Key extracts: inquiry spreads at Top of the Pops beyond Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse
Retired judge Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry dismisses a previous independent investigation that cleared Top of the Pops of putting girls at the recordings in danger.
The BBC commissioned Sir Brian Neill, an independent barrister who later became a Court of Appeal judge, to investigate Top of the Pops (TOTP) over a series of allegations in 1971 that:
“No one within the BBC seemed to consider the possibility that the News of the World articles might have lifted the lid off a true state of affairs at Top of the Pops.” – Dame Janet Smith, review report
- a 15-year-old girl from the audience, Claire McAlpine, committed suicide after a disc-jockey from the show allegedly “seduced” her;
- a TOTP photographer took “pornographic” pictures of girls from audiences at recordings, and showed “blue films” backstage;
- bribes were paid to DJs to play specific records on their programmes.
Smith re-examines the evidence on the first two subjects, and rejects Neill’s findings on them in the draft report of her inquiry into sexual assaults by the late Sir Jimmy Savile, BBC presenter and DJ, at the broadcaster, which has been leaked to Exaro.
She writes: “What strikes me about Mr Neill’s report is that his investigation of the payola allegations was extremely thorough; yet his investigation into concerns relating to Top of the Pops and Claire McAlpine was not.
“Sir Brian cannot now remember anything about his investigation into Top of the Pops other than what is recorded in his report, yet he does remember the payola aspects.”
In this third of five packages of pieces, Exaro reports on the disturbing chapters in Smith’s report on Top of the Pops and Radio 1.
Click on the links below to download PDFs of fuller extracts from Smith’s draft report.
The extracts uploaded with this piece include the following passages from Smith about Neill’s investigation. She writes witheringly about Stanley Dorfman, a TOTP producer who also acted as a BBC spokesman at the time:
In the Evening News of 5 April 1971, he is reported to have said that it was “absolute nonsense” to suggest that young girls appearing on Top of the Pops were dated after the show and in The Sun on 6 April 1971, Mr Dorfman is reported to have said of Top of the Pops “it is a perfectly straight-forward, above-board, jolly-jolly show.” He added, “I have never been aware of anything going on that one ought to feel ashamed of.” When speaking of the possibility that Claire McAlpine might have spent the night with a disc-jockey, he said that he could not remember meeting her. “She might have had stardust in her eyes – but I have no control over what happens after the show.”
When Mr Dorfman gave evidence to the Review, he said that he could not recall saying these things to the newspapers and added that they did not “even sound like him”. He was adamant that he knew nothing about Claire McAlpine’s death. Indeed, he did not think that he was working on Top of the Pops by 1971, although BBC records suggest that he was. Nor did Mr Dorfman remember that he had been interviewed by Mr Neill. He said that, as a producer, he was not in a position to see for himself what was going on out of the spotlight on the studio floor or in dressing rooms or generally after the show… Looking back on those times, however, he was now prepared to accept that “the monitoring of the audience probably was not adequate because these things were happening,” meaning the abuse of young girls.
I accept Mr Dorfman’s assertion that he does not remember… However, I make two observations. The first is to say that it was unfortunate, to say the least, if the BBC put forward as its press spokesman someone who did not have actual knowledge of the issues under discussion; he was speaking without knowing whether what he said was true or false. If that was the case, his reassuring assertion in the press that Top of the Pops was a “perfectly decent jolly-jolly show”, was worthless. This was not fair on Mr Dorfman and it was not wise of the BBC. Second, if Mr Dorfman (and possibly other producers) had such scant knowledge of what went on in the background at Top of the Pops, it was very unfortunate that Mr Neill should have relied on their evidence. It rather looks as though those producers may all have advanced a reassuring picture. If that is so, it would explain why Mr Neill felt generally reassured.
Dorfman told Exaro that he stood by his comments quoted in the newspapers. He said: “I had no idea. That is the whole point.
“I have been through all this with Dame what’s-her-name, who is writing the report. I have been through everything in detail, and I said I had absolutely no idea at all.”
Smith cites what she calls a “good description” of TOTP culture by an assistant floor manager from 1969 to 1971 as “an extraordinary mixture of sleaze and innocence”.
She continues: “The innocence was in thinking that, what was happening, as presented on the screen, was just good clean fun, family entertainment. The failure to see that those things represented something other than what appeared on the screen was a kind of innocence.
“The sleaze was the reality of what was actually happening and also the grossly inflated idea of the value that the girls placed on what Top of the Pops might do for them. He added (frankly adopting his current position), ‘I mean, celebrity culture is still about that.’”
If Neill had heard from the witnesses who spoke to Smith, and possibly others who may have been available at the time, she says, “He would not have felt quite as reassured as he did.”
Neill told Exaro: “I had given the BBC two options, if my recollection is correct: a full report, when I had seen all the documents; or an interim report that would be provisional.
“I was not in favour of an interim report, although it was intended to be entirely confidential. The BBC chose an interim report, presumably for the time being. I am sure that in my covering letter to the legal adviser I contemplated that we would meet when he had read what I had written.”
Smith turns to the complaint to the BBC from 15-year-old Claire’s mother and the DJ identified only by the code “A7”. She writes:
The Neill Report – conclusions about Mrs McAlpine’s complaint
Mr Neill dealt with Mrs McAlpine’s complaint very briefly. He recorded that he had interviewed A7 about his association with Claire
I interpose to say that A7 told the Review no such interview had taken place. But I am satisfied that Mr Neill did interview A7. Mr Neill recorded:
“Mr A7 told me that the girl had come to see him on several occasions and had invented stories for the purpose of getting access to him. He said she seemed to him in a sort of fantasy world but that she had not made any sexual advances of any kind.”
I interpose to say that Mr Neill’s account of what A7 said is completely at variance with what A7 told the Review, namely that, to his knowledge, he had never met Claire McAlpine. There is no record in Mr Neill’s report as to what A7 was asked by Mr Neill…
The only other witness Mr Neill interviewed on this issue was Mr [Bill] Cotton [head of light entertainment], although he also saw statements from Mr [Tony] Preston [assistant head of ‘variety’, in the light entertainment department] and Mr [Rex] Moorfoot [head of presentation for television] and a number of memoranda that are clearly the same documents as I have seen… Mr Neill did not recount Mr Cotton’s evidence save to say that he had interviewed A7 together with Mr Preston and had been satisfied with A7’s denial that he had ever taken the girl home from Top of the Pops. Mr Neill does not mention Mr Preston’s reservation about the inconsistency between what A7 had said and what his agent had said about his movements on 17 February 1971.
It seems to me that Mr Neill’s investigation of this issue was substantially hampered by the inadequacy of the first BBC investigation, such as it was, and in particular by the lack of any note of what A7 had said when first interviewed by Mr Cotton and Mr Preston.
Mr Neill’s conclusions were that the BBC appeared to have dealt properly with Mrs McAlpine’s complaint and that the allegation against A7 was “probably an invention”. With great respect to Sir Brian, I cannot agree with his conclusions on this issue. I have already explained why I think that the BBC’s investigation into Mrs McAlpine’s complaint was inadequate (see above). Nor do I think that Sir Brian was on safe ground in concluding that the allegation against A7 was probably an invention. I can see that, on the basis of the evidence he had, it would have seemed more likely that the allegation was untrue than true. But there was such a paucity of evidence before him that I do not think it was safe for him to state any conclusion. He, like me, had not seen the diary or spoken to Mrs McAlpine. All he had done was to speak to A7 who had issued a flat denial. Of course I accept that decision makers sometimes do accept the account of a single witness but it appears to me that A7’s general denial was accepted even though he had not been asked a number of pertinent questions.
The Neill Report – general observations about the BBC’s attitude
What strikes me about Mr Neill’s report is that his investigation of the payola allegations was extremely thorough; yet his investigation into concerns relating to Top of the Pops and Claire McAlpine was not. Sir Brian cannot now remember anything about his investigation into Top of the Pops other than what is recorded in his report, yet he does remember the payola aspects. I think the explanation for this is that it was payola that was of real concern to the BBC. As soon as those allegations were made, Mr Neill was instructed. The payola allegations went to the heart of the BBC’s integrity in so far as it operated in the world of popular music. One can see this heightened concern from the Board of Management minutes for the period. Members of that Board were following the development of payola events closely and anxiously. The Board of Management minutes reveal a rather different attitude towards the Top of the Pops allegations and the death of Claire McAlpine. References in the minutes to these topics are limited. As I have said, there was a reference to “concern about the TOTP situation even if it were established that no liability attached” and a suggestion that the question of admission of audiences to pop shows on both radio and television should be re-examined. However, compared with the concern expressed over the payola allegations, the interest in these topics seems low key and, such as it was, its emphasis was upon concern about adverse media comment.
As for Claire McAlpine, the report quotes Detective Chief Superintendent Booker as saying, “Our enquiries into this matter have revealed that in fact this child was highly emotional, stage struck and living in a world of fantasy. That she had, through her own efforts, established some contact with disc-jockeys, pop singers and other personalities is undoubtedly true but the extent of her involvement is grossly exaggerated.” It is not clear who has been exaggerating. The report does substantiate these conclusions by reference to evidence in the way that it does with other allegations, such as, for example the allegations against Mr Goodwin. The Review has asked the police what investigations were made in respect of Claire McAlpine that led Detective Chief Superintendent Booker to this conclusion. In particular, we have asked the police whether they interviewed Mrs McAlpine, Claire’s three friends [names redacted by Exaro] and the two disc-jockeys allegedly named in the diary. At the time of writing, this information is not available.
When the police report was complete, it appears that arrangements were made for a copy to be provided for BBC senior management. However, I can find no reference to any discussion of the issues it dealt with in the minutes of meeting of either the Board of Management or the Governors.
Conclusions about the BBC’s response to the various wake-up calls in respect of Top of the Pop
The impression that I have from the Board of Management Minutes and from the various internal memoranda to which I have referred was that no one within the BBC seemed to consider the possibility that the News of the World articles might have lifted the lid off a true state of affairs at Top of the Pops. There has been a thread running through the evidence I have heard that the BBC felt the tabloid press was ‘anti-BBC’ and that much of what they published was likely to be untrue or at least greatly exaggerated. That was a dangerous attitude for the BBC to adopt. In fairness to the BBC, they did take the payola allegations seriously but I do not think that they treated the Top of the Pops allegations with the seriousness they deserved. There is no hint of any concern that some of the young audience would be impressionable and vulnerable and that they might be exploited by the older men trading on the glamour of association with the show. On the contrary, the concern within the BBC seems to have been to dampen down any adverse publicity and to ensure, so far as possible, that any sexual contact taking place in connection with the show would be consensual because the girls would be over 16.
This criticism might seem harsh but it seems to me to be borne out first by the BBC’s reaction to Mrs McAlpine’s complaint and then by their reaction to Claire’s death.
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