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Jimmy Savile abuse scandal stuns Britain: a who's who primer

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Jimmy Savile, seen here in 1973, was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to charity and entertainment and received a papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II.

For decades, Jimmy Savile was one of the biggest personalities on Britain’s airwaves. 

With his trademark fat cigar and garish tracksuits, he was the larger-than-life character who combined popular appeal, eccentricity and a reputation for charity work.

For 40 years, he dominated the British Broadcasting Corporation’s programming both on radio and TV.  He was the original host of BBC TV’s iconic music show “Top of the Pops,” which aired from 1964 until 2006, and his family-oriented primetime show “Jim'll Fix It” was a regular ratings-topper for the network.

Savile also championed a host of good causes and was often pictured on sponsored runs. His efforts raised millions and helped establish a national spinal injuries center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, one of the largest specialist spinal units in the world.  He worked as a volunteer porter at a number of hospitals, including Leeds General Infirmary in his home city, and the high-security psychiatric facility at Broadmoor Hospital, southwest of London. 

'A steep fall' for BBC as child sex abuse scandal rocks the UK

He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990 for services to charity and entertainment, and in the same year received a papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II.

But soon after his death in October 2011, just two days before his 85th birthday, allegations emerged that Savile had used his notoriety and good works to fuel his life as a pedophile.

He was accused of using his fame to coerce teens into having sex with him in his car, his camper and even his BBC dressing rooms.

More coverage of the Jimmy Savile scandal from NBC News' British partner ITV News 

It was also alleged he chose to work for charities caring for troubled youths to enable him to prey on those already in a vulnerable position -- and whose credibility would be questioned if they ever accused him of sexual abuse.

In some of the most disturbing accusations, Savile was described abusing young people in their hospital beds

For 20 years, Jimmy Savile's children's show was a highlight of Saturday night family TV on the BBC. But now, British police say 300 people have come forward with claims that Savile abused them during his 60-year broadcasting career. NBC's Annabel Roberts reports.

As the revelations unfolded, it emerged that rumors and allegations of Savile’s predatory lifestyle had first surfaced years before.  

Police said an allegation was made in 2003 dating back to the 1970s of his "inappropriate touching" but the information had been treated as "intelligence" rather than the basis for a prosecution, because the accuser did not want to take legal action.

A number of investigations are now taking place into how Savile could, in the words of police, "have hidden in plain sight" for so long.

Carole Wells

In 1973, Carole Wells was a 14-year-old student of Duncroft Approved School for Girls (a special facility for young people, much like a reform school) on the outskirts of London.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, she said Savile would regularly visit Duncroft, offering girls candy, clothes, tickets to BBC shows and to take them for a ride in his car.

Wells described to the newspaper how on one such excursion, Savile sexually abused her, fondling her and saying 'I can tell you are a virgin.’

When she reported the incident to school authorities, she said she was told: "Don't be stupid. Don't say things like that."

Wells is one of the few victims to waive anonymity, and she was involved in the original "Newsnight" investigation. 


The broadcaster found itself at the heart of the Savile scandal on two specific charges. Firstly, that it was not sufficiently rigorous in investigating rumors of his abuse when they first circulated around the corporation decades ago. Secondly, that a news item into allegations of Savile’s behavior, which was being prepared by its "Newsnight" TV program in November 2011, had been axed without good cause -- possibly because it compromised a tribute to Savile the network had planned for its Christmas schedule.

The BBC announced two independent inquiries in the immediate wake of the allegations. One, the Pollard Review, would look into the circumstances surrounding the "Newsnight" item. The other, chaired by a former judge Dame Janet Smith, would review "the culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked at the BBC."

The BBC is overseen by the BBC Trust but operational management is governed by a separate body, the Executive Board, led by the Director-General.

Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

George Entwistle, the BBC's director-general, speaks to reporters on Oct. 23.

George Entwistle

The current BBC director-general, Entwistle appeared before a committee of parliamentarians on October 23, where he was quizzed over what he knew – and when – about the decision to pull the "Newsnight" segment.

His performance was roundly condemned by the British press and committee members commented on his "extraordinary lack of curiosity." 

At the hearing, Entwistle revealed further allegations of harassment at the BBC had been made.  In a statement, the BBC said that nine former and current BBC staff and contributors, including Jimmy Savile, had been named by alleged victims.

Peter Rippon

On October 22 it was announced Rippon, the editor of BBC "Newsnight," had "stepped aside" from his duties after errors were identified in his account of why the Savile item had been shelved. In his blog Rippon had written, “We had no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations. We had no evidence against the BBC.”

In a correction published October 22 the BBC said neither assertion was correct.

Gonzalo Fuentes

Mark Thompson was director-general of the BBC from 2004 until September.

Mark Thompson

The former BBC director-general and incoming CEO of The New York Times received robust support from the newspaper’s chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who said he was satisfied that Thompson had no role in the decision to scrap the BBC "Newsnight" item.

Thompson, who was director-general from 2004 until September, told Britain's Times newspaper he had “formed the impression” in December 2011 that "Newsnight" was investigating allegations of sex abuse against Savile.

According to The New York Times, Thompson said he didn't know about the investigative segment until after it was canceled and had no role in canceling it.

Operation Yewtree

By October 25, 2012, Scotland Yard’s criminal inquiry into the Savile scandal had heard from 300 alleged victims. Detectives had interviewed 130 people; all but two of those claiming to have been abused had been female.

The officer in charge, Cmdr. Peter Spindler, acknowledged his team of detectives had been stunned by the volume of abuse allegations.

Spindler said the allegations they had received divided into three categories: “There's Savile on his own...there's Savile and others. Then there is a third category which is 'others,'" Spindler said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.