Anne Diamond on the dangers of celebrity witch hunts
PUBLISHED: 14:34 28 June 2013 | UPDATED: 14:34 28 June 2013
Is it right that the sickening actions of Jimmy Savile have sparked a witch hunt among other television celebrities of that era who may well be entirely innocent?
There isn’t a dressing room, studio or Green Room I’ve visited in the past few weeks where the chat hasn’t been dominated by “Who’s next?”. It’s the talk of the town in the entertainment world, the depressing witch hunt that’s seen the likes of Rolf Harris, Jimmy Tarbuck, Dave Lee Travis and others arrested, and their names dragged through the mire of front page headlines.
Are we dealing with misjudged slap and tickle with a ‘groupie’ in a dressing room 30 years ago or a more sinister crime? Are we talking about an annoying penchant for fumbling and groping (almost an accepted form of behaviour in a bygone age) or the cynical sexual exploitation of young girls and boys? And what exactly is a youngster when it comes to showbusiness? I’ve seen many young ‘ladies’ dressed to kill, hovering outside stage doors, keen to force themselves on actors and pop stars. One leading barrister has suggested we as a society ‘get real’, put a time limit on bringing such cases and lower the age of consent to 13, in order to avoid this spectacle of old men being hounded for low level misdemeanours they may, or may not, have committed many moons ago.
It’s a terribly uncomfortable subject, isn’t it? On a strange level afforded by the intimate nature of TV and radio, these men have been our friends. Some are neighbours, living around us in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. For years they’ve been regulars on our TVs. They’ve raised thousands for charities, and often earned Royal gongs. And here we are, being invited to forget all of that, in the light of exactly what? I feel so torn. I’ve been lucky enough to have met many of these people, and in a few cases, been to their homes, had tea with their families. Am I suddenly to spurn them? Are you?
After the Jimmy Savile revelations, and the Stuart Hall admissions, we must not fall into the trap of thinking there’s no smoke without fire, and if one TV legend is guilty, then so are all. I am certainly no apologist for Savile, it makes me sick just to think of what he did, but it also makes me queasy that there can never be a trial, he cannot try to defend himself, and we now write him off as one of the worst paedophiles in history. Maybe he was. But are we also to despise the man who raised millions for charity? Stuart Hall, too, received a gong for charity work. Do we now dismiss the good he did? We cling to the tenet ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but if your famous face is plastered all over the papers, you’re already slaughtered. If you are guilty of something very bad, then you deserve it. But what if you are innocent? Or guilty of something no more serious than lecherous groping that, in a different time, could have been shrugged off? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying such behaviour was ever right, it did happen, and many young women learned how to dodge the creeps. To report their actions now, in an age when it’s called ‘sexual harrassment’ or ‘abuse’, you have to ask… is it really fair? This drawn out witch hunt (for that is what it feels like) is becoming an ever more uncomfortable spectacle.
If there are real and serious charges to be made, then let’s hear them, and move on, with those who deserve punishment getting that. Trial by media, muttering and pub gossip is unjust.
I guess I cling to the hope, as you well may, that some of our heroes are still just that, and that human nature isn’t as totally wicked as the newspapers often convey.