When Jimmy died, BBC Radio Leeds went into full tribute mode. It was the national narrative at the time. Philanthropist, one-off, wacky disc-jockeying pioneer, he raised millions for charity. It was in all the papers. Broadcasting colleagues at the BBC like Esther Rantzen, fellow disc jockeys, producers, execs, and so on all appeared on telly to tell us what a great guy he was.
Here in his home town, we covered his funeral in full - and then some. Two of Yorkshire's very best broadcasters, Andrew Edwards and Martin Wainwright, sat in Leeds's Roman Catholic cathedral deconstructing the service in reverent tones as the City's great and good, religious and secular, paid tribute to the great man - as he was then...
As an atheist, I avoided that particular curve ball - thank you, er, God (As Luis Bunuel said, "I'm an atheist, thank God") - but myself and my breakfast show producer Nick Wilmshurst were detailed to produce a half-hour tribute to the great man - as he was then etc.
I can't remember what we put in the tribute, and thought in the light of the awful revelations of his behaviour, it might be deeply embarrassing, as much of the rest of our coverage would undoubtedly be. I was, however, pleased to find that, yes, we had paid tribute to Jimmy as we were commissioned to do, but we had at least acknowleged a dark side to Jimmy, and mentioned that rumours about Jimmy's private life had circulated for years "without a shred of evidence" as we said in the programme.
I said as much on the Radio Leeds breakfast show, and tweeted a link to the clips in the doco - of Anthony Clare & Louis Theroux - which went slightly counter to the hagiography that was the national, and even more so the local, narrative at the time.
Turns out that wasn't enough for one listener. I apparently should have been producing Jimmy Savile - Kiddy Fiddler as the rest of the nation celebrated his life.
This is an email I got from someone called Roy Grainger, complete with spelling mistakes, and obsessive use of parentheses...
Your furious back-pedalling and attempts at
self-justification on Saville are growing tiresome. Let's review the facts. You
are a self-proclaimed radio insider of 40+ years standing with experience in
both Leeds and BBC London. As such of course you have always known about the
Saville rumours and have known them to be (most likely) true - it was an open
secret in radio circles as many have now testified. Even I knew this and I do
not work in the media. You must have also guessed (as I did) that after his death
eventually these horrors would fill the newspapers. Despite this you chose to
broadcast a tribute (your word) to him on the radio. To now pick out and
highlight the 30 seconds or so of this longer tribute in which braver
presenters than yourself alluded to his (specifically violent) "dark
side" as somehow justifying your own participation in the tribute is
absurd, in truth it was little different to the "hagiography" which
you now (belatedly) complain of in others. Likewise your shoulder-shrugging attempt to implicate someone else in the
production of the tribute show (did you ask him first before broadcasting his
name on your website and his handle on Twitter ?) shows the morality of the
schoolyard "I did something wrong but Nick did too". I am aware that
your views, personality, and broadcast style fit badly with the po-faced
moralists at the Guardian who pay you, but on this particular topic you would
have done well just to keep your trap shut rather than indulge in this
undignified scamble to justify your actions.
And this is my reply (again with spelling mistakes etc..)
I joined Radio Hallam in 1978 - 34 years, not 40-plus, the least
of your wild inaccuracies.
Nick Wilmshurst produced the tribute, which was largely a pull
together of clips from various sources together with one or two new interviews
(we were commissioned to do a tribute by Radio Leeds, by the way. We
didn't just do it because we thought Jimmy was one hell of a guy).
Nick was delighted to be associated with the programme, as I
was. We sent it to some radio critics and to Radio Two, who I believe
played it, and I made sure Nick shared the credit. In fact, I insisted
upon it as I thought he did a cracking job on the edit, choice of music
etc. Nick was fully aware of the clip I put on soundcloud and tweeted,
and agreed with me that it was fortunate we hadn't painted Jimmy as a paragon
of virtue. Most of the programme revolved around Savile's professional life,
specifically about his invention of the concept of the disc jockey - twin
turntables and so on - work on Radio Luxembourg. We covered the fund
raising with a short interview with a woman from Stoke Mandeville.
As for your "open secret" argument, as it happens I had
absolutely no insight as to what Jimmy did in his private life. My
suspicion was that he was gay, or celibate in a Cliff Richard kind of
way. Really. I never worked with him. I was on Radio Two, he
was on Radio One. I was never in the Jim'll Fix It studio, Clunk Click,
Savile's Travels, or anywhere else where he's alleged to have abused
children. My only contact was the occasional interviews I did for Radio
Leeds, when, as I said in the doco, he was a one-off, and always gave good value.
Neither, I assume, were you in any of those studios, yet you knew, you
say. You knew, Mr Roy Grainger. You knew exactly what was going
on. Yet you said nothing to the authorities. I should lay low for a
while lest the Met want to interview you as an accessory.
On listening back to the programme, I was relieved to find that we had concentrated on Jimmy's professional life, especially his early days - to be honest, Nick and I were mainly using it as a vehicle to play a lot of old radio jingles. We made it for fellow radio anoraks, really, rather than as part of the Savile tribute industry. The only bit I am really embarrassed about is the last 2 or 3 minutes where we do rather subscribe to the view that he was a great guy.
But at a time when Mike Read was telling us, without irony, "He touched a lot of people.." (Boy, is that an unfortunate quote), our "tribute" was at the lower end of the embarrassment scale.
Listen, there are an awful lot of people claiming now to know a good deal more than they did. I suspect there are one or two ex-Radio One producers who would know the kind of detail that would stand up in a court of law, but beyond that it was rumour and speculation.
I stand by what we said in the programme; that he had a knack for gimmickry and self-promotion, he had the common touch on those Saturday Night light entertainment shows, and he more or less invented the modern disc jockey.
That is not for one moment to deny that the man was a psycopath, a monster. You'd be surprised at how many household names in entertainment are or were.
Unlike the rest of the world who have buried their blandishments in embarrassment, I am going to give you a chance to listen to the whole programme again
, and decide whether the points about Jimmy we made were worth making.