It is very easy to be righteously disgusted by his behaviour, and feel ashamed that we didn't take notice of his victims, however, the death of Jimmy Saville two years ago and the revelations which followed, still leave many unanswered questions about our relationship to fame, and particularly how men react to such power.
The job of disc jockey didn't exist before the late 1940s. Unlike being an engineer, or a teacher, this was a completely new career with no history or context. There were no older men who had done the job for years, able to show the new generation the pitfalls or the pleasures of such employment. There were no apprenticeship schemes, or induction programmes. As with most new emerging career paths, the early DJs often worked for nothing, they did the work because they loved the music, and they felt part of a movement of young and progressive people. Jimmy Saville typified this, having been conscripted to work in the coal mines in the 1940's, he subsequently pursued a career as a DJ, he was one of the first to use two turntables and a microphone at the venues he frequented.
These men were pioneers, at the cutting edge of a new world, and many of them were totally unprepared for the success and fame which suddenly accompanied their employment. As radio transformed the sheer volume of listeners and participants in music, two types of DJ emerged. Those committed to the music, John Peel could be one of these, and those who wanted to transcend the music and become famous themselves. More often than not the early DJ's would start out from a love of music, but quickly fell into the second category.
Without precedent, safeguards, security, chaperoning, many of these DJ's, not wanting to return to their poorly paid and hard working roots, quite literally grabbed what they could get. They desperately clung onto their positions at Radio One and other prestigious radio stations for a lot longer than most of us thought possible. 'Smashy and Nicey' summed this situation up so perfectly.
Most of these men were like fish out of water right from the start of their careers, you can see it in their startled eyes and wide mouths on the early episodes of 'Top of the Pops'. They accessed unprecedented 'power' for which they were totally unprepared.
If we're being kind to them, they were immature, naïve, uncomfortable with this new found fame. Being unkind, but possibly more realistic, some became manipulative, aggressive, self-seeking narcissists. Surrounded by sycophants, they were almost constantly with women fans, admirers and well-wishers. For many of these men the task of maintaining themselves in such a rarefied atmosphere became their raison d'etre. Whilst doing so they availed themselves of what was being offered.
How many of us can say, hand on heart, as young men given such good fortune we would not have started to take advantage? And what may start as taking advantage; VIP status, exclusive parties, 'free' gifts, trips, holidays, can easily turn into exploitation; affairs, drugs, manipulation of assistants, temper tantrums, and worse.
Fame and fortune led these men to a world beyond their expectations, and I get the impression for many of them their reputation and image outstripped their actual prowess and ability. Typically, these were normal blokes who happened to 'be in the right place at the right time'. The musicians at least were receiving acclaimed because of the quality and talent involved in the recordings they produced. The DJ's were the equivalent of today's reality TV celebrities, not particularly talented, consequently, even more desperate to hold onto any perceived status and ready to fight for such acclaim.
Saville is an extreme case. He extended well beyond the bounds of taking advantage. He stepped far outside the moral limits of our collective sensibilities a long time ago. But when we see where he came from, it is possible to see how his progression could have felt logical to him. The present evidence leads us to believe he was a loner, he had no one to bring him into order or admonish him. By being alone and yet 'getting away with it', he lost all vestiges of self control, and turned instead to manipulation and exploitation.
The roots of such a vile personality lie in the history of being a DJ. They also lie in the selfish and sensationalist culture we have created, they lie in our addiction to fame and fortune. He reflects our present lack of self esteem, as manifest in our distorted need for acclaim and adoration. Saville reminds us of our lack of moral values or convictions, without which exploitation and manipulation occur. He leaves us with some very unpleasant and hard to digest questions.
Why do so many men who reach such positions of power fall into abuse?
Is this inevitable?
Would women do the same?
Why did we ignore his victims for so long?
Was it the fame of Saville which distracted and delayed our response?
What is it about our culture that makes so many of us desperately seek fame and fortune?
How vacuous are our lives to behave so selfishly and spitefully in order to maintain any advantage we have?
Who are we to judge anyone else's behaviour before we have really closely and honestly examined our own?