The evil that men do…

What have Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Savile got in common? No, don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical; or, rather, it’s a question I’m going to answer for you. What they have in common is that they’re dead and their families are left to live with the knowledge that the general public hated their late relative and would really really like to tar them with the same brush.

When Margaret Thatcher’s death was announced, I was amazed at the general celebratory atmosphere one old lady’s demise seemed to cause. Cars were tooting their horns, pub landlords were offering free drinks, and, for a lot of people, it seemed that the yoke of oppression had suddenly been lifted from them.

What rot. Many of these individuals are no doubt too young to have any memory of the ‘Thatcher years’ – all they have to go on are the inherited prejudices of their parents and grandparents. And can it be healthy for those, such as myself, who are old enough to remember when she was the incumbent of No 10, still to be nursing grievances that are more than two decades old?

For years, she had been nothing more than a frail old woman suffering from dementia (surely a fate and a punishment worse than death for one who had once – as even her detractors grudgingly admit – had such a sharp intellect and decisive mind). She had wielded no real power since she resigned from office. Whilst people may have hated the changes she wrought and still feel her legacy to be one of evil, the fact that the woman herself is no longer alive has changed nothing.

What surprised me even more than the initial euphoria was that nine days after her death, public opprobrium had calmed down from a rolling boil to a gentle simmer. The disruption and protests that were predicted for her funeral came to nothing, and the 4,000 police officers deployed to secure the route simply had a day of standing around, being photographed by tourists. Perhaps the potential rioters were somehow chastened by the Boston marathon bombings; perhaps they’d just got bored with being angry.

My sorrow was for her family – not the most popular or likable of individuals perhaps, but still deserving of the right to grieve in peace and not have everyone they encountered leaping for joy at the very cause of their sadness. A friend remarked that, had she been his mother, he would have disowned her; but he wouldn’t; people don’t. Blood is still thicker than water, even in this day and age.

Which brings me on to Sir Jimmy Savile OBE KCSG, whose honours, I believe, have not been rescinded. His family, too, are left in the invidious position not only of having to live with aftermath of his crimes, but also – potentially – of losing all their inheritance in compensation claims to his alleged victims. It seems fairly certain that he did have a fondness for underage girls, and took advantage of their starstruck adulation; but it seems even more certain that a lot of bandwagon-jumping is now taking place. I heard a woman being interviewed on TV who had kept quiet about something she’d seen perhaps forty years ago for fear of not being believed. And what was this sight that had so traumatized her and imprinted itself so indelibly on her memory? She had seen Jimmy Savile coming out of a room at the BBC and he was – oh, the horror! – smiling.

In the village where I grew up there lived a man, whom I’ll call Mr W. Mr W. liked to touch girls – a hand on our knees, a casual brush against our burgeoning breasts, that kind of thing. We all knew he was like this, as did our parents. But back then the attitude was not ‘he must be lynched;’ back then it was ‘well, keep out of his way, then, silly.’ And we did; and now we can look back and laugh about Mr W. because we had the measure of him before we even knew what we were measuring him against. But Mr W. wasn’t famous and we weren’t hoping to get on Top of the Pops. Just as we are we aren’t now hoping to get a cut of a £4 million estate.

Jimmy Savile may have been the epitome of evil, or he may just have been a sad little man who tried his luck in an inappropriate manner and whose misdeeds have been magnified out of all proportion; either way, he’s dead and can neither admit nor deny the charges. Whatever he did, he got away with, and died more adored than abhorred. His descendants  however, are the ones who cannot show their faces in public and feel the need to apologise for something they had no part in and knew nothing about.

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