Well, it was only a matter of time in a British TV landscape devoted to revivals, retreads and rehashes; and if it had to be any television channel dramatising the facts of a project so stooped in fiction as Operation It Could Be Youtree, then one would naturally imagine it had to be ITV. After all, ITV essentially sponsored the whole witch-hunt from day one, what with Essex’s answer to Matthew Hopkins, Mark Williams-Thomas, and the tabloid sensationalism of his Jimmy Savile exposé in 2012 kick-starting a free-for-all that has ruined endless lives, careers and individuals unfortunate enough to have made a mark in public life prior to the revisionist’s paradise of the twenty-first century. However, the baton of shame has been passed on to Channel 4, that one-time home of radical and innovative television and now the channel that brings us property porn, poverty porn and naked dating shows.
Robbie Coltrane, the beached Caledonian whale whose serious acting career stalled after the end of ‘Cracker’ in the 1990s (and who has subsequently been reduced to those tedious travelogue showcases for 80s has-beens that ITV specialises in), is to play a beloved celebrity targeted by a Yewtree-style Historical Sex Crimes squad in a new C4 ‘drama’ titled ‘National Treasure’ this coming week. In order to hedge their bets, C4 have even recruited genuine National Treasure Julie Walters to play ‘the wife’; Judi Dench must have been otherwise engaged when the time for casting came around.
Plugging the programme he naturally hopes will salvage his dormant thespian ambitions, Coltrane has inserted the Savile caveat into the interview promoting the series in the current issue of the Radio Times, stressing the character he plays is in no way based upon Sir Jim. It’s merely the latest missive from the publicity circuit Coltrane has been on for the past couple of weeks, and photos released to the press that unnervingly recreate the images we’ve become sadly familiar with since 2012 must bring back such happy memories for the families of Dave Lee Travis and all those other ‘perverts hiding in plain sight’.
Echoing convenient sentiments previously uttered by another face from the past struggling to re-establish his ‘rebel’ credentials – John Lydon – Coltrane declares ‘Everyone knew Jimmy Savile was a creep. Everyone. I never met him but you’d watch him and you’d feel your skin crawl.’ Indeed – the millions who tuned into ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ every week in the 70s, 80s and 90s felt exactly the same back in the day whenever they set eyes upon that ‘wrong ‘un’, didn’t they, Robbie, which would explain why they kept tuning in. How it pays to be wise after the event.
In many respects, Robbie Coltrane is the perfect choice to play a fictitious figure whose past comes under present scrutiny in the drama; after all, he was a prominent member of the Alternative Comedy generation, those post-punk radicals whose slide into middle-aged respectability (and the establishment honours that come with it) has been utterly seamless. These early 80s undergraduates had a particular grudge against the working-class showbiz heroes of the 60s and 70s, easy targets for mock-satire as their envy of their targets’ achievements eventually led them all the way to writing appalling jukebox musicals based on the music of notable fellow radicals, Queen, on one hand, and relishing the opportunity to condemn them anew via Yewtree on the other.
It pays to remember that, whilst newspaper columnists from Hitchens to Littlejohn can today question the veracity of accusations levelled against personalities they themselves admire and revere, such voices were thin on the ground three or four years back. In the frenzied Yewtree cauldron of 2012/13/14, only thick-skinned brave bloggers dared to question the consensus during the height of the bonfire of the seventies, and they were written-off as crackpot obsessives for their troubles.
Even when the first few household names tentatively raised their heads above the parapet a couple of years ago – when, tellingly, it took the arrest of respectable broadcasters such as Paul Gambaccini to provoke them into action – it remained an unwritten rule that they had to distance themselves from Savile sympathies as they sprung to the defence of their showbiz buddies. Having been so successfully re-educated as to the ‘truth’ of the deceased eccentric charity fundraiser, the public would clearly have to be reminded that any accusation would not necessarily place the accused in the same sewer of filth as Savile. ‘Of course Jimmy Savile was an appalling human being, but…’ went the script recited ad infinitum by the fearless defenders of those caught in the net that the Met had widened.
‘National Treasure’ doesn’t come with the ‘Based on a true story’ attachment, though it’s not hard to foresee that those who still believe Fleet Street brings the Gospel to the masses will switch on and believe they’re essentially watching a documentary. Indeed, it will probably be difficult to distinguish between drama and documentary if one is a regular viewer of what passes for both on the mainstream channels, considering the recent efforts of our man from Billericay to portray himself as a cross between Roger Cook and James Bond over on ITV. I tried my best to ruin his career, but I clearly failed.
In a climate wherein Cliff Richard remains out on permanent ‘moral bail’ and questions over insecure convictions for the likes of Rolf Harris are successfully suppressed within the mainstream media, dramatising such a miserable episode in contemporary police procedure seems the apex of bad taste, though ratings are guaranteed with this kind of cynical exercise; and that’s what matters when the fate of ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ is so pivotal to the wellbeing of the nation.
There’s no doubt there is future scope for fictionalising the experience of the famous and non-famous alike where it comes to the imaginary crimes of the past impacting upon the present; but I have distinct doubts that viewers of ‘National Treasure’ will be exposed to anything other than a PR job for the Professional Victims’ lobby and the crusading integrity of both the Met and the CPS.
© The Editor