The Reckoning: What You Need To Know About The BBC's Jimmy Savile Docu-Drama

Steve Coogan appears as Savile in the four-part series about one of the world’s most prolific sex offenders.

The Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal is arguably one of the most prolific and shameful in British history.

Savile, who had previously been considered a revered broadcaster and philanthropist, was found after his death to have sexually abused more than 100 victims, including children, over the course of his career.

These claims and testimonies only came to light after Savile died in 2011, with questions about how he was able to get away with his crimes still being asked today.

On Monday, the BBC’s new true crime drama based on the scandal, titled The Reckoning, will begin airing. The show was first announced in 2020, and was met with a decidedly mixed reception, including from some who criticised the decision to air the show on the BBC, where Savile was employed for many years of his life.

In the lead-up to The Reckoning, here’s what we know about the new drama.

What is BBC One’s The Reckoning about?

The show – which begins on Monday 9 October – is billed as a true crime television drama detailing the life of, and offences committed by, Jimmy Savile.

A synopsis for the first episode reads: “In the early 60s, Jimmy Savile became famous as a DJ in the dance halls of Leeds and Manchester. He ran sell-out dances for young people – but was also able to exploit this position.”

The drama promises to “explore the appalling impact of his crimes and the difficulties faced by those who tried to raise the alarm,” and how Savile’s “unprecedented political access” allowed him to “hide in plain sight and silence the victims of his crimes.”

The Reckoning,09-10-2023,1,Jimmy Saville (STEVE COOGAN),ITV Studios,Matt Squire
The Reckoning,09-10-2023,1,Jimmy Saville (STEVE COOGAN),ITV Studios,Matt Squire
BBC/ITV Studios/Matt Squire

Is The Reckoning a documentary?

While The Reckoning is primarily a crime drama, it’s based on real events, and also features interviews with Savile’s actual victims.

These interviews, with victims named Darien, Sam, Susan and Kevin, were “the most crucial element of research,” according to writer Neil McKay.

In a BBC press release, these survivors all spoke about why being part of the series was so important to them.

“I don’t think this is a subject that should ever be stopped being talked about,” Sam was quoted as saying, while Susan added that she “just wanted somebody to listen.”

On his involvement in the show, Kevin stated: “My feeling is that if I can help one person who’s been through something similar by sharing my story, then I’ll do it… I can’t change the past but I can help to shape the future, even if just in a small way. If I can help someone then that’s good enough for me.”

Who appears in The Reckoning?

Aside from interviews with the four victims, Steve Coogan appears as Savile.

Coogan has previously said that taking on the role of Savile was not a decision he “took lightly”, and has since told the BBC that the inclusion of the survivors’ real-life testimonies was a pivotal factor that encouraged him to take part.

“The involvement of survivors was part of that original conversation I had about becoming involved myself,” he explained.

“Neil had already spoken to many of them and we knew some were going to be included on screen to give their accounts and to literally give them a voice…. It’s crucial that when making a drama like this you walk side-by-side with the people whose experiences you are depicting.”

Also among the cast are Gemma Jones as Agnes Kelly (Savile’s mother), Robert Emms as Ray Teret (a convicted paedophile with whom Savile had a close relationship) and Michael Jibson as Bill Cotton (a television producer and radio exec).

The cast also includes Mark Lewis Jones, Siobhan Finneran and Neil Pearson.

Charles Hullighan (MARK LEWIS JONES), Beryl Hullighan (SIOBHAN FINNERAN) and Jimmy Savile (STEVE COOGAN)
Charles Hullighan (MARK LEWIS JONES), Beryl Hullighan (SIOBHAN FINNERAN) and Jimmy Savile (STEVE COOGAN)
BBC/ITV Studios/Matt Squire

Who made The Reckoning?

The Reckoning was written and produced by McKay and Jeff Pope, and was informed by interviews with survivors of Savile’s abuse.

Writer McKay said that he wanted to highlight the Savile case as a “warning from history”.

“Savile was a sexual predator and a con man. He conned his way through our society to the very top,” McKay said.

“Often people who have been exposed for committing multiple, heinous crimes were invisible to society when they were committing them, but Savile couldn’t have been more visible. He did these terrible things as one of the most famous men in the country.”

For his part, Pope added that the “exhaustive process” of making the programme involved speaking to institutions with which Savile was “synonymous” – including the BBC, Broadmoor, Stoke Mandeville Hospital and Leeds General Infirmary.

McKay and Pope have worked together before on various projects such as the films Philomena and Stan & Ollie, both of which co-starred Coogan.

Savile pictured in 2010
Savile pictured in 2010
Max Mumby/Indigo via Getty Images

What have reactions been to The Reckoning?

When the series was first announced by the BBC, the news was met with scepticism from various critics.

Pragya Agarwal for The Independent wrote: “[It] feels insidiously callous and thoughtless that an organisation that played a role in glorifying a sex offender and profiting from him [the BBC], while covering up his actions for many decades, are once again capitalising on his “brand” and the fascination that viewers have with monsters and true crime.”

Similarly, Richard Morrison of The Times wrote that the BBC’s commission of the series felt “less an act of contrition than of exploitation.”

However, victims of Savile involved in the doc have voiced their support for the programme, despite some initial reservations.

“This being a BBC drama about the BBC – I thought it could be a bit of a cover up, so I was initially a bit sceptical,” Kevin said, before continuing.

“After I’d spoken to the team that was the one deciding factor, that although it’s being aired on the BBC, it’s not a BBC programme in that sense.”

Susan added that the programme is “no holds barred” and criticises both the BBC and the police “which is all in my opinion very good”.

“From my point of view it’s drawn a line,” she said.

When is The Reckoning available to watch?

The Reckoning begins on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from Monday 9 October. The four-part series will air on BBC One at 9pm on Monday and Tuesday night for two weeks, with all episodes on BBC iPlayer from Monday 9 October.

Help and support:

  • Rape Crisis services for women and girls who have been raped or have experienced sexual violence - 0808 802 9999
  • Survivors UK offers support for men and boys - 0203 598 3898

This article has been updated to correct a factual error.


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