No, the irony will never escape me, but I do have to admit I owe Mark Williams-Thomas a great deal. Deprived of ITV’s top investigative reporter rising without a trace in 2012, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the fearless ‘former police detective’ and ‘child protection expert’ in alerting the nation to the scourge of celebrity paedos hiding in plain sight, I have been able to acquire an audience for my ramblings both in this medium and another. In fact, it was the other that enabled MWT to facilitate my first big break; and for that I will always be grateful to my generation’s Roger Cook.
The ‘Exposure’ exposé on Jimmy Savile that aired on October 3 2012 was the career-launching platform MWT had desperately been looking for, following occasional work for ‘Newsnight’ in a similar vein. It also provided me with something of a platform too. At that point, I’d been uploading videos to YouTube for a good couple of years and had slowly built a small cult following for my redubs, remakes and remodels of largely vintage TV. After watching MWT’s sensationalistic hatchet-job on a dead man who was admittedly as loathed as he was loved in his lifetime, my scepticism was superseded by a light-bulb moment. Here was a chance to combine and contrast the old world with the new one. And so Jimmy Savile became Great Uncle Bulgaria.
My first ‘Exposure’ spoof appeared within 48 hours of its source material being screened and went down well with my regular subscribers as well as helping to pick up a few more along the way. It was fairly short and quite crude – in terms of technical quality; the crudeness of the humour was a given – and I would probably have left it at that had not MWT used his newfound fame to kick-start a bandwagon he was determined to be in the driving seat of. Whilst shocking examples of the real thing were taking place at that very moment (albeit under the radar in faraway northern towns), the media’s moral crusader convinced the nation that it had actually all happened in the 1970s and 80s; the rich, the famous and the powerful had been the perpetrators, and their wicked deeds had been securely shielded from the masses by top-level cover-ups, conspiracies and secret societies until MWT had the guts to shine a light on the clandestine network of shame.
The insidious instigation of Operation Yewtree, unleashing the Cromwellian storm-troopers of the police and their allies in the legal profession, spearheaded a Hopkins-esque witch-hunt in which safely unfashionable old celebrities were rounded-up one-by-one, usually thanks to the exhausting efforts of MWT. Yes, it was boom-time for ambulance-chasing law firms, false-memory therapists, and yours truly. By placing The Wombles at the centre of my parallel universe Operation It Could Be Youtree, I was able to expand the roll-call of the guilty (till proven innocent) by substituting each of the aged accused with telly contemporaries of Wimbledon Common’s most infamous residents – Bagpuss, Hartley Hare, Mr Benn, Nogbad the Bad et al – as well as encompassing the motley crew of Icke disciples, fanatical fantasists and self-appointed paedo-hunters MWT had given the green light to.
Recently revisiting ‘Exposure’, I was surprised that my version of Mark Williams-Thomas, reborn (almost inevitably) as Mark JOHN-Thomas, doesn’t actually appear until right at the very end of the third instalment. However, as MWT became more ubiquitous on-screen whenever Yewtree grabbed a headline, this humourless, pompous individual with a hilarious absence of self-awareness quickly asserted himself as the star of my show thereafter. MWT at that time had his own YT channel and such was his delicious vanity that virtually every appearance he had made on TV was there; I had an unlimited supply of footage I could play with. And I did. By the time I’d taken so much piss out of him that his bladder must have been running on empty, MWT mysteriously removed more or less all the videos I’d pillaged. Coincidence? The fact is my series had taken on a life of its own that went way beyond my usual YT audience, even as far as those directly affected by the events I was satirising.
Whilst I’d been playing my strongest hand to parody the hysteria, others had been playing theirs in different online mediums, and I discovered the ‘Exposure’ series was being passed around like illicit contraband. Some of its most enthusiastic fans made contact and new doors were opened to me as a consequence. Episodes gradually acquired a little more sophistication both in presentation and in material as I was being fed information I wouldn’t otherwise have come across. The mainstream media was sticking rigidly to the MWT manual and no prominent journalist had yet dared to stick their head above the parapet for fear of being labelled a paedo apologist. For a good couple of years, my videos and the more forensic blogs of various determined diggers were the only places where an alternative to the consensus could be heard.
It took until celebrities whose currency hadn’t dated along with their dress-sense found themselves caught in the Yewtree net before voices belatedly began to be to be tentatively raised. Gradually, the wider public were made aware of the dubious police tactics and yet we heard little of the non-famous casualties denied access to expensive lawyers, those whose lives had also been devastated by this appalling approach to law and order. Moreover, an #IbelieveHer agenda served to conveniently mute all those women whose men-folk had been whisked away at the crack of dawn by the CPS Stasi – all those wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters and sisters who were suffering in silence because their stories didn’t fit the narrative the MSM had opted for to present events, as ever, in simple black & white terms. Most are suffering still.
I’m lucky. I was able to walk away from the madness when I’d reached the end of the ‘Exposure’ road with a fourteenth and final episode that retold the tale in the style of Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’ series. I felt I’d extracted every ounce of sap from the Yewtree and there was nothing left to say, for me at least. Firmly established as the resident paedo professor of the daytime TV sofa, Mark Williams-Thomas nevertheless continued to seek out new celebrity scalps even as more questions than ever were being asked about Operation Yewtree and its ramifications, as well as its equally unnecessary successors, Midland and Conifer. And now those questions are bringing the odious role of MWT into the public spotlight at last; prominent papers are actually saying out loud what the rest of us were saying out loud five long years ago, when we were routinely dismissed as beyond-the-pale paedo sympathisers.
Paul Gambaccini’s broadcasting clout guarantees him a sympathetic audience and gives him the freedom to openly describe what he went through as well as being critical of the system that exposed him to it, whereas others who experienced the same ordeal remain marginalised by their obscurity and tarnished in their communities. Yes, without Mark Williams-Thomas, there would be no ‘Winegum Telegram’; but without Mark Williams-Thomas, there would be far fewer damaged families and far fewer ruined individuals. I’d happily consign this blog to the same great online platform in the sky that the ‘Exposure’ series now resides in if that pound-shop Titus Oates finally received a taste of his own rancid medicine.
© The Editor