WHAT is the difference between John Peel and Sir Jimmy Savile?
At first glance: not a lot. Both radio DJs, both national treasures and both, it now seems certain, had sexual relations with female fans aged under 16.
In Savile’s case, nothing has been proven but the weight of evidence is compelling.
As for Peel, he cheerfully admitted it. In a 1989 newspaper interview he said that girls used to “queue up” outside a radio station to give him oral sex.
“I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13,” he is quoted as saying, “though she looked older.”
Two paedos in a pod? The main difference is that Peel’s name remains sacred while Savile’s is already mud.
Why, I wonder, has no morally upstanding citizen thought to desecrate Peel’s grave in the way they did Savile’s?
Why has no newspaper started a campaign to posthumously strip Peel’s OBE, as one is currently doing with Savile’s knighthood?
And why is the board of the planned John Peel Centre for Creative Arts not seeking to drop those first two words like a hot potato, just as the trustees of the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust are reaching for the Tippex?
In short, why was the paedophile-hating British public so ready to forgive one radio icon’s sins but not another’s?
Well, the severity of the sin plays a part: Savile appears to have actively trawled for vulnerable girls he knew full well were under-age, whereas Peel was merely lackadaisical about the legality of those who sought him out. That is not a complete defence, but it is a significant mitigating circumstance.
Longevity of sin is also relevant: Peel’s confession related to a short period of his life, when he was a young man. Savile’s alleged crimes spanned several decades.
Plus, Peel’s jaunty confession helps his cause. It is amazing what transgressions we will forgive if they are volunteered with lashings of boyish charm (see Boris Johnson for details).
However, our willingness to forgive Peel may also stem from a less virtuous source: he is too important for us to lose.
Savile, like Gary Glitter or Jonathan King, was a bit of disposable fluff. He played the hits, spouted a few catchphrases and rattled his jewellery.
Peel, on the other hand, did more than skate over the pop culture. He created it. By breaking some great bands and staying up late to play many more dud ones, he created the soundtrack to millions of young lives.
Could it be that we great moral crusaders are willing to crucify a man for destroying teenage lives, as long as doing so does not tarnish the memory of our own gilded youth?
In other words, we love teenagers but we love Teenage Kicks more.