists, politicians and Police authorities that were fooled by Savile.

The fact that he could raise a large amount of cash for hospitals and institutions, meant many of the top people at these institutes saw him as someone that could help them with funding. He was useful. And another reason he prospered as a criminal at the time he was committing crimes, he was living in a historical time when sexism towards girls and women was rife. This probably meant that his crimes were more prolific. Child abuse was also not treated well in the 1970s. If the BBC, the newspapers, Lords and royalty all stood next to Jimmy Savile, what did this say to the majority of people? What did it also say to the victims? There were few places for children to turn to for help. Even the children’s homes were rife with abuse, as many cases would later prove.

So we have many complex interacting factors which led to Savile creating a strong smokescreen and developing trust in the personality he presented to the world. During my course I watched witnesses describe the abuse they received at the hands of Savile, in one case, a mother was befriended so he could access her daughter, who was subsequently abused in one of his caravans. He used specific grooming techniques to gain access to underage girls. The girls mother was overwhelmed by this famous television personality paying them some attention while they were on holiday.

Dan Davie’s book is well researched, he analyses the behaviour and words of Jimmy Savile and discusses his own bias before conducting the interviews. His descriptions of his conversations with Savile are bizarre, surreal and often ugly. I also saw videos of Louis Theroux’s interviewing victims. Theroux has already explained his disappointment in himself as a journalist, not recognising Savile as a sexual predator. But Theroux was no worse than many others that did not see through the man they interviewed. His documentary about Jimmy Savile was probably the most insightful I’ve seen about the man, showing some of the strange aspects to Savile’s behaviour and life which definitely seem to indicate a condition, though which we will never know, as Savile was never assessed by a psychologist or any therapist, the only assesment that was made was through the newspapers. Though Theroux's documentary must have been infuriating for victims to watch, as it did not investigate his crimes.

One wonders what Savile's reaction would have been if Theroux had questioned him about sexual assaults, I cannot imagine Saville putting up with it for long.