Steve Coogan to play Jimmy Savile in ‘sensitive’ BBC drama

Steve Coogan will play Jimmy Savile in a forthcoming BBC drama series about how the high-profile presenter spent decades living a double life as one of the country’s most notorious paedophiles.

The Alan Partridge star said the decision to portray Savile on screen was not one he “took lightly” but the series had “an intelligent script tackling sensitively an horrific story which – however harrowing – needs to be told”.

The creators say the series will explore both Savile’s rise to fame and his final years fighting rumours about his private life, exploring how the presenter “used his celebrity and powerful connections to conceal his wrongdoings and to hide in plain sight”.

Aware of the potential for criticism that they are exploiting Savile’s hundreds of victims, the makers of the drama, titled The Reckoning, say they have worked with some of those affected by the presenter’s actions.

When Savile died in 2011 he was initially widely celebrated as a quirky British eccentric who had entertained multiple generations of Britons through his appearances on BBC shows such as Top of the Pops and Jim’ll Fix It. He began his career in northern clubs and – always happy to burnish his own legend – claimed to have been the first DJ to play with two turntables side-by-side, before later becoming ubiquitous on British television and radio.

Yet within weeks of his death, the BBC’s Newsnight programme had prepared an investigation into allegations that Savile was a serial sexual abuser, only for it to be kept off air by BBC bosses.

A year later, ITV went public with an investigation into the presenter, unleashing a cascade of allegations about an establishment cover-up. Rather than an eccentric, a picture emerged of Savile as a paedophile who had covered up decades of illegal behaviour using his charity work, links to the police and connections in the media. He protected his reputation by threatening legal action against anyone who looked into allegations against him.

The botched handling of the affair and subsequent aftermath contributed to the departure of George Entwistle as BBC director general.

Jeff Pope, the executive producer of The Reckoning, said: “The purpose of this drama is to explore how Savile’s offending went unchecked for so long, and in shining a light on this, to ensure such crimes never happen again. Steve Coogan has a unique ability to inhabit complex characters and will approach this role with the greatest care and integrity.”

Savile’s grave remains in a cemetery in Scarborough despite local opposition after his crimes emerged. He left instructions that his coffin should lie at 45 degrees so he could always “see the sea”. His grave was also encased in concrete, ostensibly to protect the remains from robbers, which has made it impossible for him to be exhumed. Savile’s headstone, which has since been removed, had the inscription: “It was good while it lasted.”


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