A few days ago, I mischievously suggested via Twitter and my Facebook page that in light of the revelations about Jimmy Savile, people might care to read the weekly Sounds columns written by John Peel. Little did I realise at the time but a few days later that vile, hypocritical, right wing newspaper The Daily Mail would also use Peel’s columns as part of the evidence to print a story linking Savile to Peel and imply that Peel too was suspected of paedophilia. Before The Daily Mail printed this, I had men of a certain age, including my father, write to me warning me off tarnishing the reputation of John Peel, patron saint of alternative music. Following the Mail’s story, a couple of people wrote to me accusing me of working for The Daily Mail. It is of course true that The Mail is noted for employing socialist, feminist, bi-sexual Arabs and I have been invited to take over Melanie Phillips’ column next week where I shall argue that the male hegemony at the heart of the BBC in the 1970s was benevolent and not a breeding ground for rapists and paedophiles.
It was whilst rooting through back copies of music papers in my father’s apartment that I came across the aforementioned columns written by Peel. I was taken aback that the person I had seen on TV as avuncular and well meaning was also capable of writing such sexist and leering nonsense, fantasies about under-age schoolgirls and what he’d like to do to them. And then I was reminded of Peel himself suffering sexual abuse and rape at his boys’ boarding school and how victims frequently become perpetrators; of how at the age of 26 he had married a 15 year old in America and how he boasted of the teenage groupies he had acquired as a well-known local DJ: “All they wanted me to do was to abuse them sexually which, of course, I was only too happy to do.” Indeed the sheriff and law officials of San Bernadino accused him of drug use and and of having sex with under-age girls. As a direct result of these allegations, Peel returned to the UK.
I am bemused by the silence surrounding Savile until now. Every English person I know seemed aware that there was a malevolent darkness within him. In 1987, Jerry Sadowitz said aloud on his record Gobshite what no-one else dared. And there are even worse rumours that have trailed him over the years (if I was a morgue attendant at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, I’d be looking over my shoulder now). I cannot seriously believe that the BBC, as conventional an old boys’ club as they come, were unaware of these rumours when the rest of the population knew. Just like the majority of the population, they closed their eyes and hoped it would go away.
Life isn’t as black and white as some people would like. These are morally ambiguous times. For example, I have it on good authority that a very well known and liked TV chef regularly visits Indonesia and Thailand to indulge his other passion for under aged boys. Does that stop me buying his cookery books or watching him on TV? No. Should it? No. Because he fucks under aged boys, I probably won’t be inviting him to babysit any time soon but he excels as a writer and broadcaster. Do I stop reading William Burroughs because of a similar penchant? No, of course not. Do we ignore the philosophy of Socrates because of his enjoyment of young boys? Should we try to write Gary Glitter out of pop history? Will we ever again see Jimmy Saville introduce old editions of Top of the Pops? Incidentally, I haven’t seen much of Jonathon King on those shows recently (and if you want to investigate the moral complexities around that case I suggest you read the Observer journalist Lynn Barber).
Time is the context. In my father’s attic, I also found copies of the left wing, London listings magazine, City Limits. In the classified ads at the back, there was regularly one for PIE, or Paedophile Information Exchange – child abusers seemed more than happy to call themselves paedophiles in those days and were able to openly advertise themselves as such. In the 60s and 70s English bands toured America in the expectation of having sex with whoever they wanted, regardless of age. My own personal opinion,for what it’s worth, is that Savile was an evil, degenerate fuck who preyed on the young and defenceless, using his charity work to camouflage this and also to gain access to his victims. Peel was clearly not the saint that some people would like him to have been but was still a basically decent man who, as a young man, enjoyed the permissiveness of the times. If The Daily Mail is going to come after Peel, then they had better be prepared to go after The Fab Four, The Rolling Stones, The Animals and any other band who toured America in that era.