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UK: Suffolk journalist reveals life at the BBC in Savile era

PUBLISHED: 16:11 07 November 2012

BROADCASTER Michael Cole last night described “scenes of abandon that might have made Caligula blush” during his time work at the BBC during the Jimmy Savile era.

BROADCASTER Michael Cole last night described “scenes of abandon that might have made Caligula blush” during his time working at the BBC during the Jimmy Savile era.

Mr Cole, who spent 20 years at the BBC and writes a column for the East Anglian Daily Times, said the liberal attitudes that were introduced to the corporation by Director General Hugh Carleton Greene had been abused by some.

His allegations include:

n Open drugs use

n Gaggles of young girls in the BBC club after filming of Top of the Pops

n Abuses of power by some ignored

Claims over behaviour at the BBC have spiralled after allegations Jimmy Savile abused hundreds of young people including some he met through his television work,

Mr Cole, of Laxfield, said cannabis was smoked in the BBC club at Television Centre, in White City, and anyone who had tried to stop the drug-taking or had intervened to stop young girls going to the club would have been laughed at.

He claimed scenes at the BBC social club were akin to the infamous debauchery of the Roman emperor Caligula.

He said there was a clear divide between the news operation, who saw Greene’s liberalisation as signal to introduce more investigative, probing journalism, and some in the light entertainment department who saw it as a licence to lower moral standards.

Mr Cole worked for the corporation from 1968 to 1988, by which time he was the royal correspondent.

He added: “Everyone in radio was in no doubt that Sodom and Gomorrah was located at the other end of The Westway at Television Centre.

“The most risque event I ever witnessed in the BBC Club opposite Broadcasting House was the farewell party for Mrs Dale’s Diary. The BBC club at TV Centre was altogether different.

“You could smell it long before you got there. Cannabis smoke penetrated the building, helped by the circular corridors.

“On Top of the Pops night, everyone knew that the club would be heaving with nubile young girls, straight from the studio and excited by their first glimpse of showbusiness.

“There was a commissionaire on the door but he would have had his epaulettes laughed off had he attempted to stem the flow of under-age girls by asking to see their ID.

“The main bar was dominated by light entertainment. It was an amphitheatre featuring scenes of abandon that might have made Caligula blush.

“Newsroom types kept to the side bar. There was less chance of being ambushed by ‘the Bacardi bandits,’ young girls whose answer to any question was ‘Bacardi and Coke.’ That could make a big hole in a hack’s modest salary.”

Mr Cole said Carleton Greene was fighting on two fronts – he was battling Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s attempts to erode the BBC’s independence while also having to fight Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association’s attempts to reverse the liberalisation in programme-making.

He believes that senior managers at the BBC would have known that cannabis was being smoked on the premises – it was impossible to avoid the smell in part of television centre, but any attempt at stopping it would have been laughed away.

Mr Cole said he found Jimmy Savile “a bit creepy” – but he added: “There was no shortage of odd people wandering around television centre then.”

He also believes claims by comedian Sandi Toksvig and newsreader Vivian Creegor that they had been groped while at the BBC. He said: “It would hard to meet anyone more professional or level-headed than Vivian, so when she says she was sexually assaulted at the BBC, I believe her.”

But he added: “I never saw anything that could be described as sexual harassment or abuse in TV News.”

Mr Cole said he hoped Dame Janet Smith’s report into the actions of the BBC would be comprehensive – but would not damn the memory of Carleton Greene.

He said: “The BBC should be utterly ashamed by what has gone on in the past. I have no doubt that it is.

“But in the process, I hope Dame Janet does not condemn out of hand the fresh air of freedom that Carleton Greene allowed and encouraged, even if the wind also blew in a number of vile people.

“Under Carleton Greene’s light touch, The World at One set the standard for a new and sharper journalism on radio and television.”

A BBC spokesman said: “We would urge anyone with information of this nature to contact either the police or the review being undertaken by Dame Janet Smith.”

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