Jimmy Savile was a fixture on British television for decades. (Lewis Whyld / Associated…)
Few U.S. music fans are likely to recognize the name of Jimmy Savile, the late British TV show host and self-manufactured media personality whose alleged criminal past as a predatory pedophile is currently at the center of a scandal that is rocking the BBC and Britain.
The allegations against the peroxide-haired Savile, who cultivated the image of a gaudily attired, good-natured goofball and until recently was regarded by most Brits as a lovable, harmless eccentric, are horrifying: that he was a serial molester who used his celebrity (and his role as a volunteer with several children's charities and hospitals) to prey on underage girls. The London police suggest the number of his victims could be in the hundreds.
"Sir Jimmy," who'd been knighted and died last year at age 84, was used to being surrounded by young women. From the mid-1960s to the mid-'80s, he enjoyed a highly privileged and influential position as a rock 'n' roll tastemaker. As one of the regular hosts of "Top of the Pops," the BBC's weekly music chart countdown show, Savile was the British equivalent of Dick Clark and helped shape the listening tastes of a generation, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones through the heavy metal, glam, New Wave and post-punk eras.
Appearing on "Top of the Pops," Savile favored sartorial statements ranging from Carnaby Street Mod to brightly colored track suits, and he perfected a shtick of joshing with young females who'd been invited to dance on the show. Sometimes, the camera would show Savile shimmying and shaking side by side with women half his age or younger. Frequently on camera, he talked in a kind of rapid-fire, pseudo-Cockney-esque, entendre-laden gibberish that in hindsight may or may not have hidden some weirder intention.
I remember watching Savile on "Top of the Pops" when I was a child during the years my family lived in London, and being alternately amused and put off by his aggressively antic persona. It now appears that the fun-loving Dr. Jimmy Jekyll who liked to wig out on "Top of the Pops" was merely a disguise invented to keep prying journalists, police investigators and others from glimpsing the Mr. Jimmy Hyde who posed as a friend of Britain's youth.
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