Has Jimmy Savile driven The Guardian mad? The tabloids, unsurprisingly, seek out the most sensational stories about the now disgraced disc jockey, as though to atone for their devotion to the man when he was alive. One would like to have thought that more serious newspapers would adopt a more sober tone.
The Guardian sometimes prints drivel. One expects nothing else from some of its star columnists, such as Seamus Milne who likes to write approvingly of Vladimir Putin and wistfully of the Soviet Union.
Its editorial columns are usually rather more sensible.
Last Thursday was an exception. Under the headline “Oblivion’s Too Good For Him,” the newspaper that remains required reading for the British left published an editorial that was so hysterical and so bizarre that it suggested the writer (who is sadly unnamed) might require a few weeks leave to calm himself down.
Its subject was Jimmy Savile. Bemoaning the fact that no Hell exists in which Mr Savile could be condemned to “eternal torment,” the editorial went on to make an extraordinary comparison:
“If there is one thing to make the most benign agnostics wish that there were a God to punish sinners with eternal torment, it is the contemplation of history’s monsters. Oblivion is too good for the likes of Pol Pot, and for Jimmy Savile, too.”
Pol Pot, of course, was the Cambodian Marxist dictator, who unquestionably, and on the most conservative possible estimate, murdered well over 1,000,000 people.
Let’s assume that the worst that anyone has ever said about Jimmy Savile were true. Let’s assume, as the Daily Mail reported, that he dragged a girl away to be murdered at Roecliffe Manor Home for convalescent children (although the official inquiry into the Home found “no reference to a death of a child … in any records reviewed,” and that it was “not possible to associate [Jimmy Saville] with … abuse at the Home.”).
Let’s assume, as one alleged victim told the famous therapist Valerie Sinason, that he beat and raped a 12 year old girl in a Satanic ritual while she was a patient at Stoke Mandeville Hospital (although the official inquiry into Stoke Mandeville Hospital found no evidence of any such incident).
Let’s assume, as, for example, the Stoke Mandeville inquiry did find (while correctly noting that it did not have the power to “make findings as to criminal or civil liability”) that he raped a number of children at Stoke Mandeville, and at other places too.
It would mean that he was a vile and repulsive man. Certainly, if he was a murderer and probably if he was a multiple child rapist it would mean that he should have ended his days in prison rather than feted by the very people who now anathematise him.
But how sensible is the comparison with Pol Pot?
“The Tuol Sleng school buildings were enclosed with a double fence of corrugated iron topped with dense, electrified, barbed wire. The classrooms were converted into prison cells and the windows were fitted with bars and barbed wire. The classrooms on the ground floor were divided into small cells, 0.8m x 2m each, designed for single prisoners, who were shackled with chains fixed to the walls or floors. The rooms on the upper floors were used as communal cells. Here prisoners had one or both legs shackled to iron bars.
Before being placed in their cells, prisoners were photographed, all their possessions were removed and they were stripped to their underwear. They slept on the floor without mats, mosquito nets or blankets….
Some prisoners were used for surgical study and training while still alive. Blood was also drawn from prisoners’ bodies.
Prisoners’ babies brought to S-21 with them were killed by having their heads smashed against trees….
Those who died at S-21 were taken to Choeung Ek, outside Phnom Penh, to be buried in mass graves. Inmates of S-21 who survived interrogation were taken to Choeung Ek for execution.”
Unsurprisingly, the rape of prisoners often took place before their execution, although as Pot’s chief executioner Kaing Kek Iev (known as “Duch”) was to reveal after his subsequent arrest, the rapists themselves were then often executed for this “breach of protocol.”
As if the Pol Pot comparison were not strange enough, The Guardian also went further back in history, to the reign of Charles II. It noted how:
“The bodies of three of the judges who had condemned his father to death were exhumed, publicly hanged at Tyburn, then decapitated and their heads exhibited on spikes at Westminster Hall, where his trial had taken place.”
Generally speaking one can count on The Guardian to oppose hanging and decapitation, even of long dead bodies. I’d never really thought about it but I’d also rather assumed that the public exposure of heads on spikes was not very, I don’t know, liberal. Nowadays, of course, the crucifixion of dead bodies and display of severed heads is again in vogue, but The Guardian has rarely, if ever, advocated the practice in its leader columns. The editorial noted, in a balanced way, that this sort of thing “strikes us as primitive and terrible.” On the other hand, there is a good deal to be said for it:
“The savage, theatrical desecration captures and discharges something of the rage that Savile’s wickedness inspires today.”
Excuse me? Did I understand that right? Surely the Guardian is not advocating the digging up the body of a long dead celebrity, hanging him at Tyburn, dismembering him and sticking his head on a spike outside Broadcasting House? In fairness to The Guardian, probably not. The Guardian has Manchester roots and Alan Rusbridger would probably be happier to see the head outside the main entrance to the BBC’s northern HQ in Salford.
If practicalities do not allow for Mr Savile to be exhumed the Guardian has another solution as to how our rage at Savile’s memory might be assuaged.
“One restitution might involve Savile’s fortune: why should his heirs enjoy the money that is surely due in compensation to his victims?”
That’s hardly a radical suggestion, although the vast bulk of Savile’s estate was left to charity and much of it has already been “enjoyed” by solicitors.
So The Guardian has another suggestion:
“Some kind of public ceremony of what used to be called commination, a ritual expression of public condemnation and disgust.”
Traditionally a commination is an Anglican ceremony. One can’t really improve upon the Book of Common Prayer for an explanation:
“In the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.”
A curse is called down upon notorious sinners, most famously, though not terribly appositely in Savil’s case, “cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark.” Paedophiles don’t get a specific mention, though I suppose they are included amongst:
“… the unmerciful, fornicators, and adulterers, covetous persons, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and extortioners.”
But The Guardian has missed the point of a commination, the idea of which is not to cast dead sinners into Hell but to save them from that fate:
“For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool. Turn ye (saith the Lord) from all your wickedness, and your sin shall not be your destruction.”
Once a sinner is dead it is
“too late to knock, when the door shall be shut; and too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of justice. O terrible voice of most just judgement, which shall be pronounced upon them, when it shall be said unto them, Go, ye cursed, into the fire everlasting, which is prepared for the devil and his angels.”
The Guardian, of course, doesn’t trust God to deal with sin. Perhaps it thinks He is in the pay of Big Oil. Its secular commination is for the dead Savile: it consists of the “destruction of his memorials;” and, as it approvingly observes, Savile’s gravestone was smashed.
So there we have it.
A national newspaper compares the unproven crimes of Jimmy Savile with the genocide of Pol Pot. The same, respectable, opinion-forming newspaper appears to call for his corpse to be dug up and mutilated, and expresses satisfaction that his grave has been desecrated.
Who could call that hysterical?
Virtually none of today’s complainants reported Savile’s behaviour whilst he was alive. The reasons given, repeated again and again in the various inquiry reports, is that they thought no-one would believe them, or they thought they would “get into trouble” or that the climate of the times was such that no-one would believe anything ill about a popular superstar.
How times have changed. Nowadays, in the eyes of the Guardian, to express any doubt that the smokey-smelling DJ was a villain comparable to Pol Pot has become a modern blasphemy.
I wonder whether the Guardian appreciates the irony. Somehow I don’t think that it does.