Gropers, flashers and sexual try-ons were the norm back in the 1960s

THIS got my attention: “He sat down beside me in the studio when I was presenting my programme live on the air, and took his trousers off.”

Gropers, flashers and sexual try-ons were the norm back in the 1960s

Up to then, the story could have gone in six different directions, five of them harmless. It had started with a female broadcaster asking me if I’d ever had any — well — encounters with a named male broadcaster. I had shrugged and said “Not really.”

This woman was quite a talker, so most of the time, once she got launched, I went on auto-pilot, half-listening. Which meant I now had to revise to get a handle on the story.

“Wait. Go back. This was at what time?”

“Seven fifteen. The Drivetime people were all gone, and you know that studio that’s at the end of the corridor and small and you hardly ever do anything but voice-overs from it?”

“Yeah, yeah. And what happened?”

“He came in, really quietly, while I was introducing the next record, it was a big long introduction about Tammy Wynette’s husband George Jones being called “No Show Jones” because he’s always missing concerts through being drunk. The bastard came in, like I told you, and sat down beside me and took off his trousers. Then he took off his underpants. And just sat there. I’m not joking you. While I’m reading the script, he’s sitting there, stark naked.”

While the minute-long music clip played, she opened her mouth to ask him what the hell he thought he was at. He shook his head, pointed at the microphone and put his index finger over his mouth: Shhh. None of this would compute for her.

Was the microphone live, even though the red light was off? Had him being naked from the waist down anything to do with some technical fault with the sound gear? Of course not — but just as she came to that conclusion, the sound clip ended and she had to resume reading several paragraphs of her script, during which the other, male broadcaster fondled himself in a tranquilly contented way. When the next sound clip went on air, he got up, took his under and outerwear and left the studio, giving her that combination of a wink and a sideways nod that says “We got something going here, don’t we, hon?”

At the conclusion of the programme, she sat on her own in studio for a quarter of an hour, trying to guess whether or not he was still outside.

All of this had happened in the GPO, site of historic 1916 battles and — at that time — the home of Radio Éireann, later to become RTÉ. Having divulged it, she burst into tears. I found myself looking at this seasoned broadcaster, well into her 30s (I was 17) thinking “But you’re really old, how can you not know how to cope with this?” Through sobs, she said that if she complained, the bosses would think she was making it up and because she had a short-term contract, would fire her. Or tell her that jokes took many forms and it didn’t do to be humourless.

Jan 2014 “But say if he does it again?” she asked.

I was reminded of the time a man flashed at my sister when riding a bicycle. He was riding the bicycle, she was stationary on the path. Even my mother, who knew the answer to everything, was stumped when my sister wanted to know what was the correct response to that particular challenge.

I told the Radio Éireann woman that I’d think about it and after a couple of days went back to her to recommend she keep a tissue full of pepper in her pocket, so that if the offender re-offended, she should wait until his trousers and underpants were off and then smack him in the kisser with the pepper which would blind him and make him sneeze.

As a broadcaster, his first instinct would be to find his way, somehow, to the studio door to get out. She just had to make sure his clothing was out of his reach, so that when engineers and others came to investigate the strange noises, he was as good as starkers in the corridor.

That’s what she did, for several months and a right waste of good pepper it was, because he never did it again. To her. We found on his death, 10 years later, that he had done it to several other women.

The other menacing presence at the time was the lift guy. He was a department head and no woman was ever safe in a lift with him. Except me, because, having been warned, I nevertheless got into a lift with him because I couldn’t think of a way to explain a sudden yearning for the stairs. He didn’t do anything to me, so I didn’t tell anybody because I was mortified.

When you went into Montrose (as RTÉ television was known for years) the place was alive with the new glamour of TV programming, with fame, with handsome men and beautiful women and with rumour about who was a groper, who you had to sleep with to get promotion and who was a mad boyo who’d do a cat going out a roof window.

I had to ask my sister what that last one meant. I thought she’d be hospitalised, she laughed so much, while telling me not to let Ma hear me say it. Ever.

Gropers, flashers and sexual try-ons were integral to growing up in the 60s, at least where I lived much of my adolescence: in the theatre and in radio studios, which have always had a goodly supply of gropers, flashers and lads given to sexual try-ons. But back then, it was the norm. The get-over-it norm.

Which is exactly what Dave Lee Travis told detectives when they went to interview him about a number of women, now in their 50s (Travis is pushing 70) who accused him, in the wake of the Jimmy Savile revelations, of having groped them. Groping was just flirtatious, he told the cops. A quick feel of a teenager’s boobs was no problem. Everyone did it, it was the norm.

DAVID Lee Travis portrays his accusers as driven by money and is clearly outraged by having the standards of today retrospectively applied to him. The first is offensive and irrelevant. The second is worrying. Over countless millennia, women were chattels whose bodies belonged not to them but to their fathers or husbands.

Those millennia ended in the 1960s and 1970s, when everybody was expected to be egging for sex all the time, particularly with the rich and famous. The rich and famous who did not fail to take advantage of this cultural shift, now find themselves facing the backloading of a few decades of new standards.

Yesterday’s sleazeballs find themselves in a perhaps disproportionate societal frenzy occasioned by Jimmy Savile’s immeasurably more horrific rapes and abuses of children, some of them with disabilities. They hardly merit sympathy, but the precedent set by applying today’s values retrospectively to what were considered mucky but not criminal actions at the time — that precedent should concern all of us.

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