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How Did Jimmy Savile Get Away With It?

Posted: 14/01/2013 00:00

There are many different possible reasons why British celebrity Jimmy Savile was never caught over his half-century long sexual predator rampage. One was his psychopathic-like super-sense of being able to sniff-out the most psychologically vulnerable who would either not tell or not be believed.

Second was wealth - at least one complainant was warned off pursuing it by the police because Savile's expensive lawyers would have made mincemeat of her. A third was money - Savile was a stellar fundraiser and the managers of the organisations which he infiltrated may have been dazzled by the financial benefits he could bring to their worthy institutions.

A fourth may have been status: here we have an associate of the highest echelons of British society - this halo likely acted like a protective force-field around him, not because of any collusion by any of the elite necessarily, but simply because of his repeated association with their own super-status.

A fifth is celebrity - meaning a star is ultra-valuable to the media, and is part of a celebrity-worshipping, copy-selling and advertising-valuable industry: this suggests that any journalist threatening to tarnish such a celebrity 'brand' with bad news will have to be a very brave man or woman indeed.

There is another, sixth, possible factor, however, which the American social psychologist Edwin Hollander called "idiosyncrasy credit".

We all belong to various groups - families, workplace, nation etc, and the price of being accepted in the group is that you have to conform with what the group expects of you. If you deviate from its values - for instance by spying for a foreign country in the case of the national group, or by committing incest in the family - then you risk expulsion.

But the more you conform and meet the expectations of the group, the more you build up 'credit' with the group, Hollander showed, and if you come to exemplify its values, then that credit expands even more.

Jimmy Savile secured a place in his nation's heart by embodying many features beloved of British culture - charitable work, quirky sense of humour, apparent lack of materialism, even-tempered bonomie, deference to royalty and, above all, eccentricity.

He achieved this almost saint-like status in many ways, for instance by volunteering as a hospital porter and by spending time in Broadmoor, a high security hospital for highly dangerous, mentally ill patients. He was even given a bedroom at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, with its famous spinal injuries unit and many sick and disable adolescents and children.

He even, reputedly, acted as a sort of marriage counselor to Prince Charles and Diana's ailing marriage in the the late 1980s. Because he appeared to be a super-exemplar of many of the values which the British national group valued, he built up an enormous store of credit with his fellow-Britons.

And as you bank all this credit with your group, so you can start drawing on its - in Savile's case at least, huge - reserves. Hollander called such withdrawals "idiosyncrasy credit", which are essentially free passes to deviate from the group expectations without being expelled from it.

Such withdrawals do deplete your banked credit, but if you are a credit billionaire, as Savile was in British eyes, then you can make an awful lot of idiosyncrasy credit withdrawals before it shows up on your balance sheet.

Savile raised eyebrows at Prince Charles' home in St James Palace, London, on one of his many visits there, by running his lips up the bare arms of young women secretaries in the prince's offices. His straying hands - and much worse - were almost always brushed off in his many different hunting grounds as 'Oh, that's just Jimmy", if not by the victim, then by the people the victim told. This indulgence was purchased by his vast reserves of idiosyncrasy credit.

Savile may or may not have been a psychopath, though it is hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone who could sexually molest a dying child in a hospice was not. But Savile was also a man with enormous power based on money, celebrity and status - and enormous power can corrupt. Unconstrained power can make psychopaths of some people, but whether Savile's was lifelong or acquired, no-one will ever know.

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