Most fearsome dictators of the 20th century among the images of Hitler and Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, was Savile’s business card from Stoke Mandeville

February 27, 2015 11:45 am
There was a framed picture in the bathroom of ’s flat overlooking Roundhay Park in Leeds.
It
contained pictures of the most fearsome dictators of the 20th century
and there, among the images of Hitler and Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, was
Savile’s business card from Stoke Mandeville.
I know because I
spent many days at the flat. In fact, in all I spent six years
interviewing him before his death – part of a decade long quest to find
the real Jimmy Savile.
The card spoke volumes for how he regarded
his position at the hospital with which became synonymous – having
spearheaded the national campaign to rebuild Britain’s leading spinal
injuries unit there.

“I’ve got a great aptitude for dead people”: the grotesque details
in the latest Savile report confirm the star’s pyschopathy, says the
man who spent a decade getting to know him

Savile wearing a Stoke Mandeville Hospital t-shirt after running a marathon in aid of the hospital in 1981. Photo / Screen grab
Savile wearing a Stoke Mandeville Hospital t-shirt after running a marathon in aid of the hospital in 1981. Photo / Screen grab

The unit had fallen into disrepair and was
under threat of closure at the end of the 1970s so, with the blessing of
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Savile launched a fundraising drive
that captured the imagination of the British public, set the template
for many that followed in its wake and, most damaging in the long terms,
made Savile feel bulletproof.

That was largely due to the fact Savile figured, correctly as
it turned out, that because he saved the unit and spared her blushes,
Mrs Thatcher was indebted to him at the start of her premiership. Indeed
she spent the next 10 years lobbying for him to be awarded a
knighthood.
If The National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke
Mandeville was Savile’s crowning achievement, he latterly spoke of it
with a lack of warmth. On more than one occasion in the years I spent
interviewing him, he talked about ownership rather than pride when
conversation turned to the buildings that had risen to replace the
wartime wooden huts where the Paralympic Movement was born.
“Stoke
Mandeville know that the money I make, if I chose, could go elsewhere,”
he said in 2008, bragging about the importance to the hospital of the
ongoing financial input from the Jimmy Savile Stoke Mandeville Trust,
one of two charitable trusts that bore his name. “It’s the steel fist in
the velvet glove.”
The themes of today’s report on Stoke
Mandeville are sickeningly familiar to anyone who has taken the time to
trawl through the hundreds of pages already published on Leeds General
Infirmary and Broadmoor, the two other hospitals Savile was most closely
associated with.
The same can be said for conclusions, or lack
of them, and the curious coincidence that senior staff were not made
aware of what Savile was up to.
There, in all its repulsive
detail, is the same grooming of staff and officials at the top and
bottom of the organisation to attain total access; the opportunist,
often brazen assaults on patients, hospital staff, visitors and
fund-raisers; the calculation that his fame, perceived influence within
the corridors of power and his well-documented catalogue of good works
would override anyone with the temerity to challenge him.
There
is, however, one key difference to consider. Unlike Leeds Infirmary and
Broadmoor, Stoke Mandeville was a hospital that Jimmy Savile regarded as
his private fiefdom.
It was an institution where he not only had
an office with leather chairs that overlooked the children’s ward, but
also a private suite with a gold plaque on the door.
The
cafeteria named after him; the pictures and mementos of his largesse
that lined the walls; the unwillingness of staff to stand up to him for
fear that he would pull the plug on his funding – these were all factors
that fuelled the rampant narcissism forming one part of what
psychologist Oliver James describes as Savile’s “dark triad of
personality characteristics”. The others were psychopathy and
Machiavellianism.
In 1978, five years before he had posed for the
cameras with Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the opening of the
new National Spinal Injury Centre, the moment when his fame and status
within Britain were at their peak, Jimmy Savile described what he got
out of the association with the Buckinghamshire hospital.
“There
are forty wards at Stoke Mandeville… and they are all filled with
people; I will be able to do exactly what I feel like doing. If I feel
like going on the ladies’ ward and pulling their legs, I can do that. If
I want to go the kids’ ward and have a bit of a knock about, I can do
that.”
Some might say that this would have seemed innocent at the
time. Not true. In the same period a detective constable with the
Thames Valley Police was contacted by a nurse at the hospital because
staff were said to be worried that Savile was touching girls
inappropriately during hospital visits.
When the police officer
reported the matter to a senior colleague, he was told: “Jimmy Savile is
a high-profile man. He must be OK. He could not be doing anything
irregular. Don’t worry about it.” It was, tragically, just one of many
missed opportunities.
There were other areas of the hospital
Savile made it his business to visit, too, such as the mortuary. “‘I
find I’ve got a great aptitude for dead people,” he told one newspaper
in 1972, soon after his fund-raising activities had begun.
“When
I’m holding somebody who’s just died I’m filled with a tremendous love
and envy. They’ve left behind their problems, they’ve made the journey.”
As
well making him feel like a dictator, Stoke Mandeville fed Savile’s
messiah complex. “I see my people there,” he once told me.
“I
walk across the car park, and there they all are. Sitting outside the
front, all crippled in their wheelchairs… but as soon as they see me
they all perk up.” He saw himself as their saviour, or as he put it, “a
geezer who saved their lives”.
For all the money he raised for
Stoke Mandeville – a level of philanthropy that he believed would
off-set the fact that, as he admitted, he was a “great ‘abuser’ of
things, and bodies, and people” – the hospital ultimately gave him
access, status, acclaim, security and the freedom to offend with seeming
impunity.
It is yet another depressing thread that runs through the three most high profile reports of the many now published by the NHS.
Stoke
Mandeville witnessed the final moment of failure in the police
investigation that surely had the best chance of bringing him to justice
while he was alive.
In 2009, two Surrey Police officers
interviewed Savile in his private office at the hospital where, secure
in his lair and surrounded by the bricks and mortar he considered to be
his own, he obfuscated, denied and then issued threats of his own.
He
had dictated the venue, choosing an environment that screamed of what
he had done for the country, rather than what he had been alleged to
have done to schoolgirls from an approved school in Surrey, or, as we
now know, the 63 people whose lives he polluted at a place in which they
were meant to be cared for.

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