This was never just about Jimmy Savile. Too many men in TV and radio see women as smutty playthings
07:46 GMT, 8 October 2012
LIZ Kershaw was groped by a well-known DJ while presenting a live Radio 1 show in the 1980s — and no one at the station thought it unusual. Sandi Toksvig has said she suffered the same fate — and when she told her production crew, they just smirked.
When I worked at LWT in the 1980s, one hugely successful comedian would wave his penis at horrified women in the make-up department, knowing they would be ignored by the management if they dared to complain.
As far as telly bosses were concerned, stars must be kept happy at all costs. In the 1990s, a well-known former breakfast TV presenter would greet his female programme editor each morning lying stark naked in the bath in his dressing room.
Jimmy Savile poses with young revellers at the Radio One Love Parade in Leed' Roundhay Park in 2000
There is no doubt that in the male-dominated world of television and radio entertainment in the Seventies, Eighties and even Nineties, women were all-too-often regarded as something to have smutty fun with. If we complained, we were being silly.
On one entertainment series I worked on in the 1980s, every single week at exactly the same time, a pretty young female secretary would service one of the male presenters in his dressing room.
Another male presenter drilled a hole in his dressing room wall to spy on a glamorous female star as she undressed next door. The men on the programme thought it highly amusing.
The guests were just as bad. When singer Carl Perkins appeared on one show I worked on, he demanded two girls be sent to his dressing room to help him 'freshen up' — ie give him oral sex.
'When singer Carl Perkins appeared on one show I worked on, he demanded two girls be sent to his dressing room to help him 'freshen up' – ie give him oral sex
Sexual harassment wasn't confined to young girls. There are innumerable examples of teenage boys being used by middle-aged men in powerful positions in the hope of getting a recording contract or a job.
Jonathan King, who received a seven-year sentence in 2001 for abusing five teenage boys, is not the only man in the entertainment industry to use underage boys.
I made a documentary about underage rent boys for LWT and one of my young interviewees mentioned that a well-known BBC sports presenter was one of his regular clients. That name was not broadcast: it was removed by the lawyers.
Since the dreadful stories about Jimmy Savile's sexual history surfaced, there has been a resounding silence from radio DJs, the former head of BBC Light Entertainment Jim Moir, and the senior producers and directors who worked on Top Of The Pops and Jimmy Savile's many radio and television series.
I think they all knew what went on — but they were part of the problem. Jimmy's behaviour was just an extreme example of what was considered perfectly acceptable at the time. Even John Peel, lauded as a broadcasting legend, boasted about his fondness for schoolgirls, and even dressed up as one for a photo.
I first heard about Jimmy Savile's odd behaviour when I started in journalism at the age of 21 and heard that he would only give interviews to female reporters if they got into bed with him.
Old attitudes die hard. When a female journalist from a Sunday newspaper recently went to interview one of his contemporaries, DJ Dave Lee Travis, he was, according to the paper, persistently 'tactile'.
'Over 90 minutes,' the journalist wrote, 'I don’t think there was a part of my body he did not grope.'
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To understand a male mindset that considers fondling, groping and worse as perfectly normal behaviour in the workplace, look at what was broadcast at the time, and how women were portrayed.
Not just in primetime entertainment, but on children's television.Remember programmes like ITV's Tiswas, which ran from 1974 to 1982 This slapstick kids' show aired at 10.30 on a Saturday morning, presented by Chris Tarrant and the very glamorous Sally James.
At a time of day when toddlers would be watching, Sally would wear revealing outfits — tiny hot pants — even appearing naked in a bath full of foam. Smut or fun I know what I thought at the time.
Top Of The Pops regularly featured dancers — many of whom were just 15, so under the age of consent — performing suggestively. I doubt that the BBC chaperoned them every minute they were in the studios, as the stories of sexual activity in Jimmy Savile's dressing room involving Gary Glitter and others confirm.
We worry today about the sexualisation
of children, but that process started a long time ago. In the 1960s and
1970s, music hall humour and blatant innuendo were staple fare in
popular comedy shows.
Sixties saw women used as set dressing to add sexual spice to primetime
shows. From Benny Hill to Freddie Starr to Larry Grayson, the BBC and
ITV bosses (all male) saw nothing wrong in using semi-naked women to
chase better ratings.
Both Sandi Toksvig, left, and DJ Liz Kershaw, said they suffered groping while working in television and radio but that male production teams laughed it off as 'the norm'
In pop shows, the same ethos applied. When I started in television as a presenter in 1975, thank goodness my brief was to make documentaries for young people and my producer had a background in current affairs. We were regarded as weirdos by the old-school light entertainment men.
Even so, a showbusiness agent (who represented household names) thought nothing of asking me — during a dinner at which my husband was present — to give him oral sex in return for work offers.
Needless to say, I refused and had nothing more to do with him.
Arriving at BBC Television as a senior executive producer in the late Eighties, I was attached to the Light Entertainment department, a bastion of male chauvinism.
When the corporation conducted a study into sexual harassment on the premises (ironic in the light of recent revelations), senior staff were summoned to hear the results, but the general attitude in Light Entertainment was 'Sexual harassment — bring it on!'
'Jimmy's behaviour was just an extreme example of what was considered perfectly acceptable at the time'
Shown a list of places in the building where women had complained of feeling threatened, including backstage in the studio areas, one male executive giggled.
One of the most respected senior entertainment producers conducted his 'auditions' for female performers and dancers in a luxury hotel suite in West London. No one dreamt of asking why, even though TV Centre had dozens of suitable studios and dressing rooms.
Another executive had a luxury flat on the premises, with a bedroom and cocktail bar. Eventually it was demolished, and became my office.
Once, Jim Moir, then Head of Light Entertainment, addressed a committee meeting — I was the only woman present — by announcing 'Well chaps, I'm going to put my d*** on the table'. I think he meant he was going to be brutally honest, but it was an uncomfortable moment.
Like Liz Kershaw, Sandi Toksvig, and many other women who worked in the business, I just got on with my job.
The BBC had a confidential hotline for allegations of sexual harassment, but who used it Now we know that most of the victims weren't on the staff anyway.
I have spoken to many actresses who remember ghastly times when they were singled out at auditions for television shows and asked to stay behind — which meant only one thing: unwelcome sexual attention from a major star.
Since the stories about Jimmy Savile have surfaced, I have had emails complaining that I did not shop him to the management. I'd heard the rumours — but without proof who would have believed me
He ruined the lives of dozens and dozens of young people, but for women working in his industry, sexual harassment was something you just had to ignore every day of your working life.
Yesterday, on television, Sandi Toksvig told Andrew Marr that she didn't think things have changed completely. Chilling words, which I hope new Director General George Entwistle takes to heart.
The BBC must conduct an internal investigation without delay — and make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Talent contests and reality TV have replaced the pop programmes and variety shows of yesteryear — but there is still the nagging suspicion that men in powerful positions can abuse the very young and needy.
I'm not at all confident that the BBC and ITV can be sure attitudes have changed for the better. All that’s happened is that powerful men in the entertainment industry have got better at hiding their secrets.