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The opposite of camouflage.

Almost all serious warships defend themselves with CIWS guns and missiles and also with chaff and flares. Tanks trundle around firing off smoke to confuse IR seekers. Aircraft also deploy chaff and flares and have done since at least Operation Gomorrah – the RAF’s complete destruction of Hamburg. It was codenamed “Window” at the time.

Guns and missiles target things. Chaff and flares do something else. They are in a sense the opposite of camouflage. Camouflage is about not being seen. Launched counter measures and some of the electronic types such as used by the Luftwaffe’s Tornado ECR or the USN’s EF-18 Growler are about making your-self super-visible. Yes, the other side will see there is an armoured column but the smoke will obscure the individual vehicles. The radar reports when chaff is deployed and will result in ther othe guys seeing something wicked this way coming but individual aircraft – forget it!

And that is what I think Savile did. It is entirely imaginable that a seemingly perfectly normal man is a sexual predator of kids. He hides behind normality (camouflage) of I dunno, reading the Telegraph, having a wife and kids, a Ford Focus and a dull but respectable Job. He wears M&S clothes and is the sort of bloke you could walk past in the street without batting an eyelid. We all know such people. Some of us are such people. Very, very few of us are kiddie-fiddlers. That’s the point about camouflage. You know the credit sequence from “Dad’s Army”? They have foliage in their helmets. Now we all know most foliage doesn’t shoot back. That is how camouflage works.

The alternative of making yourself very big indeed works rather differently. I am sure many rapists and peadophiles go to extraordinary lengths to hide their preversions behind a veneer of normality verging on dullness. Jimmy Savile clearly didn’t. The bamboozle. It’s an alternative tactic. To put it in crude and approximate military terms. If you want to count the birds all out and all back to home plate for a big raid you can either make the enemy radar show nothing (stealth) or light-up their screens like a Christmas tree (EW aircraft, chaff, flares, whatever). The difference between the two is the stealth raid is invisible* and the alternative is very visible but amorphous and utterly confusing. It’s like this, “Major, we have something enormous coming in from the West”. “Sergeant, can you give me plot lines and numbers?” “Er.. sorry Sir, no. It’s everywhere!”

A completely white screen shows no information in the same way a completely black screen does.

Jimmy Saville was the white screen, the Christmas tree. I always thought his “confirmed batchelor” status and nothing coming out about his sex-life meant that like many celebs of his generation he was gay but didn’t want to come out. Also of course he was such a pantomime grotesque that the very idea of him having sex at all was enough for me to puke. He certainly wasn’t ever anyone’s Brad or Angelina. So he throws up the absurd smokescreen – the cigar chomping, more jewellery than Mr T, marathon runner who does lots of work for charidee utterly weirdo persona. And just like the armoured column with their smoke rockets or the aerial armada with it’s Window he gets away with what he is really up to. And in the same way such a stratagem can be very effective. The RAF did that over Hamburg in WWII and the IAF did much the same taking out that apparent nuke site in Syria a few years back. The opposite of camouflage is frequently very effective. Lots of people thought Jimmy Savile was hiding being gay behind his smokescreen so we didn’t look because we just assumed. This covered the fact he was abusing his charity work to rape spinally injured children. Here Savile was channeling another very bright and very evil man, Goebbels. You recall his dictum about lies? Whoppers are the way forward.

Well, sort of. It’s a bit cleverer than that. Your smokescreen makes people suspect the assumed little white lie so that is where they look so the great lie is not even looked for. And what is really clever is that if there is no little white lie anyway journalists and the like just give up. Especially when the real truth is from the bowels of Hell itself. If 1/10 of the accusations against Savile are true then he was a grotesque human being. We frequently use that adjective to denote extreme horribleness but it is worth reminding ourselves perhaps of the dictionary definition…

gro·tesque   [groh-tesk] Show IPA
odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.
fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls, foliage, etc.

Savile was grotesque (common parlance) and hid behind grotesque (dictionary definition). It worked for five decades because the hideous truth was so obfuscated behind a screen of studied weirdness that it was almost unbelievable. Yes he played the loveable English eccentric card as well as the Goebbels one (how can anyone believe he is sexually abusing these kids he raises money for – you’re just saying it because he looks odd – and how dare you cast doubt on a National Treasure!)

It’s a strange cognitive dissonance that someone wily and evil can use to great effect. Consider Michael Jackson. I have no idea if he was a peadophile. Partly because I have no idea how his mind worked. Maybe he was and if so his smokescreen of weirdness was even more effective than Savile’s. I suspect not in Jackson’s case. I think he was just a genuinely very odd man made so by bizarre circumstances (note the difference of the influence of family between the Osmonds and the Jacksons). .

Consider also the case of Gordon “Prudence” Brown, the Iron Chancellor. He spent money like water but hid in clear sight because no grim, humourless son of the manse could spend money like a drunk sailor could they? Now that was camouflage and it worked for a time.

We all for good or ill hide (to an extent) hide behind creations, deceptions, personae we wittingly or unwittingly create (or at times have forced upon us). Some of these are camouflage and some are the opposite. The later often works better than the former. It is misdirection rather than hiding. Ask any accomplished stage magician about that one.

*I’m talking in broad terms for the analogy here.


  1. john b says:

    Glitter (who’s also alleged to be part of the Savile circus, although Christ alone knows whether that’s because it’s true or because his reputation is already so mired that he’s not eligible to sue for libel) is another good example. His songs are basically about being a filthy pervert. “I’m the man who put the bang in gang”, he shouted, years before American rappers invented the boring meaning of gangbang. Masses of abuse stories, more than you could shake a rhythm stick at. And yet he was only ever arrested because a spotty youth at PC World had a nose through his PC while mending it.

  2. NickM says:

    Well, there is no way any sub-editor on Earth would have missed the Glitter connection regardless of truth. You’re right no way is GG going to sue for defamation. I mean dear old Max Clifford couldn’t drag him out of that mire.

    As to PC World. I also like to take a good hard look at the totality of the computer before leaping to conclusions. Kid was just doing his job. Good on him. Way to many PC Worlders would have just said”, we’ve got a great deal on this Acer…”. I used to love taunting the morons by asking what x,y,z meant.

  3. Sam Duncan says:

    “I always thought his “confirmed batchelor” status and nothing coming out about his sex-life meant that like many celebs of his generation he was gay but didn’t want to come out.”

    Indeed. The biggest surprise for me when it all began to surface was that it was girls he abused. Oddly, I never suspected that he was simply gay; partly because he always seemed rather too eager to be around kids, but also because there never seemed to be a “lifelong companion” or, ahem, “manager”. But yes, it’s perfect misdirection.

    Better than Glitter’s, whose attempts at flamboyance were always a bit too… well, crap to be mistaken for anything other than a deeply weird, insecure, bloke trying far too hard. I didn’t suspect him of anything untoward until it all came out, which means not that he’d been successful in covering it up, but that he hadn’t (not least because he got caught while still alive). The weirdness had to mean something, and he’s obviously not gay, but… oh yes, that makes (awful, nauseating) sense. Saville, though – jingle, jingle, jewellery, jewellery; loved his old mum – well, it was obvious, wasn’t it? ‘Cept it wasn’t.

    As for Jacko, you might have said the same thing about Saville a year ago. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s worth pointing out. Sometimes a weirdo is just a weirdo.

    “Consider also the case of Gordon “Prudence” Brown, the Iron Chancellor. He spent money like water but hid in clear sight because no grim, humourless son of the manse could spend money like a drunk sailor could they? Now that was camouflage and it worked for a time.”

    Still does, for those who refuse to see. But it’s a good point.

  4. Mr Ed says:

    Sir James’ visage should be prominent on all BBC paperwork, letterheads, the Test Card and TV licences as ‘the face of the BBC’. A perfect fit in proportions that Andrea Palladio himself would have envied.

  5. bloke in spain says:

    You analogy of camouflage is wonderfully apt Nick, but in the way you mightn’t have intended. There’s a variety of camouflage called ‘dazzle’. Wiki it. It also makes the object look more visible, not less. But the high contrast adjoining areas & pattern breaks make it incredibly hard to know what you’re looking at & what it’s doing. Which was Savile, wasn’t it? So in your face, loud & bright you couldn’t see into the shadows he cast. Unless you looked very hard.

    Personally, could never abide the man. And there’s a thing. Must have been ’80. Guy was staying over. friend of my housemate. Jock on Luxembourg & later one of the pirate ships but by that time doing other things. Well connected in the industry. Saturday evening & we’re sprawled with beers & TV & Savile comes on. Whatever show he was doing then. Our hands collided over the channel change. “Don’t want to watch him,” says friend “Nasty shit. Nothing like he makes out.” This is coming from a guy recovering from one of the teens used to hang round the place, weekends (Undoubtedly consensual & legal. At least on her part.) So looking back at that conversation in the context of current events……

  6. Mr Ed says:

    ‘Dazzleships’ was a song by OMD, presumably based on the ‘zebra’ stripes on WWI ships, to confuse U boats as to distance.

  7. JuliaM says:

    “Indeed. The biggest surprise for me when it all began to surface was that it was girls he abused. “

    Me too, as I’d heard rumours, but they’d all been about boys.

    Misdirection? Maybe. Or maybe there’s a tiny nugget of truth, and a whole huge husk of claim, counterclaim, score-settling and just plain attention-seeking to get through first…

  8. Robert Edwards says:

    An excellent analogy re. camouflage, Nick. But he also had the assistance of virtual body armour, courtesy of the taxpayer…

  9. Tim Newman says:

    “Hiding in plain sight” is the term, I believe.

  10. NickM says:

    curses! You are bang-on sir! I do know about dazzle camo – I just didn’t think of it ut it is perfect! BTW up until quite recently RCAF Hornets had a cockpit painted on the underside to confuse an adversary in a furball.

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