‘I liked Jimmy Savile,’ admits Louis Theroux on Desert Island Discs

The film-maker is ‘confused’ over how he found the sex abuser likeable and says the experience darkened his view of the world

Louis Theroux is still trying to understand why he and Jimmy Savile, whom he “sort of quite liked”, became friends when he made a documentary about him in 2000, before details of the late BBC radio and television personality’s serial child abuse became public.

But the discovery of Savile’s many crimes was “traumatic for the country” and not just for him, Theroux is to tell Lauren Laverne this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

“So while I’m quite proud of the first programme, I’m still a bit confused about how was I able to experience him as a somewhat likeable person in the year or two after making it. That’s something I think upon.”

After Savile’s death in 2011, Theroux, 48, returned to the subject to make the documentary When Louis Met Jimmy with survivors of the sexual abuse. “I wanted to figure out how it was that I had missed what I had missed,” he tells Laverne.

“There’s a slightly naive view, common to some men, that if abuse happens you recognise it as abuse straight away. And of course that isn’t how it works in a real world setting. So, it was something that I maybe had to learn, and I’d like to think that I bring that understanding now to my work and also just as a human being.”

Theroux’s interview with Savile, and its aftermath, have affected him more than anything else in his career, he admits. And later, watching people around Savile “understandably” avoiding blame has also “darkened my view of the world”, he says.

However, making his hugely popular style of close-up documentaries is always a “journey of judgment”, Theroux says, in which he tries to question his preconceptions: “We are all much more complicated than we let on. Although we go around stigmatising people.”

Theroux, who has a first-class degree from Oxford and is the son of the American writer Paul Theroux and the former world service producer Anne Theroux, chooses an eclectic mix of music from Marvin Gaye, the Smiths and Andrew Lloyd Webber for his desert island stay. He also confesses to the weakness of always wanting to be liked and to “a background level of anxiety running through my life”.

His US documentary strand Altered States is a favourite contender to win a Bafta at Sunday’s awards ceremony.

• This article was amended on 13 May 2019 to refer to Louis Theroux’s mother, at her request, not as Anne Castle but as Anne Theroux, the name by which she was known professionally.


Vanessa Thorpe

The GuardianTramp

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