Under investigation – Isabelle Grey
Isabelle Grey discusses the research behind her latest book THE SPECIAL GIRLS, and a memorable meeting with Jimmy Savile...
Posted on April 5, 2017 in Guest Author, Under investigation
Among the various books I read as background for my latest crime novel, The Special Girls, was Dan Davies’ masterly biography of Jimmy Savile, In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile. One story Davies told, about the captain of a cruise liner on which Savile regularly travelled first class and for free, particularly struck me. After the parents of a 14-year-old girl complained about Savile’s inappropriate behaviour the captain detained him in his cabin and then ordered him to disembark at the next port. The captain appears to be about the only person who ever stood up to Savile.
I encountered Jimmy Savile in the 1980s when I was present at a photo shoot for the long-running advertising campaign ‘The Age of the Train’ which featured Savile as the ‘face’ of British Rail. His TV persona had never appealed to me but I was nonetheless surprised to find him physically imposing and slightly threatening.
Throughout the shoot he talked gleefully about his visits to Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, in Broadmoor, boasting that he was the only person Sutcliffe would admit as a visitor. This was not long after Sutcliffe’s conviction and no one – art director, photographer, assistant, stylist – showed anything but distaste: certainly not admiration. Yet distaste seemed to be precisely the reaction Savile wanted: the more we tried to signal that we didn’t want to hear about Sutcliffe, the more pleasure Savile took in talking about him.
It never occurred to me then that Savile might be a sexual predator, but what was obvious was the gratification he found in what was essentially an abusive situation. Not only was he openly domineering – ordering whomever he liked to make him tea, or whatever – but his manner strongly suggested that he knew very well that if anyone present voiced any kind of objection, it would be them, not him, who would be off the campaign.
No one in the world of advertising was going to be easily shocked by a celebrity throwing his – or her – weight about, but Savile’s malice was of a different order. It was nakedly about power and finding opportunities to abuse that power.
The media coverage after Savile’s death and subsequent exposure talked about his ‘duping delight’, the thrill that he so obviously – in hindsight – found in possessing the power to get away with it: and that’s what I witnessed. That long ago afternoon gave me some understanding of those who had known about (or strongly suspected) his sexual abuse yet said nothing, and even greater admiration for the captain of the cruise ship.
The setting of The Special Girls is a flagship London hospital, a hierarchical world where exploitation can be passed off as care and concern and the dazzle of medical ‘mystique’ can blind people to difficult and inconvenient truths. Young victims who protest are too easily diagnosed as ungrateful or troubled. Suspecting a long-standing abuse of power, DI Grace Fisher faces her trickiest investigation yet.