'A dozen young girls were draped around John Peel's studio'
'On Top of the Pops night you knew the BBC Club would be heaving with nubile young girls'
One producer had a taste for 'mentoring' young women who were seeking a screen career
I was at the BBC from 1968/88, 20 years that will be of great interest to Dame Janet Smith as she probes the "culture and practices" that allowed Sir Jimmy Savile OBE to flourish.
Hugh Carleton Greene was Director General when I joined. He looked goofy but was the only DG of the six I worked for who could be called ‘A Great Man’.
- September 26, 2016
- September 26, 2016
- September 21, 2016
Greene was a liberal, in the true sense. But the heart of the BBC beat, ever so slowly, in the Radio Newsroom. The swinging sixties had never penetrated.
The limestone bulwarks of Broadcasting House were finally breached in 1967. The 16-inch gun in question was the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act with which Harold Wilson had simultaneously sunk the pirate ships and obliged a doubtful BBC to give the buccaneering DJs a comfortable berth.
Radio 1 was despised by Radio News. As the newest sub, I wrote the news summaries for Radio 1, including John Peel's late night programme. He kept his studio as dark as a cave, a hooded light above the desk.
Entering in a rush, I tripped over a leg. A dozen young girls were draped around the studio, laying on the floor and kneeling at the feet of the Merseyside Messiah. He was only playing records, for goodness sake, but it was like a seance or black mass. A little later he announced on air that he'd had VD.
He never hid his interest in schoolgirls and had married in Texas a 15-year-old who later killed herself. I was astounded when Peel later became a pillar of the community in Suffolk.
Everyone in radio was in no doubt that Sodam and Gomorrah was located at the other end of The Westway at Television Centre. The most risque event I ever witnessed in the BBC Club opposite Broadcasting House was the farewell party for Mrs. Dale's Diary – the radio drama which ran from 1948-1969. The BBC Club at TV Centre was altogether different.
You could smell it long before you got there. Cannabis smoke penetrated the building, helped by the circular corridors. On Top of the Pops night, everyone knew that the Club would be heaving with nubile young girls, straight from the studio and excited by their first glimpse of show business.
There was a commissionaire on the door but he would have had his epaulettes laughed off had he attempted to stem the flow of under-age girls by asking to see their "ID".
The main bar was dominated by Light Entertainment. It was an amphitheatre featuring scenes of abandon that might have made Caligula blush. Newsroom types kept to the side bar. There was less chance of being ambushed by "the Bacardi bandits", young girls whose answer to any question was "Bacardi and Coke". That could make a big hole in a hack's modest salary.
I took an American TV correspondent to the bar. He could not believe it.
The Federal Communications Commission forbids alcohol on US TV and radio stations.
Savile was often in the Club. I found his public adulation of his old mum, "The Duchess", a bit creepy but there was no shortage of odd people wandering around television centre then. I interviewed Savile once. Any probing question made him immediately defensive.
I went on "Jim'll Fix It" to hang a tin medal around somebody's neck. It was very important to Savile to show that he was smarter than you, whoever you were.
In 1980, I produced a regional programme called "Weekend" and invited the Cambridge Footlights to do bits of their review. It was Sandi Toksvig's first TV appearance, I knew her late father Claus Toksvig, the charming London correspondent of Danish Broadcasting. I would never have set his only child on such a perilous path had I known that later she would be sexually abused by a broadcaster she has yet to name.
When Vivien Creeger arrived from Bristol, her first network appearance was presenting the BBC1 lunchtime news with me. Whenever we meet, she recalls the occasion with pleasure. It would hard to meet anyone more professional or level-headed than Vivien, so when she says she was sexually assaulted at the BBC, I believe her.
I never saw anything that could be described as sexual harassment or abuse in TV News. There was one man who acquired a taste for "mentoring" young women who were seeking a screen career. But I never saw his casting couch and could not understand why he might need one. He was handsome and had never been short of girlfriends before he got a taste of producer power.
The BBC should have been the last place where sexual exploitation could have happened. From its incorporation nearly 90 years ago, men and women were equal. By the time I joined, women were beginning to rule. The swish of Gor-Ray skirts was heard in the corridors of power and later the clink of artisan jewellery.
Former Appeal Court Judge Lady Smith looks the sort of woman who knows what's what. If so, she will appreciate that men will always be men and sex is still more powerful than nuclear fission. Boy and girl stuff will always go on and office romances will occur. But an old lecher abusing a child must be called by its proper name, a crime.
I hope the Dame nails all those who are guilty and sufficiently alive to be brought to trial and punished for their sickening, manipulative abuse of vulnerable people.
The BBC should be utterly ashamed by what has clearly gone on in the past. I have no doubt that it is.
But in the process, I hope Dame Janet does not condemn out of hand the fresh air of freedom that Careton Greene allowed and encouraged, even if the wind also blew in a number of vile people.