FANTASY ISLAND

RTSay the words ‘Grange Hill’ to anyone of a certain age and a flurry of names will enter their head – Tucker Jenkins, Benny Green, Trisha Yates, Gripper Stebson and poor old ‘Row-land’ will probably spring to mind before any others. Plotlines will no doubt be quickly evoked too. There was one particular plotline in the early 80s that perfectly captured the hormonal turmoil of nascent adolescence, when an absence of sexual fact is compensated for by sexual fiction, though the two have a habit of blurring in the imagination. Yes, we might remember Duane having the hots for ‘Sexy Lexy’ and even enrolling in the extracurricular computer course in order to gaze at the object of his pubescent desire for an additional hour; but it was his pal Claire Scott whose unrequited passion for a member of staff landed that oblivious teacher in hot water.

Mr Hopwood – played by the same actor (Brian Capron) who drove Gail Platt and family into the Manchester Ship Canal a couple of decades later on ‘Coronation Street’ – was unaware his doe-eyed pupil had taken her infatuation with him to another level by recounting her fantasies in the pages of her diary. When her mother broke the golden rule by dipping into it whilst cleaning Claire’s bedroom, she reported what she assumed to be evidence of a genuine affair to her husband, prompting an incensed Mr Scott to storm up to the school and grab Mr Hopwood by the shirt collars, accusing him of something that would now lead to instant dismissal on the pretext of guilty till proven innocent.

Poor, humiliated Claire confessed it was all in her head and that Mr Hopwood had never laid a finger on her; but in an age when ‘Jackie’ magazine was still turned to for advice as the only help-line for young teenage girls focusing their embryonic lust on the nearest grownup male figure outside of family, Claire Scott’s predicament was genuine. It had happened for real just ten years earlier, as sensationally exposed in typically crass fashion by the News of the World in an early example of Rupert Murdoch’s grudge match against the BBC. Claiming ‘Top of the Pops’ was a hotbed of vice and debauchery (always the paper’s favourite subjects), the revelation emerged of a teenage member of the dancing studio audience who had written in her diary of a sexual encounter with one of the show’s hosts.

The girl’s mother got her hands on the diary, took it as Gospel, approached the BBC to lodge a formal complaint (without success) and the private document of her daughter’s fantasies then mysteriously fell into the hands of the Digger, who demonstrated his trademark tact and sensitivity by publishing extracts from it. When the ‘confession’ appeared in the News of the World, his breaking of the sordid little story pushed the girl over the edge and she committed suicide; a police investigation at the time (1971) exonerated the BBC, TOTP and the unnamed ‘seducer’ – a sad chapter in the show’s history that said more about the dysfunctional nature of a mother/daughter relationship than any perceived lack of moral fibre on the part of a programme produced under characteristically stringent BBC rules and regulations.

Over forty years later, the long-forgotten mini-scandal was dredged up anew during Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s alleged illicit activities on BBC premises; Dame Janet claims she couldn’t fathom why there was precious little evidence of this incident residing in the BBC archives, though a broadcasting institution that routinely wiped copies of its most popular shows in the 60s and 70s was hardly likely to retain every document relating to a brief episode in which every party involved had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Naturally, when a Fleet Street hungry for any Savile story – however dubious and fantastical – heard about this, their ears pricked up, and the wicked rapist of a 15-year-old girl simply had to be Sir Jimmy. Besides, the actual TOTP presenter named by the dead girl as her seducer, Tony Blackburn, couldn’t be ‘outed’ because he had taken the precaution of a super-injunction.

Now that has expired and Mr Blackburn has been named and shamed, how does his employer of many decades respond to the public revelation of something they were well aware of whilst continuing to pay his wages? It sacks him on the spot. Remember, Blackburn was exonerated in 1971 and once again when he was interviewed as part of Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry. So, that means he has twice been found not guilty of the accusation that has now cost him his job. He wasn’t even fired by the men in charge of the station he works for, Radio 2, but the actual Director General of the BBC himself, Tony Hall. The man whose voice opened Radio 1 in September 1967 is rightly furious and the statement he has issued to the press doesn’t see him mince his words. Legal action is threatened and it would seem he has a very strong case for wrongful dismissal.

Tony Blackburn was perhaps a tad too hasty to distance himself from Jimmy Savile when all that broke out at the end of 2012 and Paul Gambaccini was equally quick to point the finger at a dead man, regarding his reputation as a respected broadcaster and prominent media gay as a sure-fire safeguard against any accusations. He paid the price for his superiority complex and now one of the lowbrow broadcasters who personified the cheery cheese of Radio 1 when Gambaccini joined the station in 1973 has also been hung out to dry by a spineless, weak-kneed BBC as it bends over backwards to ensure its charter is renewed in the face of renewed hostility from a government on Murdoch’s payroll.

What this latest headline says about the BBC, the Metropolitan Police Force, the legal system, and the state of this country in 2016 seems pretty clear. There doesn’t seem much point in spelling it out.

© The Editor

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5 thoughts on “FANTASY ISLAND

  1. “a broadcasting institution that routinely wiped copies of its most popular shows in the 60s and 70s was hardly likely to retain every document relating to a brief episode in which every party involved had been cleared of any wrongdoing.”

    The BBC (and ITV, to be fair) mainly wiped tapes in order to reuse them as the actual tapes were very expensive and they foresaw no future use for the programmes. Don’t forget that most of the people there were either pen-pushers or, if they were on the creative side, from radio or theatre where there was also a tradition of particular productions disappearing into the ether. It wasn’t in their culture to see a long term value in something as trivial as actual television programmes. Almost no-one working in taped TV (as opposed to filmed TV) had worked in feature films where there was starting to be an appreciation that there might be long-term value in content.

    On the other hand, the pen-pushers would see value in preserving, indexing and filing their own product – pieces of paper. The only real cost was in storage space. The BBC seems to have kept every nit-picking letter about Savile’s modest travel expenses so I would have thought it was likely that they would have kept any material they had about more serious matters, even if they came to nothing.

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  2. I suspect that Tony Blackburn has a more valid claim on ‘compo’ from the BBC than most of the fantasy accusers ever had.
    All of us who had corporate careers have exercised a measure of arse-covering on occasions, that’s how you get on by ‘losing’ your less flattering outcomes, but it seems that the BBC is just one gigantic arse, way beyond the capacity and opacity of any covering material, but that doesn’t stop them trying, it’s a cultural habit that’s hard to break.

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