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Late BBC host now believed to have been Britain’s most prolific serial sexual offender

For decades, James Savile was a fixture on British TV as an eccentric, jocular host of children's shows. Since he died, several women have come forward to claim he was a serial abuser of underage girls.

Lewis Whyld

Sir James Savile, knighted by Queen and Pope, bought a brand new Rolls-Royce every year so he'd have a getaway car in case a scandal erupted and he needed to flee.

By 1991 – a year after Pope John Paul II made him Knight Commander of St. Gregory the Great in honour of his charity work – Mr. Savile had bought and sold 17 new Rolls-Royces, telling a BBC psychiatrist it would be easier to sell a new car if he had to move abroad quickly with little money.

"I could then go and be very unhappy in the south of France, covered in shame and sunshine and mad birds with bikinis on," Sir James told Anthony Clare, a psychiatrist who interviewed the BBC Top of the Pops TV presenter in 1991 for a radio show at the peak of his celebrity and – it would now appears, his sexual crimes.

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Jimmy Savile, the youngest of seven children and a star who made children's wishes come true in the BBC TV show Jim'll Fix It, described himself that day as a child-hater with no emotions. He said he had no attachments, had never been in love, would never marry and had never spent more than one or two nights in one location, preferring to carry an overnight bag throughout his life. He mused about how he was drawn to mortuaries and enjoyed spending five days alone with his mother's corpse because he finally had her to himself.

The signs were there, had anyone cared to listen that day, that all was not right with Jimmy Savile. Dr. Clare later documented his observations in a book called In the Psychiatrist's Chair. But celebrity-obsessed Britain collectively turned a blind eye to "Uncle Jimmy's" dark side. Instead, Britons preferred to see him as an over-the-top television character, a tireless charity fundraiser, a cigar-smoking eccentric in a garish gold track suit, peroxide hair and coloured glasses.

Sir James never did flee Britain. Instead, he is accused of continuing to sexually assault disabled and disadvantaged children until his death last year at age 84.

It was his "Uncle Jimmy" persona – and Britain's seeming determination to make Sir James untouchable – that allowed him to rape and assault youngsters over a period of 50 years. Scotland Yard now calls him Britain's most prolific serial sexual offender. A series of horror stories involving the sexual abuse of underage women is emerging from the more than 300 people to come forward.

The allegations followed a broadcast accusing him of pedophilia aired by competing television network ITV. As a result, the BBC now finds itself in the midst of a scandal striking at its very heart: its credibility. The BBC director-general, George Entwistle, himself appeared before MPs in October to answer allegations he suppressed an investigation into Sir James's crimes so the BBC didn't have to cancel a Christmas tribute special that was due to air in December, 2011.

Mr. Entwistle's answers were so vague, MPs fell over laughing at Mr. Entwistle's repeated assertions that he didn't know anything about the investigation by the BBC's current-affairs show Newsnight into Sir James – and that Mr. Entwistle did not think to ask even though he was the former head of Newsnight.

How could this have happened under the eye of an internationally renowned broadcaster, a corporation so beloved by Britons some refer to it as "auntie"? Theories abound: There was not enough evidence. Victims came forward but no one believed them. Nobody at the BBC saw or heard anything suspicious. Attitudes toward sex were different in the 1960s and 1970s.

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"Britain is a repressed society. It often fails to ask questions that go for the jugular," Humphrey Hawksley, who has been reporting on international news for the BBC for more than 25 years, told The Globe and Mail.

And 25 years ago, Sir James was allowed to roam the corridors of Broadmoor Hospital, a psychiatric-care facility that gave him a set of keys and the freedom to go anywhere. He headed a task force trying to update care and mingled with the 800 or so patients – many of them teenage girls, some severely disturbed and medicated. Those same patients now claim he took advantage of them while nurses and doctors ignored their plight. Other victims claim they were invited back to his BBC dressing room and attacked.

Dr. Clare, the BBC psychiatrist who interviewed him in 1991, has since also died but, in his book, he described him as "sharp, witty and in control" – a member of Mensa, who hid behind a wacky, wisecracking image. But Dr. Clare noted that disturbing signs were there: the lack of emotional attachment for one, and the repeated insistence that the children's entertainer hated children.

In Dr. Clare's book, the entire transcript of his interview is included. London psychiatrist Paul Mallett has treated pedophiles and read a synopsis of the transcript for The Globe and Mail. He said it is not unusual for pedophiles to be upstanding pillars of the community, "raising the notion of some form of compensation behaviour going on."

"One has to ask with Savile why he had to be such a 'good person' when his celebrity status on its own would have been sufficient to help him pursue his alleged wrongdoing," Dr. Mallett said.

Shamyl Saigol, a registered psychotherapist in London who counsels patients for sexual abuse, sexual deviancy and disability, said Sir James appeared to be using the attacks to gain a sense of power at victims' expense.

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"It involves control and domination as a form of sexual gratification," Mr. Saigol said in an interview.

But why were there no witnesses for 50 years? Why wouldn't those who had an inkling of his behaviour come forward? Surely someone, somewhere, knew something was amiss. But neither Britain, nor the BBC, it appears, encourages whistleblowers. There is safety in numbers, and that is where Jimmy Savile hid.

"There are always a small percentage willing to stick their heads over the parapet and point to reality but they tend not to get thanked for it," Dr. Mallett said. "We don't like our heroes to remind us of our own failings."

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