Jonathan Maitland Interview

An Audience With Jimmy Savile

Interview With Jonathan Maitland

by Eddie McGuigan

Jonathan Maitland is known to television viewers in Britain primarily as a journalist of note. He’s worked and presented programmes such as Watchdog and Tonight along with the BAFTA nominated series House of Horrors for ITV. But he’s also a fiction writer of some acclaim too, writing comedy sketches with and for Chris Morris and Rory Bremner along the critically successful play Dead Sheep, about the Geoffrey Howe speech which ultimately led to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s downfall. It’s with former collaborator and impressionist Alistair McGowan who he teams up with now for his latest work, a highly controversial play entitled An Audience With Jimmy Savile, charting how, whilst the glitterati of Britain lauded and knighted Savile, he was getting away with the most heinous of crimes right under the establishment’s nose. With Savile’s tenuous connection to Doctor Who with his frequent forays into its publicity in his show Jim’ll Fix It, I thought Who fans might be interested in the motivation behind this play, so spoke to Jonathan about what I believe is an important and worthy piece of writing:


I began with asking an obvious question, given Jonathan’s journalistic background: “Why a play and not a documentary?” “Drama can reach the parts that documentaries can’t : the murky hidden depths,” Jonathan told me, “Fathers, for example, didn’t believe their daughters when they said they’d been abused by Savile: you can show the dynamics of that far more effectively in a drama, than documentary.”


And with that in mind, how important are facts over dramatic licence? “I’ve tried to stick reasonably closely to what happened. But it depends how much dramatic licence you use and why. As long as the essence of the truth is there and you’re not being misleading I think you’re okay. You have to exercise responsibility and your conscience. The problems arise when you are deficient in both.”


It’s a controversial hot potato, that some have said is too soon to dramatise so was it difficult to get others involved? “Not really. Once they’d thought about it and realised the honourable intentions behind it – and that many of a Savile’s real life victims were not only supportive but actively involved in helping with the project – they made up their minds pretty quickly.”


You have to believe, of course this will be in no way sensationalising his horrors, so how difficult was the writing process? “It came relatively easily : the big issue/difficulty was deciding whether or not the stuff that I’d written was any good . I’m not sure you ever really know the answer to that . I mean, is Pete 100% happy with “Won’t Get Fooled Again “? (I am, by the way : it gets me going in the gym like no other track,)”


And the lead was going to be the hinge pin in whether this was taken seriously or not, so how important is Alistair McGowans performance in striking the balance between impression and performance? “Good question. Some critics may have a pop and say he’s got the balance wrong. For me, acting is a delicate mix of the two anyway and it’s a very subjective thing. I think he’s got it spot on. He covers the extremes : amusing/eccentric/weird then nasty/ huggish/psycho, brilliantly.”


As a journalist was it hard to find your “dramatic voice”? “I’m not sure what that is yet so it’s hard to find something when you don’t know what it is you’re looking for.”


And I had to ask, given the scrutiny that this was always going to attranct what’s the drive of the piece? “The causes and effects of denial on individuals, families and big institutions. The problems that stem from a craven attitude to celebrity. The limitations of our libel laws. The fact that abuse need not define a person or a family: it can be dealt with and the people concerned can move on and lead happy, functioning lives.”


What do you say to the critics who’ve already been quite vocal about the timing? “There aren’t that many and the only people that matter – the victims of Savile – think this story is being told too late, not too soon. They wanted this story telling decades ago.”


Why should people see this? “Because they want to. And because – I hope – it’s moving, thought provoking and optimistic.” Do you plan any more dramatic works? “Oh yes. Watch this space. But I’ll never write anything as good as “Can’t Explain”.”


An Audience With Jimmy Savile opens in the Park Theatre Café Bar today and for the next month.

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