The Reckoning and Long Shadow: Why Jimmy Savile’s funeral was the darkest day in my career - Christa Ackroyd
Lots of reading and no TV. The perfect autumn tonic. So it has been a case of playing catch-up over the past couple of days with TV programmes that were always going to be a must-watch for me, no matter how grim.
Both showed how two men’s vile actions should have been ended much, much sooner. Both are equally as depressing, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from them. They might have been fictionalised in part, but both were very real for me and for many others. And deeply personal.
The Long Shadow and the Reckoning are among the most powerful and disturbing dramas we have ever seen. And they do not paint our beloved Yorkshire in the best light.
‘What on earth do people down South think about us,’ said my friend. ‘When we couldn’t catch a killer for five years and we bred a monster in the guise of a charitable TV personality whose crimes only came to light after his death?’ Not a lot, was my answer.
But no matter. Both stories needed telling, even years after they happened and both dramas showed in all their rawness the effect Sutcliffe and Saville had on scores and scores of lives. Should they have been made? Absolutely. Why now years later?
Because both men caused untold misery in their depravity and that must never forgotten, for the sake of the victims, some who died, others who still live with the consequences. I believe both dramas did them proud. They certainly pulled no punches.
I have written before about The Long Shadow and why the stories of the women had to finally come to the fore.
It has been a campaign of mine since I was a cub reporter trying to tell their side of the five-year manhunt which too often concentrated on a killer leaving his victims as grainy black and white photographs and little else about who they were. This drama achieves all I have every wanted.
If my lovely friend Richard McCann, whose mum Wilma was shown tucking her children up in bed before going out that fateful night, believes his mother has finally come out of the shadows then it was a drama worth making. The story of a different era, a different attitude to women and to poverty and hopefully, a different police service where victims were judged.
So this week I want to discuss the most uncomfortable drama I think I have ever watched, The Reckoning. It was too easy to pre-empt any TV programme with stories of how it should never have been made. Only after watching can we truly make a judgement.
And this was one which was dark in its entirety. Steve Coogan embodied the man, his slippery character, his sleaziness and his depravity. His voice, his mannerisms, even his gait were simply incredible. He became Saville. The way he morphed into the man must have been as uncomfortable to play as it was to watch.
But watch it I had to, episode after episode with barely a break in between. It was always going to be a difficult subject matter and a controversial role to accept. But Coogan deserves every accolade that will inevitably come his way. His decision to cancel a series of book signings this week as his alter ego Alan Partridge was not as has been suggested because he was concerned at the backlash his depiction may have resulted in.
I believe he cancelled them because he knew now was no time for jokes. He knew we would need time for all that went on, all that was portrayed to sink in. And to shake our heads and ask again how on earth was it allowed to happen.
Jimmy Saville’s funeral was the darkest day in my career. I had met him many times over several decades. Was he ever inappropriate to me? No he wasn’t. He was smarmy and obsequious and sleazy but he never came near me, never even invaded my personal space.
But then I was older, stronger, more confident than his chosen victims and certainly not the vulnerable child, naive teenager or incapacitated adult he prayed upon.
But there were rumours. So much so that when I was running a radio station in Leeds and I sent someone to pick up a prize for a charity auction from his house I made sure she was not alone. She took her dad.
And to this day she says she doesn’t know who was more shocked when he opened the door wearing nothing but a tiny pair of shorts, him or her father.
I once saw him lick the arm of a shy young TV assistant just a year or so before he died and quickly jumped in to end the embarrassent he deliberately caused her. And I spent a whole cruise trying to avoid him as he ran round the deck just being ‘Jimmy’. But there was never anything to report.
Certainly never anything to hide. And let’s face it if all the men in the 70s 80s and 90s who overstepped the mark were reported to police they would have dealt with nothing else. I never had anything other than a loathing for the man and the abiding question how did he ever become a ‘national treasure’.
There was always something about Saville that was deeply unpleasant. And yet in the eyes of the establishment he could do no wrong. So when he died we all waited and waited and waited to see what would come out, if the rumours were true.
The silence was deafening. And so to my shame I stood in front of a golden coffin and reported on what I saw, which was a huge display of reverence and respect to one of Leeds most famous sons. That people in the BBC, where I was working, had in the past heard more than rumours and had investigated allegations against him yet failed to communicate it to the regions, still angers me to this day.
That they were later to shelve a Newsnight investigation into his crimes in favour of a sycophantic look back at his life sickens me. No wonder the almost final comment on the final episode of The Reckoning from one of his victims hit home when she said that on his death we treated him like a saint and that had nearly destroyed her. I can only apologise.
I can only hang my own head in shame at my reporting of his funeral. Indeed I have discussed it with the undertaker who arranged it. We both believe it is the worst moment in each of our careers. And I make no excuses. But we didn’t know. That is how clever he was.
Saville groomed a nation. He groomed a future king, a princess and a Prime Minister. Steve Coogan’s depiction in The Reckoning shows us how. And reminds us that the reckoning came far too late for many and only when he was no longer alive to be brought to justice.
But in The Reckoning, as in the Long Shadow, at least the stories of those whose lives were destroyed are to the fore and finally shown for who they were, the innocent victims of terrible evil men. And that in itself is some sort of justice, albeit justice which has been too long in coming.