I have been reading the Leeds Teaching Hospitals report on Jimmy Savile. Obviously, it couldn’t really be any more grim, and you’ll have heard the latest shocking revelations via the mainstream media and Jamie Kenny.
But what about really sick and perverted behaviour? Here’s some for you.
A hugely important theme in the report is the remarkably vicious competition between the consultant doctors for status, resources, and career advancement. At a higher level of abstraction, this appeared as competition between LGI and other medical institutions for prestige, high technology, and investment. The huge scale of NHS infrastructure in Leeds meant that this was a seriously big deal politically and economically. This was dramatised as a rivalry with St James’s across town, a rivalry that was rooted in class distinction, as LGI historically emerged from the university medical school and St James’ from the workhouse.
The 1960s-70s board of governors, who were personally closest to Savile, were especially exercised by the perceived need to keep up with the expansion of St James’s as the light of NHS investment shone down on the previously benighted casual wards. This was why they wanted the publicity Jimmy Savile drummed up so badly.
This had direct practical consequences for Savile’s MO. One of the reasons why there were so many people crammed into the Nightingale wards, and so many children mixed into the general population, under minimal supervision by a thin scattering of student nurses overnight, was because they were desperate to retain their accreditation as a teaching hospital and needed to save elsewhere, something of enormous financial and career significance.
As time went on, his engagement with the top management shifted, in their telling at least. Rather than being personally associated with the bigwigs, he was increasingly in touch with the ambitious middle layer who used his services as a kind of broker to contact private donors, thus getting around the NHS’s procurement rules. I suspect there is more than one sordid story about money in here*.
However, this narrative is somewhat tendentious, when you look at the astonishing attempt by cardiology professor Alistair Hall, PR director Karl Milner, and others to get their hands on Savile’s estate. To recap, Hall, who was Savile’s doctor as well as his friend, gave a eulogy for him at the preposterous pseudo-state funeral in which he claimed that Savile had left much of his estate to endow a heart institute at LGI. Savile’s will contained nothing of the sort. It turns out from the report that Hall, Milner, and company had a get-together between his death and the funeral to decide how best to get their (institutional, rather than personal) hands on his money, like some gang of scheming relatives in a 19th-century French novel.
Actually, many of the recent top management demonstrate huge amnesia about him, which is astonishing when you realise one of them (former CEO Stuart Ingham) remembered Savile directly threatening him, saying that he could have him “dealt with” by people he “knew”, although he also remembered nothing else.
Which reminds me. Far below this exalted social level, Savile’s only official role was as a volunteer porter, and he made a great deal of effort to be everybody’s best mate at that level. It’s not hard to see a parallel with his career in the Northern club trade. Famously, gangsters love to control the door staff because anything that goes in or out of the club goes through the door. Savile had his own door staff to ensure that he controlled the door. Similarly, influencing the porters and security guards gave him what he wanted: access. To put it another way, he muscled in on the door at LGI with the assistance of the new chief porter, his close friend and apparent accomplice Charlie Hullighan, in the same way as he might have imposed a new Lithuanian bodybuilder on an uncooperative dance hall.
In fact, it would probably make sense to break this post up into sections by social class, but there’s only so much Savile I’m up for wading through.
And making this an underworld story is interesting, but I think it’s worth pointing the finger firmly at the cynical and ambitious medical bureaucrats driving in from Harrogate or Ilkley. They thought they were using him; he was using them; now they remember only that he’d always been hanging about and it was somebody else’s problem. They are the Schreibtischtäter of the story, and there’s something frankly Prussian about the report’s description of LGI in the postwar era.
The parallel, not-quite-equal nursing hierarchy was as bad for different reasons. They were just as ambitious but even more authoritarian, and where their medical colleagues cared about their science, they cared mostly about whether any of the students had snuck a boyfriend into halls or been seen in a pub. Nobody seems to have cared about the patients, who were somehow beside the point. The world of Orwell’s How the Poor Die was still with us.
Speaking of How the Poor Die and workhouses, the one place in Leeds where you were relatively safe from Jimmy was…Jimmy’s. Out of thirty-odd allegations on Leeds Teaching Hospitals premises, only one is recorded at St. James’s. Clearly, he had fully entered into LGI’s tribal identity. A real LGI man didn’t set foot in Jimmy’s, and neither did he.
*One that didn’t happen was the appeal for an MRI scanner in the early 90s, where Savile made it a condition of the donation – which wasn’t actually his money or even money he collected – that the machine be procured from a specific Japanese manufacturer, not named in the report. The medics refused to accept that particular model and the deal fell through.