Smoking a cigar was a trademark for Sir Jimmy Savile.
What’s happening right now in the U.K. can probably be compared to the scandal that engulfed Penn State and Jerry Sandusky earlier this year.
If anything, however, it’s even bigger.
The BBC has just announced that it will be holding two internal investigations into widespread allegations of sexual abuse by the late television star Sir Jimmy Savile.
Savile was one of the U.K.’s most famous and long-running television hosts, presenting the weekly music show “Top of the Pops” for 20 years, and later his own show, “Jim Will Fix It,” where he helped children achieve their dreams. He was well-known for his charity work — one obituary estimated he had raised over £40 million ($64 million) for charity, and given away as much as 90 percent of his own considerable wealth.
Savile died last year at the age of 84 after almost five decades of fame, but it was only this month that allegations hit the press that he sexually abused both children and adults during the peak of his fame. British police now say that they have over 340 leads, with 12 allegations officially recorded, and that number is expected to grow.
Some of the new allegations are incredible — that Savile was given a room at a hospital for the criminally insane where he abused patients and that his trips to children’s hospitals for charities were used as a chance to abuse sick children, for example.
Savile had long been known for his extremely unorthodox behavior, but most had cast off accusations of child abuse as simply Savile being “eccentric.” British police had reportedly investigated Savile several times during his lifetime but never found enough evidence to charge him.
For the BBC, it’s a disaster on a huge scale.
For one thing, the scandal came to light this year due to a documentary shown on rival TV channel ITV, which reported that at least 10 women said they had been molested by Savile — with some of the assaults taking place in BBC buildings. It later emerged that the BBC’s own investigative news program, Newsnight, had been investigating allegations of abuse by Saville the previous year, but the show was cancelled, reportedly due to not meeting the editorial standards of the BBC. Many believe that Savile’s association with the BBC led to institutional pressure to drop the story, despite denials from the show’s producers.
Other reports support the idea of a cover-up. One former BBC producer has told UK newspaper The Sun that he had walked in on Savile abusing a girl who looked “very, very young” in the 1970s. When he told his superiors about the incident he claimed he was shrugged off. “Everyone knew what was going on. That includes senior BBC people — chiefs at the highest levels.”
The scandal isn’t limited to Savile either, and has prompted a wider look at the sexual culture of the organization in the 1960s and ’70s. John Peel, a late radio DJ for the BBC who is one of the most revered people in British music history, has been posthumously accused of getting a 14 year old girl pregnant in the late 1960s. Peel is now being investigated, The Guardian reports. If the allegation is found true, the BBC says it will reconsider plans to name a building after Peel.
Of course, the fact that Savile and Peel are now dead means they will not be able to defend themselves in court, or the press. For Savile, in particular, his legacy is destroyed. Even Savile’s elaborate tombstone, only recently laid to rest on his grave, has been destroyed at the request of his family. He now lies in an unmarked grave.