Thirty nine years ago, Jimmy Savile published his autobiography Love is an Uphill Thing – an interesting title to say the least of it. The Coronet paperback is out of print now, but on reading it today, one is struck not just by the signs of a self-serving psychopath at work on the job of creating an entirely plausible public figure….but also by the clues in the text.
Savile’s 1974 autobiography appears to be the unique tale of eccentric Yorkshire coalminer made good and become national treasure. It also talks repeatedly and at length about his mother ‘the Duchess’ and how she was “the only woman I ever loved”, an assertion we have to hope was metaphorical. Even that, from the post-downfall perspective, causes one to wonder what role controlling women have in nurturing paedophiles: although perhaps more interestingly, Savile’s father doesn’t get a mention (we’re not even told his name) beyond a brief reference to him having been ‘a social worker’. Maybe the pattern of abuse was paternally established: certainly, Savile records first visiting an approved school (Borstal) at the age of nine with both his parents. Was Savile senior a paedophile already? It’s an intriguing (albeit creepy) thought, and in line with field research showing a clear link between abusers and abuse perpetrated on them in childhood. It’s impossible to know from this distance, but again, it is fascinating that Savile’s first showbiz gig is as the drummer in a schoolgirl band.
In the book, he claims to have had his first date at the age of twelve with a woman of twenty. I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone who achieved that feat, but to kick off his love-life with a reverse of his later predelictions is significant, I think…especially if you have something of an Oedipus complex about your mum. (His very first idea was to put on and organise a Beauty Contest). By page 21, the young Jimmy is already ‘regarded as strange by my mates, and there came the day when they withdrew from me and I from them’. Yorkshire miners, you see, can tell sh*t from putty. Perhaps part of what made him strange to males was his admitted fascination ‘with dead bodies and mortuaries’ early in this slim volume. That, and funerals, and the Church…and priests.
As a Catholic, Savile knew how important it was, on making one’s way in the community, to befriend priests. His closeness to them from an early age is readily apparent: ‘With the clergy I formed a sort of Manager’s Club’. Except of course we don’t hear what sort of club it was. We only have the recent track-record of priests to go on. He was also quick to spot that senior police friends could oil the wheels nicely if things got sticky: as early as the start of his dance-hall career in the 1940’s, Jimmy Savile counted Louis Harper, Chief Superintendent of Manchester Constabulary A Division, as a close friend.
His preference, he tells us on P 47, was to ‘settle in and find myself a loner girl’ wherever he happened to be. An interesting attraction to vulnerability, that. But from then on the book is largely about fame, success, charities, royalty, television, rock stars, and all the things that ultimately made him untouchable. Only from time to time is one startled by his ‘role’ when touring with the Beatles: picking up small schoolgirls at the stage door, bringing them in to meet The Boys, and then taking them back again with four autographs each. I wonder how many of those kids got waylaid on the way back to the stage door.
These clues and odd references look significant in retrospect, but would’ve gone unnoticed back then. My largest blogger boo-boo of last year was defending Savile when the charges against him first emerged. I’d been a regular at his Club for two years in the early 1960s, and while he often had young teenagers with him, that wasn’t unusual on the Manchester groups scene. I must have asked for dozens of requests from him at Beat City, and he struck me as OK. Mainly he struck me as having a lifestyle I envied.
But a close female friend of mine recalls doing some pr work for a disabled rehabilitation hospital charity when she was younger. She had a meeting with Jimmy in his ‘office’ at the hospital, and asked for the DJ’s cooperation in putting together an entertainment package for the patients. “What’s in it for me?” Savile growled. My friend was shocked. “Nothing,” she stuttered, “It would just be nice for the patients”. “Go f**k yourself,” replied the great man.
The circular debate continues about why-oh-why and how-on-earth in relation to Sir Jimmy Savile OBE. The answer is obvious: he was a cunning sexual psychopath who surrounded himself with fixer authority figures, and threatened the free press whenever they got close to him. This 1974 autobiography offers further clues as to why rather than how, and is instructive for that reason alone. But the wider lesson to be learned from the Savile saga is this one: in a society riddled with privilege, police corruption and gargoyle media ownership, it takes a long time to get the guilty into prison. Sometimes, they never go down at all.