Saturday, October 13, 2012

Whom they were watching

MAKING frequent visits to Broadmoor and Chequers, entertainer Jimmy Savile met deluded and dangerous creatures whom most of us would shun. (TOP) Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliff was just one. AND BELOW Jim 'll Fix It for Tory Boy to become Foreign Secretary. 

NOW the investigation is into who fixed things for Jim. 

REVELATIONS continue about the predatory sexual activities of the late Jimmy Savile, about the rumours and reports that were ignored or even supressed by people in authority, so that Savile could use his status as popular entertainer and charity worker as cover for alleged abuse of children and vulnerable patients.

Leaving aside their own role in not following up the stories about Savile which supposedly "everyone" knew, the newspapers, such renowned respecters of privacy, are falling on the BBC, roping in other suspects(all dead of course), and blaming "the Permissive 'Sixties"  (which so many of us missed), but that's the Mail  of course yearning back to authoritarian 1930s.

The NHS too has come under fire.

But while some have shown us pictures of Savile shaking hands with Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliff, in Broadmoor hospital, others have reminded us of his more frequent handshakes with Margaret Thatcher, and the times he was guest at Chequers. Underlining Savile's adoption by the Establishment, we learn that the government appointed him head of a task force to manage Broadmoor after the psychiatric hospital's management board was dismissed. 

Getting back to the BBC however, was it really that "permissive" back in those days, and did it really fail to check the background and extra-mural interests of employees?

Quite the opposite. Jimmy Savile must have been safe - or considered "safe" - because he was not considered "political".  Got on quite well with the Establishment in fact. Others had different experiences.

Michael Rosen is a well-known broadcaster and poet, who has been Children's Laureate,  has strong views on education and literacy, and frequently gets invited to visit schools. So far as I am aware there are no untoward rumours or allegations about him. But Mike has not always had an easy career path.

His first step into broadcasting came as a Graduate Trainee at the Beeb. A bright young lad with left-wing parents, Rosen made no secret of his own left-wing views. In 1972 he was sacked, told that no department in the BBC had a place for him.  "We think it would be better if you went freelance.’ In fact, at least two departments, Arts Features and Further Education, wanted to employ him but were prevented from doing so because there was a ‘security problem'. According to John Laird, who was in charge of Graduate Trainees, ‘I was called by the chairman of one board who said: "You’ll be glad to know we’ve appointed Rosen." Then he called again, embarrassed, and said it had been “blocked".'

 Michael Rosen obviously made it back to the microphones eventually. But it took some time and determination.

Film and TV director Roland Joffe received an Academy Award nomination for "The Killing Fields", and top prize at the 1986 Cannes film festival for "The Mission".In the spring of 1977 he was commissioned by the BBC to direct The Spongers, a new play by Jim Allen about the failures of the welfare state. Producer Tony Garnett informed the BBC’s Drama Department that he wanted to hire Joffe as the director. But there was an unusually long delay in confirming his appointment. Eventually Garnett was summoned by Shaun Sutton, Head of Drama, to his fifth-floor office at the Television Centre, Wood Lane.

Sutton looked distinctly uncomfortable. ‘There is a problem with Joffe’s contract,’ he said. 'He hasn’t got BH (Broadcasting House) clearance.' Astonished, Garnett asked why. Sutton refused to give a reason except to mutter: 'It was the man in the mac in Broadcasting House.'

The attempt to blacklist Joffe had nothing to do with the BBC’s Drama Department. It had come from the Personnel Office at Broadcasting House on the advice of MI5. .What might have seemed like random decisions affecting this or that individual were part of a system.that had been in place since 1937.

"All BBC employees had a personnel file which included their basic personal details and work record. But there was also a second file. This included ‘security information' collected by Special Branch and MI5, who have always kept political surveillance on ‘subversives in the media’. If a staff member was shortlisted for a job this second file was handed to the department head, who had to sign for it. The file was a buff folder with a round red sticker, stamped with the legend SECRET and a symbol which looked like a Christmas tree. On the basis of information in this file, the Personnel Office recommended whether the person in question should be given the job or not. A former senior BBC executive recalls seeing one journalist’s security file, stamped with a Christmas tree symbol: 'For about twelve years it had recorded notes such as "has subscription to Daily Worker” or “our friends say he associates with communists and CND activists." It is fair to say that there were contemporary memos from personnel officials adding they thought this was ridiculous. But it was still on file.‘

The names of outside job applicants were submitted directly to C Branch of M5. They were then passed on to the F Branch ‘domestic subversion', whose F7 section looks at political ‘extremists', MP’s, lawyers, teachers and journalists. After consulting the registry of files, the names were fed into MI5’s computer, which contains the identities of about a million ‘subversives'.

Once MI5 had vetted an applicant their decision was given in writing to the BBC’s Personnel Office. MI5 never gave reasons for their recommendations. But, quite often, if they said a person was a ‘security risk', that was enough to blacklist him or her permanently. Members of board interviews were advised not to ask questions. And it was only when an executive or editor put pressure on the Personnel Department that MI5's decision was overruled.

 Extract from: Blacklist The Inside Story of Political Vetting, by Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Hogarth Press, LONDON, Published 1988 ISBN 0 7012 0811 2

When the information about MI5 vetting at the BBC became public in 1985, the Corporation tried to make out it had only affected a small number of staff, and been related to "sensitive" matters and security issues. Alasdair Milne, then Director-General, said: 'It may sometimes look foolish, but it is another source of information when you are trying to work out whether people are up to certain jobs; Clearly we are involved, a number of us, in very sensitive areas of material and the process of establishing that people can handle that sort of material is important, even in a democratic society.'“

In fact, the blacklist and vetting applied widely, and to departments and programes that have little to do with "sensitive" material.  Of course sometimes one can see reasons, though they are not usually given. There were "problems" raised about employing  a guy called Jeff Perks. Well he had been a member of the Communist Party. And while at the National Film School he had made a film with Mike Rosen about the Shrewsbury building pickets. Tory MPs did not like it. They still don't like things coming out about the Shrewsbury pickets. 

Yvette Vanson, known for her films about Steven Lawrence and about the miners in the Battle of Orgreave, was blacklisted when she first went for a job at the BBC because she had been in the Workers Revolutionary Party. Newsreader Anna Forde faced obstacles at the Beeb because she had a boyfriend who had been in the Young Communist League.

A young journalist who was given a three-month contract as a Researcher for Nationwide, the now defunct daily magazine programme, in February 1982 reported a rape by a Saudi Arabian army officer being concealed by Manchester police because of diplomatic pressure.

A few days after the item was broadcast he received a memo from his editor congratulating him on ‘an excellent story' and a fine start to his career at the BBC. But a week before his contract expired, he received a letter from the Personnel Department informing him that it would not be renewed. His editor, who had planned to retain him, protested to Personnel, who eventually conceded there were ‘security reasons’. The journalist had been a student activist at Manchester University, and then, briefly, a member of the small Maoist group, Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
(Blacklist, Hollingsworth and Norton Taylor)

Maybe if the BBC and its security advisers had devoted less time and effort to vetting left-wing job applicants and members of staff, they could have done something useful, like taking some of their more Establishment and Tory-inclined stars to the vets.

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At 11:16 AM, Blogger ejh said...

Ford not Forde.

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the allegations are true, then I can't believe that Saville managed to get away with it for so long. I've just seen the video at and it's horrendous. If this video is genuine, then it is a real shame that nobody ever spoke out while Savile was alive. It just shows the power and influence he must have had.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger keith said...

There was a similar system in the civil service, although limited to more sensitive jobs and from experience was a bit hit and miss.

So it may be a question of what the spooks were looking for. As long as JS was a royalist and Tory then there was no problem.

And it may even be a case that they knew about his sexual abuse but thought it was quite a useful thing to use against him if ever he went awol such as anti-Tory. That sort of condoning comes up with reference to rumours about other people.


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