With all the recent discussion of Barbara Castle’s missing dossiers I was reminded of a book I’d seen (see below) and a missing autobiography I had yet to find: ‘Uncommon Criminal’ by Wilfred De’Ath.
Published in 1970, Barbara Castle: A Portrait from Life was at least a decade in advance of Castle’s dossiers coming into existence. However, the author of Barbara Castle: A Portrait from Life, De’Ath most recently appeared on television screens with a cameo role in ITV’s Exposure: The Dark Side of Savile [broadcast on 3 October 2012] and a subsequent arrest and release without charge by Operation Yewtree [I’ve led a VERY wicked life: Wilfred de’Ath, BBC producer, thief and vagrant on going from riches to rags, Ginny Dougary, Evening Standard, 3 April 2013]
A number of Savile’s former colleagues interviewed for the documentary admitted that his predatory behaviour towards young girls was an open secret at the BBC. Wilfred De’Ath, who worked with Savile in the 1960s, told of how he spoke to a girl he believed to be 12 years old while she was in bed with the presenter the morning after he had seen Savile with her at a restaurant, describing her as like a “little lost soul”. De’Ath admitted that it was “common gossip” that Savile was an abuser. Still, it appears that neither he nor any other colleagues reported him either to the BBC bosses or police. [Jimmy Savile case: when will we start listening to children who are abused? Julie Bindel, The Guardian, 1 October 2012]
Wilfred De’Ath, a former producer of Jimmy Savile’s on the BBC radio show Teen Scene, has explained his experiences of the DJ’s behaviour.
From the inside back above:
“Wilfred De’Ath was born in 1937 and educated at Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet and Oriel College Oxford. From 1961 till 1965 he worked as a BBC producer, mainly in radio, and earned a reputation for uncompromising work in the documentary and talks field. In 1966 he published Just Me and Nobody Else an outspoken study of a juvenile delinquent, which was based on one of his broadcasts. He now works as a freelance journalist and broadcaster, contributing regularly to Punch and the Illustrated London News and occasionally to the Sunday Times, the Guardian , Woman, Good Housekeeping, Books and Bookmen, as well as to The Listener and the whole range of BBC radio output. His recent interview subjects have included Lord Hill, Lord Stokes, Lord Butler, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Vic Feather, Kenneth More, Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Jenkins. He enjoys meeting famous people and is unashamedly celebrity-struck. He is married with two children, aged six and two and lives in Hampstead, where he may be seen walking on the Heath on almost any Saturday or Sunday.”
However, within 8 years of publishing his portrait of Castle (a series of interviews with her, her friends and colleagues and a personal impression to finish), De’Ath had left his Hampstead family life behind him:
‘De’Ath’s marriage broke down in 1978, when he says his wife went off with her Open University tutor: “I am not very good at cherishing and she felt neglected. I was BBC correspondent for Radio 4 in San Francisco and New York; I used to be away so much — sometimes for as much as five months in a year.”
What made him go off the rails so spectacularly? “Well, when I left my home in Hampstead, everything went wrong at once,” he says. “My career collapsed and I lost my family.” A libel suit, where he wrote an article for the local paper — the Ham and High — accusing nine BBC colleagues of being “intellectual pygmies”, led to him losing his case [even though he was represented by the heavyweight Lord Goodman] and having to pay out £4,500, “which may not sound much, but it was all the money I had — so I had nowhere to live and things just went from bad to worse”.’ I’ve led a VERY wicked life: Wilfred de’Ath, BBC producer, thief and vagrant on going from riches to rags, Ginny Dougary, Evening Standard, 3 April 2013
MI5 Recruitee & Uncommon Criminal, Wilfred de’Ath, Timewell Press, 2008
Despite having an ISBN the British Library don’t have a copy, and despite Timewell Press being listed as publishers in 2008, de’Ath himself states in his April 2013 interview with Dougarry the book has yet to be published so no wonder I can’t find it:
“Far more fascinating than the Yewtree connection, for me, is the story of how a young man with such a promising future ahead of him came to be an “uncommon criminal” (the title of his memoir, yet to find a publisher), sleeping rough for several decades, in France and the UK, having lost his family, his job and his home.”
The precis of the memoir takes pains to mention de’Ath is “a self-confessed voyeur who was recruited by MI5 to befriend a Russian spy at an orgy.”
“Born in 1937, Wilfred De’Ath’s outwardly conventional early life in suburban London was dominated by the overpowering puritanism and fanatical patriotism of his mother, the daughter of a German pastor. In the De’Ath household Hitler was idolised and every German victory heartily celebrated. On shopping expeditions with his mother during the Blitz, young Wilfred had to endure the spectacle of his mother giving Nazi salutes and shouting ‘Heil Hitler!’ to her friend and compatriot, Mrs Maybury.
This singular upbringing may account for De’Ath’s subsequent ill treatment of his own family and the abandonment of a charmed career in journalism which brought him much acclaim for his interviews with figures as diverse as Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher, John Lennon, PG Wodehouse and the Archbishop of Canterbury and as a ground-breaking radio and television producer (one of his discoveries was Kenny Everett). Instead he chose a life of vagrancy and petty crime totting up ten years behind bars in the process not to mention his lifelong twin obsessions with sex and religion.
A self-confessed voyeur who was recruited by MI5 to befriend a Russian spy at an orgy, De’Ath was a sexual predator whose victims included Susanna York, Sarah Miles, Julie Christie, Julia Foster and Charlotte Rampling. A godless but enthusiastic churchgoer, he made a career out of exposing the peccadilloes of Anglican clergymen in Private Eye, whose editor, his Oxford contemporary Richard Ingrams, later commissioned a long-running column in the Oldie retailing his experiences at the hands of plodding policemen, mad magistrates, crazy criminals and sadistic screws. In Uncommon Criminal an unrepentant sinner looks back at his deplorable but colourful life with a candour bordering on relish which will disgust and delight in equal measure.”
What MI5 (Home Office) knew about MI6 (Foreign Office) and vice-versa should prove interesting in relation to Exaro reporting Sir Peter Hayman and Sir Maurice Oldfield (where does Sir Michael Oldfield Havers get his Oldfield from?) as Head and Deputy of MI6.
As an MI5 recruitee de’Ath might not have felt inclined to report to the top brass in the BBC re Savile but whether he could have, if so inclined, reported on Savile to MI5 along with reporting back from the orgy about the Russian spy, is a different question entirely. Information always has a value. And 1978 was the year a lot of people were discovered to have “gone off the rails”, such as Viscount Mersey’s son, Richard Bigham and of course, Sir Peter Hayman following the raid on his Notting Hill Mr Henderson flat.
I hope Mr De’Ath finds a more willing publisher soon if Timewell can’t tell.