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Jimmy Savile in Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story Part 2.Courtesy of Netflix

It is one of the strangest, most chilling stories ever told. It is also dumbfounding.

Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story, newly arrived on Netflix, is a two-part, three-hour look at the case of Savile, one of Britain’s most famous figures for decades and, shortly after his death in 2011, revealed to be a serial sexual abuser. Police in Britain put the total number of his victims at 589 people, most of them under the age of eighteen. To say the monster was hiding in plain sight is a vast understatement.

One approaches this very thorough, meticulous production not with the vague sense of dread that accompanies watching other true-crime docu-series. Instead, you come to it already unsettled by knowledge of the sheer scope of his crimes, and with knowledge of his fame and reputation in Britain. He was knighted for his charitable work, for heaven’s sake. He was a friend to prime ministers and Prince Charles often sought his advice and counsel.

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You have to ask, how did it happen? There are no easy answers and you are left plucking at straws of comprehension. One thing you comprehend quickly is that his status as part of the British establishment made him untouchable, even when there were vague rumours about his private life and penchant for spending a lot of time with young girls. Lynn Barber, a journalist famous for her cutting approach when doing profiles, says that after she profiled Savile for the first time, she found him a bizarre but slippery figure. Then she reports, “At the office, people said to me, ‘you know he likes little girls’,” and she sought proof, but could find none.

An interesting tack taken is having people who knew or work with Savile in the past now watch footage of him and try to explain how they were fooled by him. A small army of journalists, TV presenters, producers and interviewers admit that all the clues were there. More than once, somebody says, “How could I be so naive?”

The first part of the series chronicles Savile’s life and career. In hindsight, it seems surreal that this clearly outlandish, outré figure ever rose to such prominence. Reasons emerge, mind you. Savile began as a radio DJ, good with the patter and prattle about pop music that made DJs into stars in the 1960′s. He worked very hard at it and was a gifted broadcaster who easily made the transition to TV. What he had, and he knew it, was an authenticity that the BBC needed at that time. He was a working-class Northerner with a manner that passed for charm. That’s why Prince Charles would eventually rely on Savile’s advice about what ordinary people were thinking.

Jimmy Savile was one of Britain’s most famous figures for decades before being revealed as a serial sexual abuser.Courtesy of Netflix

We watch him become a ubiquitous figure on TV and radio. And yet, even as his stature grew, he was clearly an elusive man. Asked about his personal life, he just claimed to be so busy doing TV, radio or charitable work, that he didn’t have time for one. He’d joke about having many one-night stands with women and then, absurdly, mention he’d never done anything illegal.

What was unsettlingly bizarre about him was taken as merely zany. He looked a preposterous figure, with his garish outfits, hair and ever-present cigar. But somehow this was interpreted as lovable. What’s beyond chilling is how easily he connected with children and how TV programs he did with children became the hallmark of his success. The program he hosted, , in which he made a child’s wish come true, had 20 million viewers and, unknowingly, the BBC surrounded this beast with children.

It was his charitable work, tirelessly raising money for hospitals, that elevated him to being inviolable. In truth he did raise millions for children’s hospitals and spend a lot of time at those institutions. Only now does this seem dumbfounding. By the time he died, he was connected in some capacity to 50 institutions where children received care. Those places were where he found his victims.

“Everyone was bedazzled by him,” says one of the first people to suspect he preyed on children. Among those bedazzled was Margaret Thatcher, who admired his can-do spirit and, in the context of her politics, he was raising money for good causes rather than relying on the state. She lobbied hard for the knighthood he eventually received.

A word of warning here – the second part of Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story is difficult to watch. Onscreen warnings are there, but it is still sickening to realize the full extent of his crimes, as those who exposed him try to be measured but blunt about the monster.

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