LONDON — Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, formally apologized to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the late BBC personality Jimmy Savile following the release Thursday of a blistering report on decades of assaults by the “Top of the Pops” host.
“The BBC failed you when it should have protected you,” Hall said. “A serial rapist and a predatory sexual abuser both hid in plain sight at the BBC for decades. What this terrible episode teaches us is that fame is power, a very strong form of power and like any form of power it must be held to account… and it wasn’t,” he said.
The report found that the culture at the broadcaster at the time tolerated Savile’s behavior. It also indicates that the “culture of fear” that allowed Savile’s acts to continue still exists to some degree at the broadcaster. A separate report, conducted by Linda Dobbs, found 21 victims of abuse at the hands of former BBC anchor Stuart Hall, and that BBC management in Manchester was aware of his conduct.
Janet Smith, a former judge who authored the report, stated that Savile, who died in 2011, and Hall “must be condemned for their monstrous behavior.”
The report was leaked last month (see Variety report here) but published officially on Thursday, identified 72 victims of Savile’s sexual abuse, including eight who were raped and one victim as young as eight. These were the incidents connected to Savile’s employment at the BBC, which extended from 1964 to 2007, but do not include others that occurred at hospitals and other public institutions. A 2014 report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found that he sexually abused at least 500 children.
Most of the incidents took place during the 1970s. The report cited eight informal complaints that were lodged against Savile that never led to repercussions.
After listing those complaints, Smith concludes: “It appears to me that the culture of the times both within and without the BBC was such that incidents of this kind were not treated seriously.”
Some of the incidents occurred while his shows were being filmed. Smith, after describing one such occasion, states: “It appears to me that the BBC floor staff at that time probably regarded this kind of conduct by Savile as harmless good fun and regarded a girl who complained about it as a nuisance.”
One focus of the Savile report was the BBC’s approach to their stars. Smith wrote: “The BBC should examine its attitude towards ‘the talent.’ I have reported that the BBC appeared at least in the past to be tolerant of inappropriate conduct by the stars because they were more valuable to the BBC than the BBC’s own values. The first reason for this is because of a deference or even adulation which was, and still can be, accorded to celebrity in our society.”