Friday 18 October 2019

Louis Theroux: I’m still confused about why I liked Jimmy Savile

The broadcaster spent three months with Savile as part of a documentary project two decades ago.

Louis Theroux on Desert Island Discs (Amanda Benson and BBC Radio 4)
Louis Theroux on Desert Island Discs (Amanda Benson and BBC Radio 4)
Louis Theroux (Ian West/PA)

Sherna Noah

Louis Theroux says he is still “confused” about how he maintained a friendship with Jimmy Savile.

Theroux spent three months with Savile while making a documentary about the DJ in 2000, which failed to expose him as a paedophile.

He went on to have a friendship with the former Jim’ll Fix It presenter, even staying on occasion at his house.

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Louis Theroux and Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs (Amanda Benson/BBC Radio 4)

After Savile’s abuse was exposed following his death in 2011, Theroux revisited the subject to try to “understand the truth more fully” by talking to victims.

Now Theroux tells Desert Island Discs: “There’s a slightly naive view that if abuse happens you recognise it as abuse straight away, and of course that isn’t how it works in a real world setting.

“So, it was something that I had to learn and I’d like to think that I bring that understanding now to my work and also as a human being.”

He tells the BBC Radio 4 show: “I’d remained in contact with him (Savile) a little bit after I’d made the first programme.

“So, while I’m still quite proud of the first programme, I’m still a bit confused about how was I able to experience him as a somewhat likeable person in the year or two after making it.

“That’s something I think upon.”

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Louis Theroux on Desert Island Discs (Amanda Benson and BBC Radio 4)

On his follow-up documentary to When Louis Met Jimmy, he says: “I suppose I felt I wanted to figure out how it was that I’d missed what I’d missed.

“I wanted to do a personal and professional stock-taking and to sit down with victims and talk to them about their experiences.”

There is “something very conflicting about reading about crimes and predatory activity while also knowing that this was someone who you, sort of, quite liked, and trying to square that in your own mind”, he tells host Lauren Laverne.

“And sometimes… victims of serious sexual assault experience a similar ambivalence.”

The documentary maker also discusses growing up with novelist Paul Theroux as his father.

“I would get little insights into his other life through reading his books,” he says.

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Louis Theroux spent three months in Savile’s company while making a documentary (Ian West/PA)

“It’s an odd thing, reading a graphic sex scene in a novel that your dad’s written.

“It’s a bit, ‘I wonder if my dad’s done that?’ when you’re seven or eight years old, and there’s quite a bit of drug-taking in some of the travel books.

“In some of the semi-autobiographical novels there’s quite a bit of extra-marital sex.

“So, I think there are worse things in life, but you do have to process it a bit.”

He also discusses his upper-crust education at Westminster boarding school, just a “half-hour cycle ride” from where the Theroux family lived.

“There’s something about a lot of males in a confined space… a certain level of situational homosexuality… which I think is relatively common, definitely in prison and to an extent in all-male boarding schools, and a Darwinian atmosphere,” he says.

“But you don’t go around stabbing people at Westminster.”

Desert Island Discs with Louis Theroux is on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11.15am.

PA Media

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