TV COLUMN: Louis Theroux: Savile, A World Without Down's Syndrome

Columnist James Waller-Davies takes a look at this week's television.
James Waller-DaviesJames Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Yet another television examination of Jimmy Savile, but Louis Theroux; Savile (BBC1) has to be the most compelling so far.

It might easily appear self-indulgent of Theroux to re-visit his 2001 documentary on the former BBC celebrity and question why he did not spot the secret that lay behind Savile’s 40-year spree of sexual assaults and rapes.

But Theroux is a master of getting people to let their guard down – there’s arguably no one better at this on television currently – and Theroux knows this. As such what we got was not just an examination of Savile, but one of Theroux himself.

Intercut with clips from the 2001 documentary, the 2016 Theroux interviewed people who knew Savile and some of his victims. What was revealed, even allowing for the distorting benefit of hindsight, was what appeared to be the most blatant secret hiding in plain sight.

In one clip from 2001, Savile is clearly seen groping a woman in a public restaurant with Theroux in the foreground reading the menu, oblivious.

In the final summing up, Theroux pointed out that Savile was a man “who charmed royalty and prime ministers – and millions of us who listened to him on the radio and watched him on TV. So to understand his crimes, we should also remember how we were beguiled.” Apart from the victims who clearly knew and those who made ignored attempts to report him, Savile first beguiled and then conned us all.

Presented by Sally Phillips, A World Without Down’s Syndrome? (BBC1) was both thought-provoking and moving. Phillips is a mother of a Down’s syndrome son and this provided an informed and emotional perspective, but also one which inevitably skewed objectivity to some degree.

Phillips explored the potential repercussions of new antenatal screening that could all-but-eliminate Down’s through foetal termination. Her main point was that Down’s is not a disease, but a type of person. The ethics are complex, though perhaps inevitably given Phillips’s starting point the documentary was more a ‘case for’ Down’s rather than a balanced view of the ethics and practicalities.

All the Down’s children and adults featured in the programme were at the higher-functioning end of the spectrum. What about the lower end? For it to be fully convincing, the audience needed to be given more.

Do you know what your children are watching online on BBC3 – or III, as it now is? Probably not. BBC3 gets no listings, very loose scheduling and barely any promotion. Ironically, since it got dumped out of the real world and shunted into cyberspace, it’s actually got much better content. Content which should be back on ‘proper telly’.

One of the year’s best comedies, Fleabag, is hiding there. Written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag is a hilarious take on female twenty-somethings life.

Its webpage describes it as “Angry, pervy, outrageous and hilarious”. Think of it as a younger Bridget Jones telling you just that little bit more than you wanted to know. The first two minutes of episode one will be enough for you to decide whether it’s for you. It was certainly enough for me to know I can’t quote any of it here.

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