LONDON - Classified documents being made public Friday detail how now-disgraced BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile was comfortable at the heart of the British government during his heyday in the 1980s, lunching with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at her country home, sending her jokey thank-you notes and lobbying for tax breaks and contributions for his charitable works.
The papers include an unnerving handwritten note from Savile to Thatcher in which he claims that his "girl patients" are pretending to be jealous because of the time he spent dining with the prime minister.
Only with hindsight does the note seem in dubious taste. In recent months Savile — who died last year at age 84 — has been accused of being a serial abuser of hundreds of underage girls. Investigators have called him one of the worst sex offenders in British history and said he used his TV stardom and charity commitments to help him gain access to vulnerable teens.
The platinum-haired, garishly-dressed Savile received a knighthood from Thatcher's government and other honours. He was rumoured to be involved with child sex abuse, but was never charged with any crimes.
The National Archives file detailing some of Savile's dealings with the Thatcher government show not only his extraordinary access to the highest levels of government but also that Cabinet ministers took his role as a charity advocate seriously and discussed how best to deal with his requests. The file includes an April 14, 1980 letter from Thatcher to Savile that begins with the greeting, "Dear Jimmy." In it she discusses plans to change tax rules in a way that will give "considerable encouragement" to charities.
The Savile letter to Thatcher is fawning: "I waited a week before writing to thank you for my lunch invitation because I had such a superb time I didn't want to be too effusive," he begins.
Mark Dunton, contemporary history specialist at the National Archives, said the file shows Savile enjoyed an open line of communication, and seemingly friendly relations, with Thatcher and other top officials who seem "obviously oblivious" to any issues surrounding Savile's personal behaviour.
"It's common knowledge that Jimmy Savile with his fundraising had this sort of status as a hero, albeit an eccentric hero, for quite a long time," Dunton said.
Savile's goals were serious. He was trying to persuade the prime minister to lessen the amount of time required before a charity could receive tax exempt status, and also lobbying Thatcher to make a governmental contribution to one of his favourite projects — the rebuilding of a spinal injuries unit at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
A 1981 Department of Health and Social Security memo suggests that a governmental contribution to the enterprise might be a good idea because the Savile money-raising appeal "has attracted the enthusiasm of people from all walks of life."
In notes to Thatcher, her staff asks the prime minister to clarify any personal commitments she might have made to Savile when he visited her country residence.
The staff also asks if Thatcher had agreed to appear on Savile's show, "Jim'll Fix It." She answers with a handwritten "No."