Jimmy Savile allegations: Esther Rantzen’s response defies belief
How could Esther Rantzen, the founder of ChildLine, possibly ignore ‘green room gossip’ about Jimmy Savile’s alleged abuse of young girls, asks Katy Brand, in her first Paper Tiger weekly column.
I don’t know what to make of Esther Rantzen this week. In anticipation of Exposure, the documentary about Jimmy Savile’s alleged abuse of young girls which ITV aired on Wednesday, the ChildLine founder started popping up all over the place to give her hand-wringing take on the revelations.
She also appeared at the end of the programme itself to say she was now convinced that Jimmy had indeed abused children and how appalling it all was. The talk of a BBC cover-up grew louder and more insistent as it emerged that the editor of Newsnight had vetoed an earlier report into the allegations, and this, along with the fact that Savile was using BBC property to continue his dubious and possibly illegal behaviour whilst bosses turned a blind eye, has made things very uncomfortable for those individuals who were considered his colleagues at the time of the abuse – individuals such as Esther Rantzen, for example.
Rantzen has admitted that she heard the rumours at the time, referring to it as ‘green room gossip’, the implication being that it was classier to ignore it. If I have learnt anything from my time working in TV, it is that ‘green room gossip’ is almost always true. The very best source of information on a show is the make-up artists, who see people at their very worst, and make them look their very best. They see everything and hear everything, and many a rumour has started in the make-up chair and not stopped until it has reached you sitting at your kitchen table, eating a boiled egg and reading all about it in the paper.
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If you are a seasoned TV presenter, you know that green room chat is the most reliable source of information in the whole world, and so I cannot entirely sit back and say ‘oh well, Esther, how could you possibly have known for sure?’ But still, it’s Esther Rantzen, and one should have a little respect.
It wasn’t until I watched a Sky news interview with ‘Dame That’s Life’ that I started getting really angry with her. Looking uncomfortable, she was clearly choosing her words carefully as the reporter asked her the obvious questions: ‘What did you know? When did you know it? Couldn’t you have said something? You started ChildLine for goodness sake, why didn’t you do something?’ (I am paraphrasing a little here, but only a little).
Esther’s replies left my jaw on the floor. She started by saying that until now it had ‘only been one single child’s word against the word of a television icon’, implying that this meant it was impossible to verify. She went on to say that now it was ‘five adult women’ who had come forward it was easier, and here was the part that started to make my blood boil, that they were ‘cool, credible, sensible women’, who through their lack of emotion were ‘convincing’ to Esther, and so she had started to believe there was some truth to it all. Really? Really, Esther? So, for you to believe allegations of child abuse, it can’t only be ‘one single child’ saying it? And the victims have to be ‘cool, credible and sensible’ in order to be ‘convincing’? And there has to be more than one, and they must never have met one another? Really? Isn’t that kind of attitude exactly what you have been campaigning against all your professional life?
The reporter then asked her why she hadn’t raised the rumours with anyone at the BBC. Esther’s response was that it ‘wasn’t relevant to anything I was working on at the time’. What, like ChildLine? She then said she was ‘only a guest’ on Savile’s show, effectively suggesting that child abuse was somebody else’s department. Exactly whose department we’ll never know, as the department of the person who was setting up ChildLine seemed to consider it ‘irrelevant’.
Jimmy Savile was once even blessed by the Pope
Watching Savile’s ex-colleagues squirm around in the aftermath of all this is deeply unpleasant, and it just shows how difficult it can be to stand up to someone so powerful. People, including Esther, keep referring to the fact that Savile had even been blessed by the Pope, and if the Pope can’t tell someone’s a paedophile, then how could they possibly be expected to know? The irony of this defence is almost more than I can stand – yeah, let’s put all the paedos in front of the Pope and let him decide how bad they are – GREAT IDEA. They say it takes a village to raise a child; perhaps it also takes a media village to abuse one. As Esther said, ‘we all contributed’. Damn right.
At the time I was busy writing a letter to Jim asking him to fix it for me to meet Michael Jackson, so I can hardly claim to have been a great judge of character myself.
Paper Tiger is a weekly blog by Katy Brand for The Telegraph’s Wonder Women, in which she takes a sideways look at one person making the headlines over the last seven days.