Celebrity betrayal and a revived frenzy.
As a sprog, one of my favourite, if not absolute favourite TV programmes was Rolf's Cartoon Time, later Rolf's Cartoon Club after he shifted to ITV. I even joined the club, as there was one attached to the show (really?), and could well still have somewhere the paraphernalia sent every so many months. In truth Harris wasn't a great artist, and while I detest the snobbery that greeted his commission to paint the Queen, there were obviously dozens, hundreds, thousands of others far more deserving of being given the publicity of doing so. Rolf's amateurishness was however part of the point: just as with Neil Buchanan and Tony Hart to name but two other presenters, their enthusiasm was meant to inspire kids to be creative themselves, to nurture the belief they could think out and do something as impressive (at least to a child) as one of Art Attack's on a grand scale collages.
Reading the latest outburst of being wise after the guilty verdict comment, just as there would have been an outburst of why was he even prosecuted comment had he been found innocent, it's hard not to agree with Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times and be thoroughly dispirited at the uniform reaction. Rolf Harris didn't betray me, as so many others are convinced he did them just by existing and not admitting he was in private a different, sad and extremely flawed man. The only people he betrayed are those whom put personal trust in him and those whose innocence he stole. As an adult he's never meant anything to me; all I have is those childhood memories of a much simpler time. I bear him no ill, and feel sorry for him, just as I also feel desperately sorry for his victims. Rather than the sentence being too lenient, I thought it too harsh, lack of guilt or regret notwithstanding. Some of the reporting on his supposed child porn stash has also been extremely dubious, with it being most likely he sought out images of young looking but over the age of 18 women.
As Lawson wrote, there really doesn't seem to be any room for grey when it comes to celebrities in this hellish second decade of the 2000s. They are either at the very peak of their powers or in crisis; they are either globe trotting behemoths or once again piling on the pounds; they are either heroes, or they are villains. We, or at least most seem to find it intolerable for anything of someone convicted of offences against children to continue to exist, or at least be consumed in public. It's not just lobbing plaques down the memory hole or the refusal to host sales of artwork, it's the rubbing out of a person's existence in substitute for not being able to do so literally. Everyone else's brand must be protected.
You can also forget about rehabilitation: look at Chris Langham, acquitted on charges of sexual assault but found guilty of possession of child pornography. A great comic actor bedevilled by alcoholism and himself abused as a child, he's barely worked since (he appears alongside Leslie Grantham in The Factory, Grantham's conviction for murder not having affected his career as much as his later "sex scandal" did). A fitting punishment? Only with death is there the opportunity for release: those stations that had rarely if ever played Michael Jackson's music after his trials suddenly found it was again permissible to fill the airwaves with his oeuvre. Once gone from our midst we can start to put things in context, despising Wagner's rabid anti-Semitism while adoring his operas, concerned about Lewis Carroll's fascination with young girls while still enthralled by his Alice.
Nor do we learn anything from past events. Was it only 18 months ago we had the McAlpine fiasco, Philip Schofield brandishing a list of names dug up via Google at David Cameron, demanding they be investigated? Can it only be last February when Operation Yewtree was being criticised after the initial prosecutions had all failed? Now with some of the press in full cry we have Theresa May announcing a Hillsborough-type inquiry into the potential covering up of child abuse across almost every sector, whether it be government, churches, or broadcasters. This has been principally sparked by the sudden rediscovery of how Geoffrey Dickens, a Conservative MP, had presented the then home secretary Leon Brittan with a "dossier" on child abuse by establishment figures, which may or may not be connected with the investigation into the Elm Guest House, a brothel frequented by among others, Cyril Smith.
That 114 papers connected with Dickens' dossier have either gone missing or been destroyed simply has to mean this is a cover-up, or will be seen as such. So insists Simon Danczuk, billed by some as having "exposed" Cyril Smith, ignoring the Rochdale Alternative Paper and Private Eye, just as they were ignored when they printed the original allegations against Smith. It couldn't possibly be the whole thing was mostly if not entirely bollocks, Dickens being perhaps the original rent-a-gob MP, mates with Mary Whitehouse, hitting one target and then never able to repeat the trick. Towards the end of the 80s, along with a distinct minority of social workers, Dickens was convinced children were being ritually and Satanically abused, that great witch-hunt where witches really were sought and none discovered, families broken apart in an attempt to prove one of the great recent myths and panics.
If there is a case for an over-arching inquiry, it's to put all the allegations that have surfaced or resurfaced since Jimmy Savile's abuse came to light to both the test and to get them out in the open. One aspect barely covered has been what the security services were up to or knew about the likes of Savile, apparently unconcerned as they were at his forming relationships with the royals and Margaret Thatcher. Were they too taken in, or not bothered by his predilections? Did they perhaps have some sort of involvement with Cyril Smith, as has been hinted at, hence why he wasn't brought down after RAP and Private Eye first printed the claims about him? While suggestions of a massive cover-up aren't completely unbelievable, especially when you consider what the likes of say Tom Driberg got away with through having friends in high places, it does stretch credulity to the limit. It seems all too similar to the wild conspiracy theories that have floated around the internet for years; moreover, if the likes of Private Eye had thought there was something to Dickens' dossier, they certainly would have ran with it. Before Newsnight took Steve Messham at his word over Lord McAlpine, the magazine was also burned by his understandable failures of memory.
Such an inquiry must not though be a place for allegations to be looked at but not seriously investigated, then reported as being proof of the depravity of those accused. As Anna Raccoon has been painstakingly pointing out (I must stress I wonder about her motives and think the number of allegations against Savile means he definitely was an abuser, albeit not on the scale as has been suggested) by actually reading the NHS report into Savile's access to the estate, not a lot of them stand up to scrutiny. Faded memories are one thing, giving credence to dubious in the extreme claims something else entirely. The appointment of the head of the NSPCC to lead a separate inquiry into last year's government search for files, an organisation that has made some of the most hyperbolic claims about Savile, therefore raises concerns. It all smacks of the government acting because there have been days of tabloid front pages rather than because it truly believes there's something in the claims. Also helpful is the main inquiry's report will be published in the next parliament rather than this one.
There's another subtext here. Focusing on the establishment, the politicians, the BBC, it all shifts the glare away from the rest of the media. The conviction of Harris at almost the exact same time as that of Andy Coulson and the rest of the phone hacking gang helped superbly in distracting attention from the former tabloid editor, while few have wondered just why it is our supposedly free press never managed to catch any of these abusers, focusing instead on the small timers. The silence on Max Clifford was understandable, as they were so hand in glove with one another; on Harris it's more difficult to think why it is nothing was found out before now. Harris wasn't influential, and didn't court those in high places to the extent of a Savile. He also admitted to suffering from depression, failing to be there for his daughter, to having a darker side. Nothing came of it.
Watching the "debate" on Newsnight just now, I felt like throwing myself out the window, the sound and fury adding to the impression pitchforks are being sharpened over something that failed to get attention three decades ago for the reason there wasn't anything there to begin with.
And what did become of us? A borrowed intellect and a stolen pose.