his is a March 25, 2008 file photo of Sir Jimmy Savile, who for decades was a fixture on British television. A year after he died, aged 84 and honored as Sir Jimmy, several women have come forward to claim he was also a sexual predator and serial abuser of underage girls.  -AP Photo
This is a March 25, 2008 file photo of  Jimmy Savile, who for decades was a fixture on British television. A year after he died, aged 84 and honored as Sir Jimmy, several women have come forward to claim he was also a sexual predator and serial abuser of underage girls. — AP Photo

LONDON: Instantly recognisable with his platinum hair, garish tracksuits and huge cigars, Jimmy Savile hid behind an eccentric exterior while sexually abusing children and adults for more than half a century.

Savile was one of the top entertainers in British broadcasting from the 1960s to the 1980s, rising from his origins as a radio DJ to front the hugely popular BBC TV show “Jim'll Fix It”, in which he made children's wishes come true.

He was a constant presence on TV screens, also presenting “Top of the Pops”, the iconic music show watched by millions. He was the nation's “favourite uncle”, featuring in numerous advertising campaigns such as one in the 1970s to persuade drivers to use seatbelts. Police noted that if he turned up unannounced at schools, he was welcomed with open arms.

In later life Savile threw himself into charity work, raising a reported #40 million ($65 million, 50 million euros) for good causes. Yet all the time, police and child protection experts now believe, he was using the access that his fame brought him to grope and also rape women and children - mainly girls, but also boys including an eight-year-old. In fact he was doing so unashamedly, in the apparent knowledge that his fame and his apparent eccentricity would prevent him ever being exposed. Yet despite persistent rumours about him, he was never prosecuted and was mourned when he died in October 2011 aged 84.

Peter Watt of the NSPCC children's charity, who co-authored a report with police into Savile's crimes published on Friday, said: “He hid in plain sight behind a veil of eccentricity, double-bluffing those who challenged him.”

Savile abused children in his dressing room at the BBC studios, but his charity work also gave him access to hospitals, hospices and schools for disruptive youngsters. The report catalogues offences at 13 hospitals, even at Great Ormond Street, the world-renowned children's hospital in London. There were rumours about Savile, but police chose never to prosecute him.

In 2009 he was interviewwed by police about an assault at a school for troubled girls, but prosecutors concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

In a 1990 interview with the Independent on Sunday newspaper, Savile was asked about rumours that he liked young girls. Savile replied that, as he worked in the music business, “the young girls don't gather round me because of me - it's because I know the people they love, the stars. I am of no interest to them.”

One ex-colleague at the BBC said Savile fended off threats from the press to investigate him by threatening that his fundraising for the many charities he supported would be choked off if reporters delved into his past. From Leeds in northern England, Savile was conscripted to work as a coal miner in World War II, but suffered serious spinal injuries in an explosion. He was briefly a professional wrestler before working as a club and pirate radio DJ.

In 1964 he became the first presenter of “Top of the Pops” and fronted the prime-time programme throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Between 1975 and 1994 he also hosted “Jim'll Fix It”. Children wrote in at a rate of 20,000 a week and revelled in repeating his catchphrases, including “Now then, now then” and “How's about that then?”.

He struck up a rapport with Britain's royals and in 1990 he was knighted. Unmarried and by his own account “odd”, he claimed he had never been in love, saying more than a few hours with a woman gave him “brain damage”.

In sometimes terse interviews, he gave glimpses of a lonely lifestyle, living in a flat that had a room preserved as a shrine to his late mother.

Updated Jan 12, 2013 08:43am

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