Skip to main content

Jimmy Savile

Crime Files
Jimmy Savile
Image: Left: pierre da / Alamy Stock Photo | Right: Crime + Investigation

'He’s not what you think you know' Savile on Savile

James Wilson Vincent Savile was born in Leeds on 31 October 1926, the youngest of seven children into a Roman Catholic family. This ‘Spartan emotional regimen’ prefigured his lifelong inability to form intimate relationships with anyone:

Later in life, Savile would rarely mention his father. But his mother was first, last and always, ‘The Duchess’.

Savile left school at 14. When the Second World War started he hoped to join the RAF. Instead he was conscripted to work in the coal mines. But the ‘pit-boy’ was badly injured in an explosion and was told he’d never walk again. But the injury forced a fortuitous career change.


In 1948, he became an entertainer. Savile started running several nightclubs in the North of England. He later claimed to have organised Britain’s first disco and also to have been the first DJ with two turntables – which meant there were no breaks between records. Both claims are disputed.

But such relentless self promotion was all part of his new persona. And he also projected an image of someone who shouldn’t be crossed. Dennis Lemmon - Savile’s unofficial minder when he worked at the Locarno nightclub in Leeds in the late 1950s - remembered the impact that Savile quickly had:

'When Jimmy Savile first came to Leeds no one knew him. And after a month everybody in Leeds knew him or had heard of him because of the outlandish things that he used to do. The way he dressed, the way he did his hair for instance...just to get himself noticed...He tried to give himself this reputation as a tough guy and a wrestler (but) I think he was as soft as anything.'Dennis Lemmon, Former nightclub employee

Top Image: Jimmy Savile photograph by Jmb at English Wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)

The Aftermath

'It was good while it was lasted.'

Savile’s headstone

In November 2012, and after just 54 days in the job, the BBC lost its Director General, George Entwistle because of another failed Newsnight investigation and because of the continuing fallout from the Savile scandal.The BBC spent over £5m on three inquiries to work out what had gone so wrong for so long. The Pollard Review looked into the ‘seriously flawed’ reasons for the dropping of the Newsnight investigation into Savile.It concluded of BBC management that leadership was ‘in short supply.’

'I think it’s helped alert the British public to the scale of child abuse not just involving celebrities but involving other corrupters, destroyers of young lives. I think that it probably means that the prosecuting authorities and the police now take complaints or evidence of abuse far more seriously.' Paul Connew, Former Editor, ‘Sunday Mirror’

In 2014, after the NHS report into how Savile used his celebrity status to ‘exploit and abuse’ people within the health system, the then Health Secretary apologised to victims saying Savile’s actions;

'...will shake our country to the core.'

By that point, there were over 500 reports of Savile abuse.The report that covered 28 hospitals including Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, finally started to account for the scale of Savile’s actions. It found nine victims had told members of staff. It could not categorically confirm or deny allegations of necrophilia but the Doctor that led the inquiry said controls on access to the mortuary was ‘lax’The report released that June revealed that Savile had made jewellery out of glass eyes taken from dead bodies in a hospital mortuary.

‘Now Then, Now Then’

Savile catchphrase

The elaborate headstone that marked Savile’s final resting place in the North Yorkshire cemetery where he was buried was torn down. Most sources believe that he was indeed modern Britain’s most prolific paedophile. He now lies in an unmarked grave.

The Investigation

Finally the truth

'Abusers often are most credible and charming people that you could meet. They’re often very hard working. They often hold positions within authority, within society of some standing...He had friends in the very highest echelons of society .”Peter Saunders Chief Executive, National Association for People Abused in Childhood


From the NHS to the BBC, Savile was able to use institutions to secure him victims. His membership of Mensa – the high IQ society – showed his intelligence. And he used his natural cunning to manipulate and influence everyone around him with either promises of rewards - or retribution.When a psychiatric nurse at Broadmoor reported patients’ allegations of abuse, police and senior medical staff dismissed her concerns. Instead she was reprimanded and her job threatened.In 1994 two former pupils of Duncroft approached the Sunday Mirror newspaper. The women alleged abuse. But however desperate they were to expose his hypocrisy, the cost, not least emotional, of the inevitable libel trial was too much. They did not proceed:

'The second woman...said, and I’ll never forget this because I think it reflects the theme that we now know was common around Savile’s victims, she said "Who’s going to believe me?" An ex approved school girl against Jimmy Savile, with all his fame, all his money and being a houseguest of Margaret Thatcher at Number Ten and Chequers.’

Paul Connew, Former Editor, ‘Sunday Mirror

For those not directly within his sphere of influence, he played on what damage might be done to his charity work. Savile threatened the tabloids and other investigators that any expose would mean they were responsible for ending his charitable fundraising.

In 2009 allegations of abuse again at Duncroft School finally forced the Police into action.Savile was interviewed under caution at his office at Stoke Mandeville hospital:

'When the police are investigating somebody about a serious crime...the suspect would generally surely always be taken to a police station where they would be interviewed under caution. So that made it unusual immediately and again probably emphasised that the person in control of that interview was Jimmy Savile. It was not the police.'Peter Saunders, Chief Executive, National Association for People Abused in Childhood'... the transcript of his interview with Surrey Police...The tone of the interview is one of almost, ‘I’m sorry I’ve got to ask you this again but we’ve had these allegations made to us’, which is not really a very confident way of putting an allegation to get a structured response.'

Tony Butler, Former Chief Constable, Gloucestershire Police.

During the interview Savile intimates that it will be the officers who will find themselves in court facing an expensive defamation case if they weren’t very, very careful.

Due to a lack of evidence, Savile was not pursued. Savile lived for 84 years and never once faced justice. But even in death, it seemed the true Savile story could not be told:

'In mid-December 2011 I got a call from a BBC contact of mine who told me that there were various people working at the BBC who were unhappy about the fact that a Newsnight investigation into Savile had been axed in what were described to me as mysterious circumstances. So I did some digging over a period of about a week and I discovered that indeed there had been a BBC Newsnight investigation into Savile and it had been axed. It was made clear to me that several witnesses, middle aged women, had come forward and some of them had spoken on the record about abuse that they had suffered at the hands of Savile on BBC premises. So I put this to the BBC press office about three or four days before Christmas 2011. It took them twenty-four hours but they did confirm that they had conducted this investigation. They told me it had been dropped for editorial reasons. I therefore had confirmation that the investigation had taken place, I knew what its contents were and I tried to sell that story to seven national newspapers over the next two weeks.'

Miles Goslett, Journalist.

But despite now having the evidence, none of the newspapers would touch the story so Goslett tried another route:

'...there was one person who not only might have had some knowledge of Savile as an individual but who was sure to run the story because he has a reputation as a mischief maker...Richard Ingrams, the Editor of The Oldie magazine; he’d previously edited Private Eye for about twenty-five years. I rang Richard Ingrams and within thirty seconds he said that he wanted to take the story and he did indeed publish the allegations in full in the February 2012 issue of The Oldie.

The Oldie article was the first occasion when any of the allegations against Savile were published in full.”On 3 October 2012, ITV broadcast ‘Exposure – The Other Side of Jimmy Savile.’The next day, every newspaper carried the story.And that same day, the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Yewtree. Over 450 people have come forward alleging Savile abused them. Most were under eighteen when he abused them.For these victims there is some modicum of justice. In October 2012, an independent review was undertaken of the culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked there. Over 50 health and education institutions were also put under investigation over their links with Savile.

The Crimes

The unbelievable horrific truth

It’s believed that Savile started abusing in 1955.

For the next fifty years, Savile sexually assaulted and raped children and teenagers and even the elderly – of both sexes – with little fear of exposure. As revealed in the NHS investigations published in June 2014, his youngest victim was five: His eldest was seventy five.

'Anything that moved seemed to be a potential victim for Savile.' Peter Saunders Chief Executive,National Association for People Abused in Childhood

NHS investigations found he was even suspected of interfering with corpses.Those closest to him soon became aware of Savile’s sexual side. When his unofficial minder in the 1950s, Dennis Lemmon, asked a colleague why Savile was in a bad mood, he was told it was because of a court case to do with ‘messing about with girls’. When he later asked how the case had ended, Dennis was told it had ended like the last one: 'He paid them off.'

Savile, by paying off the accuser’s family, had escaped justice. 'What’s amazing is how brazen he was, how public he was even then...he’s just an individual who probably felt that he was fairly untouchable.' Miles Goslett, JournalistHis early escapes from public censure encouraged Savile to believe he was untouchable.

After that, nowhere was safe. Savile abused victims in his dressing rooms, his caravan and later his Rolls Royce. Nowhere was sacrosanct.  

In 1962, he started sexually assaulting patients in Leeds Infirmary. A 10-year-old boy was sexually assaulted on a trolley while he waited for an x-ray on his broken arm. Many were abused in their beds as they recovered from surgery. One girl, ‘Jane’ was first brought sweets and a magazine by Savile. He then stuck his tongue in her mouth as he touched her. When she told nurses, they laughed. In 1968, Guy Marsden, Savile’s 15-year-old nephew, travelled from Leeds to London with three friends. They were looking for adventure. At London’s Euston Station, they were approached by two men. They invited them to their flat. And when later Savile arrived, Guy thought his family had tracked him down. But he later found out from the police, that his his uncle was simply supplying and plying his paedophile ways in a network of children: 

'...most decent people find it incomprehensible that these sort of organisations...exist, but no less incomprehensible than why would anybody abuse a child. The fact that people come together to do it seems in a way somewhat more scary - because very often we’re talking about people...from the upper echelons of society.' Peter Saunders Chief Executive National Association for People Abused in Childhood’

Guy believes that the fact he survived these ‘parties’ unscathed was only because of his familial connection to Savile. For unlike many paedophiles, Savile didn’t need to abuse those in his family network. He had many, many opportunities elsewhere.


According to the NSCPCC, when Savile was at the height of his fame, during the 1970s, so was his offending.

'...he hid his darkness in the light' Paul Connew, Former Editor, ‘Sunday Mirror’

Savile’s career at the BBC gave him more and easier access to the young. When his behaviour caused concern, the few who thought of whistle-blowing were informally told not to risk the career of such a star presenter, or their own, by pursuing the matter.The BBC shows, ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ and ‘Top of the Pops’ brought a revolving door of fresh teenage and often unchaperoned girls to Savile. And if Savile wanted to spend longer with his victims, that could be arranged too. 

Fading Star

A Life of uninterrupted success

SIR JIMMY SAVILEIn 1990, after years of being put forward by Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, Savile was given his knighthood. That year, the Vatican also gave him the honour of Knight Commander of St Gregory the Great.But by the end of the 1990s, Savile’s showbiz star was slipping. By the time the documentary maker Louis Theroux came to film him, Savile was no more than a nostalgic curiosity. In 2000, Theroux was allowed into the flat where Savile’s mother had lived. Even 27 years after she’d died, it was obvious he was still much attached to her. Savile also revealed strange habits such as only travelling with one pair of underpants which he’d wash in the sink every night.This documentary and the persistent but never published rumours meant that in his twilight years, the view held by many of the fading star shifted from odd to creepy. The fact that he said he didn’t own a computer to stop anybody thinking he was downloading child pornography did little to reassure. In 2009 he received an honorary degree in the arts from the University of Bedfordshire for his lifelong support of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.At the age of 84, in October 2011, Savile succumbed to pneumonia and diedHe was buried in a gold coffin.

At 2pm, on 9 November 2011 a funeral cortege moved slowly through the city of Leeds. The streets were lined with mourners:“He were absolutely worshipped by thousands and thousands of people.  You couldn’t move in Leeds when it was his funeral. The seats were packed solid, you know, the traffic was stopped, everything stopped.Dennis Lemmon, Former nightclub employeeBecause of the money Savile had raised through charity for the hospital, the flags at the Leeds General Infirmary were flown at half-mast.But Savile had hinted during his life that he was no saint and that he had fully expected to end his career an outcast and a pariah.But only in death would the allegations against Savile be revealed.

The Fame Years


Over a decade of DJing secured Savile work at the BBC.  One of his first jobs was presenting on a topical radio discussion programme called ‘Speakeasy’. And in 1964 he became the first presenter on what would turn out to be the world’s longest-running television music show – ‘Top of the Pops’.His success gave him power within the BBC;

“...within the BBC, the whole organisation was at his beck and call. He had a huge amount of power, he certainly knew it, and constantly built it around him. With everything in life, he used it to get his own advantage”David Hardwick, Radio show contributor

But despite the fame and the money, Savile was never seen out with a girlfriend. If he was asked to a film premiere, he’d take his mother, ‘The Duchess.’When his mother died in 1973, Savile spent five days with her dead body.He later called it the happiest time of his life.

JIM’LL FIX ITIn 1975 Savile began presenting the show that would make him a national treasure – ‘Jim’ll Fix It’. Each Saturday millions tuned in to see children send in their dreams to see which lucky one would come true. The format was phenomenally successful – the show’s ratings sometimes beat Coronation Street with over fifteen million watching it at its peak. It ran for two decades as production staff opened up to five thousand letters a day.

But then the children’s presenter made a bizarre admission – he didn’t much like his audience;

“I think all children should be eaten at birth.  That’s for sure.”Jimmy Savile

“He did not like children at all. He tolerated them, but that’s about as far as it went.”Janet Cope, Savile’s Former P.A.’

But this supposed private aversion to children was camouflage, intended to kill rumours of his real practices. And indeed, Jimmy’s very image – so odd and so eccentric – was his greatest asset, attracting attention but deflecting speculation. How could such a preposterous and prominent person be a pervert?

The platinum-haired, tracksuit-wearing Savile sported ostentatious jewellery, a cigar, and yodelled in between his catch phrases. His eccentric image – evolved over decades – meant he was soon everywhere on radio and TV:

“I can’t think of any media celebrity today who is more famous than he was then.”Dave Hardwick Radio show contributor’

In 1977 his TV show lead to his first meeting with the future prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher:

“He was pretty much ingrained in the nation’s consciousness.”Miles Goslett, Journalist

AUTOGRAPHS FOR KISSESBut it was his charity work that catapulted him above the rest of his fellow celebrities.It is estimated that the man who after his mining accident was told he’d never walk again, ran over 200 marathons, and that during his lifetime, he raised £40 million for charity. Savile particularly focused on the world famous Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injury Centre and the Leeds General Infirmary. The public reason given for his personal attention was because of the spinal injury he’d received as a young man and the time he’d spent in hospital.And in recognition of his tireless work, he was given a bedroom at Stoke Mandeville. Savile would have many places to lay his hat, Broadmoor would give also give him a room, but he never called anywhere home. He once said that he never slept anywhere two nights in a row.

But there were also innumerable instances of what seemed genuine compassion.Dennis Lemmon, his former minder, remembered how Savile spoke to his son, Russell, who was dying of leukaemia after Savile recognised the boy’s surname on a hospital ward visit:

"... He went in and chatted for half an hour and our Russell thought the world of him. Jimmy hadn't seen me for 20 years but he remembered the name. That's his good side."

Another person related how when he found out her mother was in hospital, Savile rang the nurses knowing that his call and connection would ensure the mother was well looked after.

But the charity work was – like his supposed dislike of children – perhaps also camouflage. And like his presenting work, his charity work gave him access to the vulnerable.

NATIONAL PUPPETMASTERAnd it also gave him access to the powerful. During the 1980s he even became friendly with Prince Charles.

And it was Savile’s connections to everyone from princes to prime ministers that helped make him untouchable:

“He had friends in the very highest echelons of society...nobody messed with Jimmy Savile because he had connections that were unique... It was like he was the puppet master of controlling everything that was going on.”Peter Saunders, Chief Executive, National Association for People Abused in Childhood

In 1988, after years of voluntary work, Savile was appointed by the Department of Health as the head of a taskforce overseeing Broadmoor psychiatric hospital. Savile told people it was all part of his quest to be given a knighthood. Savile was literally given the keys to the institution and even a house on the site.When female patients were stripped for showering – a practice common in the late 1980s – he would make inappropriate comments.There were rumours that something was wrong with Savile. But the idea that the famous and loveable children’s presenter, the generous and tireless charity worker, the feted friend of the establishment and seemingly everyone, could be a paedophile was preposterous.And Savile was useful to those in power.

When the staff unions at Broadmoor threatened an overtime ban, Savile told the government that he would sort it in his own way. During the 1980s, the Conservative government was very appreciative of anyone who could control the unions and within a month of Savile being at the helm, the overtime ban was called off.Savile soon had influence over the hiring and firing of staff.And so he was given more and more access to more and more places.


In the 1970’s Savile also secured regular visits to Duncroft school in Surrey – a residential school that housed young girls sent there by the courts:

“Savile...worked on the principle that the mixture of his fame and the fact that he treated them to things like trips to the BBC, or trips out in his Rolls Royce that this was, if you like, a thrill that they wouldn’t get from their normal lives - in effect in an institution. So I think he gambled on that that would at the time would actually guarantee their silence.”Paul Connew, Former Editor, ‘Sunday Mirror’