This was a BBC Two documentary by Louis Theroux with a difference. Never before have we seen him revisit one of his earlier programmes. First aired fifteen years ago, he looked back at the documentary he did with the now late Jimmy Savile, entitled ‘When Louis Met Jimmy’. Jimmy Savile was of course this huge radio and television star back in the 70s and 80s, also famous for doing lots of charitable fundraising. It is three years ago since his vast number of sexual offences were finally uncovered. In this programme Louis wanted to try and understand how he had got away with his crimes for so long.
As well as looking back at the old documentary footage, Louis now sought to gain a further insight into Savile by talking to some of his former victims and people that knew him. Louis sympathetically prodded them like only he could, i.e. brilliantly respectful but never shirking away from asking a difficult question or two when needed. Nevertheless, Louis appeared vulnerable like we have never seen him before because he too had been duped by Savile. This was a moving, disturbing and totally engrossing watch throughout.
Detailing how Savile was this vile man due to his disgusting criminal behaviour was shocking, but at the same time it added nothing new to the topic. I also found myself already knowing most of what victim Kat Ward said to Louis because I had already seen her in a previous ITV1 documentary about Savile. The other people featured were new to me however. Their interviews and shocking accounts underpinned the whole structure of this documentary.
One disgusting anecdote about Savile that I had never heard of before came from a lady called Susan in Leeds. Susan detailed how in the early 70s she had been a student studying to be an optician. Savile had requested that ”her with the big knockers and short skirt”, delivered his glasses to his terraced house. As Susan went to put the spectacles on his head, she recalled how he groped her breasts and dropped his trousers to reveal his ”wrinkly pink willy”. Only recently we were told has Susan now realised that this was indeed a sexual assault by Savile.
A more shocking and sicking account came from victim Cherie Wheatcroft. In1973, she had been an inpatient at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital due to giving birth as a teenager. She told us how Savile had come through a window of her hospital ward. He then sexually assaulted her and repeatedly mocked her with his tongue, e.g. “you’ve been a naughty girl”.
The most moving and disturbing bit evidence came near the end from a lady called Sam. She revealed how Savile had sexually abused her when she was aged just eleven and whilst she was attending church. Her job was to pass the collection plate around and it whilst she was getting it and putting it back in a room did the abuse then take place. It was really heartrending stuff to listen too. An example of this was when she distressingly stated, “I never said don’t because I knew he could”.
Sam’s interview also needs further applauding because she made a broader significant point about sexual abuse, the abuse she had suffered from the age of two from her Granddad. She commented how people have trouble understanding how she can still have fond memories of her late Granddad. In a highly emotional state, she told us how this was her way of coping with what had happened because, “you can’t have a whole childhood of horrible stuff, so I take the good bits out cos it’s easier to do that”. Louis was at his supportive best here. He conveyed immense empathy to Sam and stated to her how people who do evil things are still capable of doing good things, but this did not mean that they were good people.
In light now of all the damning evidence that has come out against Savile, it was truly astonishing to listen to a few people try and defend him. Janet Cope was his former PA and had worked extremely closely with him for almost thirty years. Janet stated to Louis, “Jim is now lying in an unmarked grave on a hill in Yorkshire and he’s not recognised anymore as the good, good person that he was”. She added that she did not believe the allegations made against him. Louis once again here displayed his marvelous courteous style, asking Janet if she was able to be objective about Jimmy due to having known him for so long?
Another defender of Savile’s was a lady called Sylvia Nicol, she had once worked at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital as a medical secretary. Sylvia explained how she had done many fundraising events with him and ”only saw the good in him”. She remembered him rather fondly as she stated that there would not have been that new spinal centre if it had not been for Jimmy Savile.
Hearing these two ladies defend Savile made for uncomfortable viewing but the documentary needs praising for this. It was important to show that there are people out there who think like this.
A striking feature of this documentary was how Louis for the first time, was quizzed and critiqued by the people who he interviewed. He asked for their feedback on the first programme he had done with Jimmy Savile fifteen years ago. For example, Kat Ward said how she thought he had been “hoodwinked” by Saville. Cherie Wheatcroft thought Louis had been ”gullible” and that Jimmy had been ”manipulative”.
Louis throughout displayed an inner turmoil of guilt which was another first for one of his shows. He told every interviewee how he struggled with the fact that he had failed to undercover the truth about Savile. He told Sam, ”and then I feel ashamed, knowing what we know now”. Another admission was when he told Kat, ”after he died I really had to erm, take a step back and examine my own conscience a little bit, to think about well what did I miss and what more could I have done”. It was interesting to see Louis contemplate his past experiences with Savile so much, because it gave him a vulnerability on camera that we have never seen like this before.
At the start of the programme Louis said that he wanted to try and understand how Savile had got away with his crimes. This was achieved because the same things kept coming up in the interviews. Savile’s charity work, his celebrity status and him being very well connected with the most powerful in society were all possible explanations given. Louis spoke of Savile having this aura of ”invulnerability” about him. My only slight criticism here is that Louis should have criticised the BBC more for the role they played in all of this, i.e. the damning findings in the Dame Janet Smith report.
This documentary was an uncomfortable watch, but at the same time it was also a brilliant watch. Louis Theroux and his documentaries remain one of the best things on TV! 4/5.