"IT IS all hideous." With these words a sententious Melanie
Phillips signed off on The Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday
of last week), having recited a long list of society's ills. So,
another ordinary day in the Moral Maze studio, then, with
Michael Buerk and the gang - joined, for the first time, by Canon
Giles Fraser - picking over the bones of the Jimmy Savile
The bones should, Alec Shelbrooke MP says, be dug up and
translated to an unmarked grave. How about ploughing salt into the
earth around the site as further evidence of society's contempt?
The demands for the dismantling of the Savile reputation, and the
sense of defilement which adheres to all that bears his name have a
symbolic, ritualistic feel: "medieval", Kenan Malik suggested,
except that that gives a bad name to the Middle Ages.
You might say it was a little too soon to be addressing the
Savile story in a programme where calm reflection and level-headed
perspective is required - and you would be right - but this is
The Moral Maze we are talking about, and the panel had a
Buerk set the bar of contempt high with his opening remarks: he
had never liked Jimmy Savile, but had to admit that his work for
charity was laudable. There was much more bluster besides, behind
which sat some disquieting facts. Not least of these was the
revelation by Jo Summers, a solicitor to two of the main Savile
trusts, that, ever since the suggestion had been made that monies
in the Savile charities might be redistributed to organisations
that help victims of abuse, she and her fellow trustees had been
propositioned by numerous such organisations. You cannot blame
fund-raisers for keeping an eye out for opportunities, but they
clearly do not have a problem with this apparently "tainted"
One argument made for the dispersal of money raised by the
Savile charities is based on the assertion that he pursued his
charitable work only as a means of facilitating the abuse.
Antoinette Fox, a victim of abuse by her stepfather, a music
teacher, claimed similarly that her stepfather's popular music
books should no longer be published under his name, since music
teaching was the way in which the abuser "groomed society". It was
a telling analogy; but, as Claire Fox pointed out, we are in no
position to judge why people do charitable work.
The philosopher Dr Constantine Sandis extended the discussion
beyond the immediate scandal. If we were to claim the right to
exercise moral disgust at any inanimate object associated with
people of whom we disapprove, where would we stop? Do we boycott
the Colosseum or the Tower of London?
While it is completely natural for a society to express its
disgust, the appropriate response to such disgust lies in the realm
of the pragmatic rather than that of moral conviction. Mr
Shelbrooke had admitted as much earlier on: he was taking a
pragmatic stand, expressing the feelings of his constituents rather
than taking a moral stand.
Such is so often the way of The Moral Maze: at the end
of 40 minutes of exhaustive manoeuvrings, we discover that the
question is not a moral one at all, but one that calls instead for
the skills of enlightened pragmatism and good sense.