Monday, 3 October 2016

Last Night's TV - Louis Theroux: Savile

"I feel a bit ashamed now, knowing what I know"

Sixteen years after his documentary When Louis Met Jimmy, and armed with what we all now know of the man, Louis Theroux returns to the subject to examine if there was any opportunities he could have inadvertently overlooked that may have revealed the real vile and abusive sex offender that was Jimmy Savile.

Following his candid discussion on the matter with Richard Herring as part of the latter's Leicester Square Theatre podcast, in which he expressed his deep regret that he failed to unmask the monster back in 2000, I am so glad that Theroux opted to explore and reexamine his previous dealings with Savile and more, how the experience of making that documentary actually brought about an ongoing professional relationship, and possibly even a quasi-friendship between the pair. 

Following Savile's death, once the first allegations began to come to light and right up to this very day, we as a society ask just what we knew or suspected about Savile. The general consensus seems to be that we were almost collectively aware there was something 'off' about Savile, something we didn't like or found creepy, but we couldn't quite put our finger on it. Of course, it's easy to say that there was something off and odd about Savile, something creepy in how utterly wrong he was for the programmes he featured and loomed so large in. The white haired wrinkly old man in the string vest and revealing shorts, smoking and sucking upon big cigars, surrounded by children - children who seemingly loved him (one of the most chilling scenes is right at the start when we see Savile leaving Louis' flat in a taxi, a gaggle of young children running down the road after it, chanting his name with glee like he was some weird Pied Piper). Weird, but different times, we said - until the reality dawned upon us all.

As a young teen in the early '90s I remember hearing a story from my sister's then boyfriend about what he knew of Jimmy Savile. My sister's ex was a former boxer and a bit of a wideboy with several contacts across the north west, and he had heard stories about how, when Savile was involved in the Manchester club scene in the early '60s, he was little more than a small-scale gangster. I remember telling this story to my friends at school, relaying to them my sister's boyfriend's words that Savile had been such a violent bully that he now immersed himself in charity work to atone. It quickly went around the school and was disbelieved and derided. I was a bit of a laughing stock at school for a couple of days, a bit of a Billy Liar. In 2000, Theroux's documentary managed to reveal just one thing about Savile - his shady antics in the club scene of Manchester in the '60s, what he called his 'zero tolerance', an admission he made unknowingly to camera. At the time, I wondered if those kids from my year watched it and what they thought.

But more revelations, and more significantly despicable ones, were to come. Some which frighteningly, but perhaps understandably, some of those closest to him (his PA, a medical secretary from Stoke Mandeville) either have a hard time coming to terms with or simply refuse to believe.

Watching the clips from Theroux's previous interactions with Savile now, the sense you get is of a man who got off on hiding in plain sight. With the hindsight we now possess we can see clearly a man who showed just enough to point to his true identity (his suggestive remarks, his physically intrusive, intimidating behaviour, and his 'dark arts' - such as making a point of letting Theroux know that he had found his private home address) but who continued to be elusive, even when under the microscope. Make no mistake, this was a clever individual, a depraved perpetrator who - as one of his victims states here - "picked really easily and well". 

Perhaps the hardest thing for us as a viewer to do with this documentary is to actually witness Savile, at large. Since the truth came to light we've only ever seen him on TV fleetingly, with condemning statements laid over the footage. He has became our bogeyman, a figure we dare look straight in the eye. Theroux's follow-up documentary forced us to do just that, and it did not make for comfortable viewing.


  1. I watched it too and found it compelling and disturbing, and very much like seeing Theroux undergoing his own form of therapy, which I completely understand (I would surely feel the same). Thanks for articulating all you have so well here. I found it essential viewing, even though it can't change what happened, perhaps it will help the potential victims of other characters like him to speak out sooner.

    1. Thank you for saying so,C. And yes, compelling and distrubing, but also as you rightly say, essential