Jimmy Savile: A comment on those times
Most visiting me here probably think I deal with the more light-hearted side of life and perhaps you are right. However, today, I am going to write about something which is in the news at the moment because I’ve lived and worked through the era which is the subject of so much discussion and disgust in relation to the behaviour of men such as Jimmy , and the way women were treated twenty, thirty, forty years ago in offices and work places.
I am fully aware that not just I but many women working in offices back then were subject to many forms of harassment which often took the form of being ‘just a joke’, and that failing to be amused at having your bottom pinched or being fondled in the office by someone in authority was seen as ‘a bit of fun’, and that anyone objecting was either a lesbian or frigid.
When I first started work in a foreign country I was the youngest and only English speaker in my office. It was my first job since leaving school and I was placed in an office with about ten men and three women, all much older than me. As well as putting up with conversations in a dialect which I had a job following, I also had to put up with obviously derogatory comments about me and jokes at my expense – you know when someone is doing this and I certainly did regardless of the language problem.
I can take a joke along with anyone else and I don’t mind laughing at myself, but what went on in that office when I was in my teens was dreadful and sent me home in tears every day. Not only was I groped in the photocopying room by my boss who would not take no (in both languages) seriously, but when I complained he made sure that my end of probation period report was not a good one even though no-one had ever complained about my work.
He and his cronies made sure that I would be the one to open the stationery cupboard so that I would be confronted with full frontal nude photos (from Amsterdam) of people in all sorts of ‘situations and positions’ -and every variation and combination of people you can imagine – also with animals! My blushes and embarrassment was a sense of amusement and being unable to understand a lot of the language because of the heavy local dialect I could not grasp most of what they said which caused such hilarity. I loathed them all and I hated having to go to work every day. I won’t go into detail fully, but this was just an example of their behaviour.
Fast forward to living and working in London – still at the end of the 1960’s/early 1970’s and I then had to run the gauntlet of the daily tube journey to work in Whitehall. Heavily pregnant I used to stand most of the way into town in the heat of an exceptionally hot summer. No seat was ever offered and often I passed out only to wake on the floor surrounded by people pretending they hadn’t noticed. Men would just raise their Newspapers to cover their faces.
Packed in like sardines I often found myself jammed up against people who were just as squashed as I was. You could not see who stood behind you and movement was impossible such was the squeeze. Several mornings in a row I was grabbed by a man standing behind me. The first time I thought I was mistaken and convinced myself to ignore it. However, the following mornings I found myself squashed up against the door and I could see the reflection of the same man behind me. As we left the station to go through the tunnel he grabbed me again (from behind) and this time I shouted at him but he ignored me and did it again, painfully and more intimately. I managed to move my arm behind me and I took a handful of him (I think you can guess where) and squeezed him hard. He nearly went into orbit and the whole train heard his yells and abuse of me.
When everyone looked at him, he changed his tune. He informed the whole carriage that I must have been so desperate for a bloke – being pregnant – that he was only doing me ‘a favour’ and that I had ‘accidentally’ grabbed him too hard in my excitement at being able to get my hands on him at last! Besides he only patted me in a ‘friendly way’ and rubbing my bump was for good luck!
Back then complaining got you the reputation of being a bad sport, a lesbian, frigid or unable to take a joke. I often wonder how men would take constant groping and fondling in public by a woman! Fun at first? But soon an embarrassment, an annoying and humiliating unwanted experience.
None of this ever led to rape or anything near it, thankfully. But I can understand how the women who are coming forward now felt back then when they were being abused, not just by Jimmy Savile but by others in authority or in power. Who to turn to? Who would listen and act upon it? Often, no-one.
Back in the late 1960’s when my husband was a musician and his band were releasing and promoting albums the guys from Radio were an obvious target for the PR companies to woo. Getting a Radio DJ on your side made all the difference to your release getting air-play and exposure. To having a hit.
It wasn’t until many, many years after he left his band that we discovered that certain ‘favours’ were provided for the guys from Radio which were supposed to ‘smooth the way’ for them to think more ‘favourably’ about pushing the band’s releases on Radio. Without naming names and going into situations in detail for obvious reasons, the band discovered that there had been ‘girls’ provided for certain famous individuals as a ‘sweetner’.
Imagine their horror when they found out about this. None of them knew anything about it at the time and it would certainly have been stopped had they known. Yet, would anyone have listened to them if they had complained? Who would they have gone to? It seems to me listening to the details of the BBC and other entertainment entities involvement in this disgusting mess involving Jimmy Savile and others, that complaints would have fallen on deaf ears.
Just as my complaints years ago had been ignored, sneered at and eventually led to my work report being ‘doctored’ out of spite, I think that the band would have lost promotion on the Radio, and most likely had other things done to them to ruin their careers – who knows.
I left my job to work back in England where it was better – apart from the tube – but it seems to me this ‘Rugby Club changing room’ behaviour has gone on unchecked for decades in offices and places where women work and not just the entertainment industry.
I hope things have changed in this day and age, but somehow I doubt it really, in-spite of the laws and legislation to protect women and others from bullying and sexual harassment, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it still goes on.
There, that is my serious piece for now. Normal service will be resumed soon.