Amateur Scribe

(The Original)

The Whitewash of White City

Not a great day for those of us with a, shall we say, relaxed attitude to excellence in the workplace…


First comes the news that six Italian scientists have been jailed for manslaughter after failing to predict the devastating L’Aquila earthquake in 2009.


Leaving aside the frankly terrifying ramifications that one could potentially get banged up for six years just by ballsing up at work, the notion that ACTUAL INDIVIDUAL HUMAN-BEINGS can be called to account for science’s frailty in the fearsome, sadistic face of nature is a troubling one indeed. I confess I have not closely researched the full findings of the court so it is not for me to speculate, but I can only guess they must have done something pretty irresponsible – like spilling Chianti on the weather maps or missing a vital blip on a seismograph because they were too busy playing air hockey in the break-out area and bitching about Paola from Finance by the water cooler.




Closer to home, the big workplace negligence story was, of course, the quite extraordinary edition of Panorama yesterday evening (22nd Oct, BBC1).


I am still wavering on whether this programme was a stroke of genius designed to hoodwink the licence-payer into believing that the only thing amiss at Auntie during this whole Jimmy Savile fiasco was a spot of common-or-garden news agenda manipulation, or whether it was a typically tepid mea culpa on the dastardly dealings of BBC bigwigs in the White City corridors of power.  




Either way, it was a neat way of sidestepping the massive, silver-haired, jewellery-jangling elephant in the room… EG. “Oops, we appear to have been celebrating, harbouring and bank-rolling a GIANT PAEDO within our cosy walls for nigh-on half a century... Sorry about that.”


It was also a classic hatchet job on the hapless Peter Rippon – erstwhile editor of Newsnight – who now finds himself “stood down” for metaphorically monkeying with the BBC’s own delicate moral seismograph in the weeks after the DJ’s death at the end of last year.


Poor Peter. Drowning in a sea of whitewash. The scape-iest of scape-goats.


Much of Panorama was given over to wading through the boggy editorial quagmire of investigative reporting, and the conclusion was that the Beeb rather spectacularly dropped the ball when Rippon decided to shelve a report on Savile’s victims – ostensibly on the grounds that it might make Shane Richie look like a bit of a plank as he made himself comfy in the Jim’ll Fix It chair during a syrupy tribute show that was slated to air during the same week. (Hope they sprayed that bad boy liberally with Haze before you snuggled in, Shane…)


What Panorama and Newsnight have both failed to realise is that – admirable as a little soul-searching self-analysis might be – the BBC can never truly be objective whilst they are popping on the crown of thorns and flagellating themselves in front of their tutting public paymasters. After all, there is something of a stonking paradox in crucifying the editor of Newsnight and then sticking it on the telly in an attempt to win viewers for… well, the BBC.

I’m not sure if I was the only person baying at the television at this point? Can we at least get some feedback from the dudes who commissioned the tribute show? Did they REALLY know NOTHING? Had they not learned the goss during a quick chat with those nice Newsnight people over a stodgy stroganoff in the staff canteen?? Apparently not. Or Panorama did not think to ask. It was too busy sticking the knife in to Peter Rippon.


Perhaps there is a big audience for this kind of stern, journalistic moralising. Maybe I am missing something. But I’m afraid I couldn’t give two hoots about the Newsnight angle. And I feel desperately sorry for Rippon, who sensibly decided he didn’t want to contribute to a Panorama programme that had recruited a number of his disgruntled underlings, all of whom were slightly sniffy that the boss had canned their story. He was rewarded by persistent stills of him looking a bit shifty while sections of his perfectly reasonable staff emails and blogs were read out in a booming, sanctimonious voice as if he was some absurd cackling evil genius in Castle Doom quaffing virgins’ blood and overseeing the earth’s destruction.


I also don’t really care if Rippon WAS just a puppet, and the evil geniuses tweaking his strings were George Entwistle and Helen Boaden and the other execs encouraging him to bury the pesky Savile piece under the mountains of wrapping paper in that annoying Christmas ident the Beeb were running at the time.


No. I’m sorry, but NONE of that is the story here.


The story, lest we forget, is that a REAL evil genius managed to run amok around TV Centre and Stoke Mandeville, and Broadmoor and Duncroft School for Troubled Girls for forty years and more. A strange, waxen-faced, leering beast with party hands and the fixed boggle-eyed stare of a career sex offender. I’m afraid there is no escaping it now. The only question the BBC should be addressing in their estimable current affairs output is how they could turn a blind eye to Jimmy Savile’s flagrant rampaging the whole sorry time.


In Panorama the scant exploration of THAT issue was eerie in its lack of fortitude and finger-pointing. Various doddery, wet-eyed old producers and colleagues were wheeled out to recall how they thought it was a bit rum that some chap in a tracksuit seemed awfully keen on locking up underage girls in his campervan. But of course, they never said anything because, you know, “it was the Seventies…”


Paul Gambaccini, the ubiquitous documentary gurner – talking head for hire – felt sad that the senior executives rattling round the “fourth floor” at the time were all guilty of looking the other way so as not to enrage their lampshade-coiffed, cigar-chomping cash cow. “We couldn’t say anything,” he bleated. “We were just junior producers…” Well you want to have a look at your career progression plan, Paul old son. Get yourself some seniority. 63 years of age and thirty-five years of presenting your own shows – you would have thought that somebody might have eventually listened to your accusations…


He is not the only one. The BBC – and indeed many other organisations – appeared to be utterly devoid of meaningful whistle-blowers while Savile was alive.


They’re all talking now. Oh yes. Hindsight – 20:20 and all that.





bbc television centre Panorama logo

As such, the Panorama programme was obviously watered-down a smidge. One wonders what it would have done had it found a damning paper trail that weaved its way through the whole BBC Executive Board and ended up on the desk of the Director-General with a ribbon on it saying “kill that bloody story right now – we’ve just spent the entire Doctor Who budget persuading Shane Richie to sit in the kiddie-fiddler’s chair and say ‘’Ow’s about that then?’ in a dodgy Leeds accent.”


Predictably they didn’t find any such trail. There was no smoking gun. Newsnight’s investigation into Savile died before it reached the cutting room floor – murdered by the evil Rippon – and the rest of the Beeb (D-G included) tucked into their Christmas dinner all warm and fuzzy and blissfully unaware that the recently-deceased Sir James was anything other than a loveable oddball with a penchant for marathon-running and philanthropy.

clunk click

It’s difficult to watch the archive footage of Clunk-Click without raising an eyebrow though, isn’t it? It’s actually quite difficult to watch the archive footage of Clunk-Click full stop. But quite how the producers of that little gem managed to miss the warning signs of Glitter and Savile casually shooting the breeze in front of a carefully-selected studio audience, I’ll never know. I would wager that particular clip was conspicuous in its absence from the Richie tribute last Christmas…  I suppose the old producers would argue that back then it was perfectly natural to have two colossal perves in shiny jump-suits splayed out on some beanbags with a phalanx of young girls draped around them with frozen eyes like startled bunnies. A screen-full of tube socks and innocence.

And now the hands start wringing. But I guess it is easy to have a pop at a dead weirdo with a campervan and a convicted felon who is probably right now laying low in a Vietnamese hut wishing that television had never been invented.


Anyway. You nearly got us, Panorama. That was some David Blaine shit you pulled there – fair play to you.


Here is a penetrating piece of investigative navel-gazing that you actually had the balls to air – albeit one that was predominantly about another penetrating piece of investigative navel-gazing that you DIDN’T have the balls to air last year. So let’s call that one-all.


At the end of it all though, came the predictable caveats and bet-hedging: “Panorama has no evidence to suggest the Newsnight piece was pulled for anything other than editorial reasons”. “Panorama has uncovered no wrongdoing by any senior executive…”


In other words, the conclusion of this hard-hitting piece of television was that the only people to blame for the whole farrago – for forty years of abuse and hundreds of alleged offences by a man in the Beeb’s sole employ – were the dead man in the shiny tracksuit and good old Garry Glitter.


Oh, and one ex-BBC current affairs editor who was merely guilty of doing his job.






23rd October 2012


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