Friday, 21 October 2016

National Treasure


This was a very brave production by Channel 4. Irritated by them for poaching and therewith effectively shutting down Bake-Off, this drama starring Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters just about put us back on speaking terms. The storyline was compelling, and the performances stunning.

It wasn't an easy watch. But what I admired most about it was its complexity. There was much more to the characters and the plot than met the eye.  Celebrity Paul Finchley arrested for alleged sexual crimes from decades before. An Operation Yewtree style sting, and yet it wasn't clear-cut. You couldn't guess what the truth was. For everybody has their light and dark sides.

A wife sticking by her partner through endless philandering. A very messed up daughter, in and out of rehab. An on-screen partnership that had also stood the test of time. But who really knew what happened? What tricks can memory play over the years?

Once one accusation was in the press there followed many more. Who was genuine? Who was merely trying to sell a story? Could this jovial quiz show host really be that evil?

In the end, Finchley got away with it. The truth was that on at least one count, he shouldn't have. "How do you tell if sex is consensual?" asked the prosecutor. "You just know," said Finchley. Only it seems he didn't. Lives were ruined, while elsewhere, opportunities were sought.  The champagne bottles were uncorked at a celebratory party but Finchley ended up wandering around his house, lost. He had shed tears in the courtroom, but had escaped punishment by the law. But now he was alone. In the end, the long-suffering wife had finally had enough.

Louis Theroux recently broadcast a follow-up documentary to one he made in 2000 about Jimmy Savile. The follow-up largely consisted of a melancholy Louis wandering around visiting Savile's victims, wringing his hands and saying things like, "How could I have let him be my friend?" "How could I not have noticed that this man was the biggest paedophile in the world?" In retrospect, of course, it's almost screamingly obvious what Savile was. But when he was alive, he was a closed book, and devious beyond anyone's belief. At various times, the man openly admitted on camera to a rampant sexuality. But somehow his half confessions were disguised and dismissed. Of course what he never told us was that he was pitting himself against children, and against the will of others.

What it boils down to is the same as with Paul Finchley - if someone is in the public eye, you have an automatic assumption that they can't be a criminal. You somehow believe that they must be inherently good. That someone else has done the vetting for you. Else they couldn't have got that famous. Else they wouldn't be allowed to work with children. Else they wouldn't raise all that money for charity. Because they're your hero.

Sadly, this is not how the world works. People in the public eye have to be scrutinised, because some - perhaps lots - have abused their power and fame, and the worship and adoration of others.  There is so much more safeguarding of children in place now than there was in the 1970s, but somehow it's still not the right people getting punished.

Apparently, Jimmy Savile gave me a cuddle when I was a baby. My father only told me this after Savile had died and his crimes come to light. It's a thought that I would have been awestruck by as a child, addicted to my weekly fix of Jim'll Fix It. It would have been a great consolation to my letters never getting answered. It naturally fills me with disgust now. Apparently, this (minor) incident took place at a Christmas party at the Leeds General Infirmary, where my grandfather was a consultant, and where Savile worked as a hospital porter, raising a lot of money for the hospital. The ward Matron held a sherry party every year on Christmas Day for staff who were working - my grandfather was always one of them - and their families. I have no idea who invited Jimmy Savile to the gathering - was it my grandfather? Matron herself? Or was Savile just wandering round the hospital on a whim, as we now know was his predatory style, thinking it might be a quiet day to abuse the sick? The latter is too appalling for words. Anyway, as oblivious as everybody else as to what Savile was up to or capable of, my parents gaily handed me over for a bounce on his knee. No harm done. Savile also went to my grandparents' house on at least one occasion, a fund-raising meeting with my grandfather, but thankfully all the daughters of the house, some of them still teenagers at the time, weren't home. The girls were merely excited to find a cigar stub in an ashtray when they returned. Again - and thank heavens - no harm done. But.... but... had we known...

For hundreds of others, it was a very different story. Unlike Paul Finchley, Savile will never face trial for what he did. There will be no justice of any kind. It's a sick world.

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