A woman who was groped by Jimmy Savile on Top Of The Pops fears Steve Coogan will “struggle” to portray the “monster” in an upcoming BBC drama, amid calls for the series to be axed.
Sylvia Edwards was 18 years old when she was assaulted on camera during a recording of the music show, but her complaint about the presenter’s behaviour was dismissed by a crew member who said it was “just Jimmy Savile”.
Footage from the programme in 1976 shows the incident as she struggles to get away from Savile, who says to the camera: “A fella could get used to all this.”
Ms Edwards told Sky News she had spoken about her ordeal to the makers of mini-series The Reckoning, which will feature Coogan as the serial abuser later this year.
Coogan has defended the drama following criticism of its potential impact on Savile’s victims, with the BBC also facing claims of hypocrisy for broadcasting the programme despite its role in the scandal.
An inquiry in 2016 found Savile abused 72 people connected with his BBC work, including eight rapes – with one victim just 10 years old.
A former Operation Yewtree detective questioned the purpose of the show and told Sky News he wants the BBC to abandon plans to air the drama, saying it is “disrespectful” to Savile’s victims.
While Ms Edwards has given her backing to the programme, she fears Coogan – most famous for his comedy character Alan Partridge – may struggle to portray Savile’s “sinister side” after branding the Jim’ll Fix It presenter “the most disgusting human being who was ever put on this earth”.
She told Sky News: “I’m hoping (Coogan) portrays it well to make people realise how much of a monster that man was.
“(Coogan) can act the idiot like Jimmy Savile was, but the sinister side I think maybe he might struggle.
“Jimmy Savile has been destroyed anyway… he’s going to be remembered as a paedophile forever.
“I hope (Coogan) plays it well… I hope he plays it so that people can actually see how despicable Savile was.”
‘This dirty old man is touching me’
Describing her ordeal on Top Of The Pops, Ms Edwards said Savile’s hand was “like a solid rock” as he touched her and she could not escape because she was surrounded by audience members.
“I just thought he was disgusting,” she said.
“His hand was like a solid rock. I could not move it.
“I was shocked and embarrassed because I couldn’t do anything about it.
“If he did it to me now, if he was alive, I probably would have smacked him one.
“But when you’re young… I was getting embarrassed because the camera was so near, and I’m thinking: ‘God, everyone can see’.
“So much goes through your head at the time. And you just think: ‘This dirty old man is touching me and I can’t move.’
“There were people just chock-a-block so I couldn’t get anywhere at all. I hated it.
“Even now, I still don’t like anyone being too near me behind.”
Ms Edwards, who had attended Top Of The Pops with a friend, said she reported Savile’s assault to a crew member but “he basically told me to get lost”.
“He went: ‘Go away, that’s just Jimmy Savile’,” Ms Edwards added.
Now aged 64, the mother-of-two, from Twickenham, southwest London, said she was “glad in a way” that the drama about Savile was being made because she hopes it will encourage victims who haven’t come forward to speak out.
She added: “It’s not going to do (any) good, the man’s dead and he should rot in hell for all I care.
“But I hope people come forward… It doesn’t matter if they’re a celebrity, whatever – come forward and tell somebody.
“Nobody is above the law. Nobody.”
Ex-detective calls for BBC to axe Savile drama
Former Operation Yewtree detective Gary Pankhurst has called for the BBC to scrap plans to air The Reckoning after claiming it is “exploitive” and “damaging” to Savile’s victims.
The series is due to air on BBC One later this year, with October marking 10 years since the launch of Operation Yewtree, the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Savile and others.
Mr Pankhurst told Sky News he was “hugely concerned” about the impact of the show on survivors and questioned the purpose of creating a drama about Savile’s abuse.
He said: “To me, it strikes as being entirely tone deaf.
“It doesn’t matter how carefully a drama is made, it remains a drama.
“Ultimately there is no need for it.
“This story is not the BBC’s story to tell. They have no right to do that.
“I think it’s disrespectful apart from anything else.”
Mr Pankhurst, who worked on Operation Yewtree from 2012 to 2015, said he had not been approached by the makers of The Reckoning but he would have declined any involvement in the programme.
He added: “I can’t see it’s anything other than exploitive and damaging to people who were affected by this.
“This isn’t something from the dim and distant past. It’s relatively recent.
“I don’t see it can be anything other than sensationalism.”
Mr Pankhurst said he believed it would be a “sensible decision” for the BBC to axe the drama.
He added: “What positive contribution can it bring to this story?
“The reality is it will distress a lot of people so it’s unnecessary.
“It makes me very uneasy.
“Morally and ethically, the better position to take would be to just withdraw it.”
Why more Savile victims could emerge later this year
Richard Scorer, whose law firm represented 168 victims of Savile, criticised the BBC’s involvement in the drama and said he had spoken to survivors who had “real difficulty” with it.
The head of abuse law at Slater & Gordon told Sky News: “If the Catholic Church were to make and broadcast a documentary about abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church, that would obviously be upsetting to survivors and they wouldn’t feel that’s the appropriate way to address the issues.
“I think the same point arises here.”
However, another lawyer who represented dozens of Savile’s victims said he believed more could emerge later this year after The Reckoning airs.
Alan Collins, who leads the sexual abuse team at Hugh James solicitors, told Sky News he knew three victims who had consulted with the drama and had given it their backing.
He added: “The status of celebrity can be misused, as we continue to see – with lots of high-profile cases – so it’s very important that we do remind ourselves otherwise the risk is that lessons are not learnt.”
What was the Jimmy Savile scandal?
- Veteran DJ and broadcaster Jimmy Savile died in October 2011 aged 84 after a suspected bout of pneumonia
- At the time, tributes poured in for the former Radio 1 host, famed for presenting BBC shows Jim’ll Fix It and Top of the Pops and who was knighted by the Queen in 1990
- Shortly after his death, a report by two Newsnight journalists investigating stories of abuse by Savile was cancelled for editorial reasons, according its then-editor, weeks before a Christmas tribute was broadcast
- An ITV documentary then aired in 2012 featuring five women who said they were indecently assaulted by Savile when they were schoolgirls in the late 1960s and 1970s
- The Met Police launched Operation Yewtree in October 2012 to investigate allegations of abuse by Savile and others, with hundreds of alleged victims coming forward
- An NSPCC study in 2014 found Savile abused at least 500 people, with the youngest victim just two years old
- A 2016 inquiry, by former High Court judge Dame Janet Smith, found at least 72 people were sexually abused by Savile in connection with his work at the BBC. They included eight victims who were raped – with the youngest victim just 10 years old
- The inquiry found the offending took place from 1959 to 2006, with the largest number of victims connected to Savile’s work on Top of the Pops
- Savile is now believed to have been one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders, having died without ever facing justice
What has the BBC said?
A BBC spokesman told Sky News: “The drama will examine the impact Savile’s appalling crimes had on his victims, the powerlessness many felt when they tried to raise the alarm, and how Savile used his celebrity to hide in plain sight.
“We are working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by him to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect.”
Coogan has previously said his decision to play Savile was not one he “took lightly” and the script tackles “sensitively an horrific story which – however harrowing – needs to be told”.
He also has insisted the BBC is “held accountable” in the series and there is “no whitewash in this drama”.
The script has been written by Neil McKay, whose other credits include BBC drama Four Lives about serial killer Stephen Port, which received praise for its victim-focused portrayal.