Well, that’s it, another Christmas Day is over. Mine was fine, I hope yours was, but it must have been pretty bleak for Charles Napier and Chris Denning.
Thirteen years for both of them! Charles Napier, sentenced the day before Christmas Eve, got exactly the same as was meted out to Chris Denning earlier in the month, as though these savage punishments were choreographed to send a seasonal message of goodwill to all mankind except paedophiles.
The message might almost, indeed, have been tailored specially for Heretic TOC, bearing in mind that I personally knew both of these guys and announced recently that I would be blogging about their sentences once both of them were known.
In the circumstances, it would be expedient for me to play down my friendship with the pair, as there is such a thing as guilt by association: a man is known by the company he keeps; birds of a feather stick together, and all that.
It would be cowardly and heartless to disown anyone purely to ensure one’s own survival, though, and I am not going to do that. Instead, I see several possibilities for responding in far more defensible ways. One is to celebrate the best aspects of the person you knew, and to express the hope that their best may be seen again and that their worst – if there has truly been a terrible worst – will not. The Christian message, after all, is that no one is beyond redemption.
Another response, wholly compatible, would be to face the facts of any misdeeds that have been disclosed and examine one’s feelings about them in a measured and sober fashion.
So, let’s see where that takes us.
I’ll start with Chris Denning , who was one of the first announcers heard on BBC Two when the channel began broadcasting in 1964, and was one of the original Radio 1 DJs when the station launched in 1967. Now 73 and in poor health – he has suffered a heart attack and has diabetes – he once worked as a music producer for the Beatles, and helped launch the careers of the Bay City Rollers and Gary Glitter. Older readers will remember that the manager of the Bay City Rollers was himself convicted of sex offences involving youngsters back in the 1980s and of course Gary Glitter’s fall from grace for similar reasons is even more well known. Chris, the Rollers’ manager Tam Paton, and pop impresario Jonathan King are now all notorious for having been regulars at a Walton-on-Thames teenager’s disco in the 1970s known as the Walton Hop, said to have been a happy hunting ground for “predatory” grooming.
I didn’t meet Chris until his years of fame, fortune and Walton Hopping were but a distant memory. My encounter with him was at a very different gig: Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth, London, in 2006-7. By this time both of us had a substantial criminal record, his starting way back in 1974 with a conviction at the Old Bailey for indecent assault. When we met, he was already doing time for historic offences involving boys under 16. Then he was hit with a European arrest warrant and extradited in 2008 from Britain to Slovakia, where he had been living. He was jailed there for producing child pornography.
The amazing thing to me about Chris was his indestructible cheerfulness, considering that even then he was locked, apparently permanently, into a nightmare of perpetual police action against him, even while he was safely incarcerated.
A successful radio DJ needs a lively personality, needless to say, with plenty of wit, gags and bounce. But one often hears of a sad dark side to comedians and clowns. Not Chris, though: what you heard on the radio was what you got on the prison wing – a laughing, joking character who brightened the whole place up. Being depressed was not an option with Chris around! Perpetual jokers can be annoying, to be sure, but I always found him interesting to chat to – usually as a guest in his cell during “unlock”, when I would stroll along the landing the deliver my copy of the Guardian to him when I’d finished with it.
I remember one time he said “Thanks, you’re the nicest paperboy I know!”
“No way!” I replied, “not with all the paperboys you must have known in the biblical sense!”
“I said nicest, not prettiest, you ugly old bugger!”
He was a great source of anecdotes, of course, and also of tea bags and dried milk sachets, which I always needed and he was generously pleased to let me scrounge.
As for the anecdotes, here’s a sample. Chris had to go for minor eye surgery, which entailed attending a nearby National Health Service hospital while under guard by two burly uniformed officers to whom he was handcuffed, one on either side. His visit entailed walking through a crowded ward where his handcuffed state was totally visible not just to the nurses and doctors but to all the other patients, who were members of the general public.
Many of us would have felt utterly humiliated by such a public display of our criminal status; but not a man of Chris’s confidence and style.
“Don’t worry,” he shouted out to the entire ward, “I’ve got these two guys under complete control!”
As for Chris’s past, a bit of it turned up right there in HMP Wandsworth in the shape of a middle-aged prisoner called Bob. I met him while he was chatting to Chris in the latter’s cell one day. He was a new guy on the wing, but he and Chris seemed remarkably relaxed in each other’s company, nattering away like old pals – which they were.
A day or two later, Chris told me all about it. He and Bob had met about forty years earlier when Chris had been presenting Top of the Pops on TV. At that time Bob had been a teenager in the studio audience, invited because his brother worked for the BBC. No doubt he had been a very attractive boy because he caught Chris’s attention and the two struck up a relationship.
I have no idea what sort of trouble got Bob into prison, but he clearly wasn’t blaming it on any “abuse” by Chris: the pair of them got on like a house on fire; I saw not the slightest hint of any lingering resentment, quite the opposite.
And despite many “boys” (albeit now quite ancient themselves) testifying against him, this lack of any convincing account of harm done by Chris’s “abusive” sexual encounters is striking. Instead, we are left to infer from the words of the judge in the case, plus reporters, “abuse experts”, etc, that his behaviour must have been devastating.
In the Daily Mail, for instance, reporter Richard Spillett refers to Denning as a boy’s “tormentor”. Judge Alistair McCreath, in the same report, is quoted as calling his behaviour “depraved”, saying “It is not to be forgotten that all of this suffering was inflicted by you without thought for anything other than your own selfish pleasure.”
But what “suffering” does he mean, exactly? What “torment” was there in reality? I saw all the main reports, in the Daily Mail, the BBC (website and TV coverage), the Guardian and the Independent. I saw absolutely nothing to support all this extravagant denunciation. It seems entirely based on dubious dogma and presumption.
Against this, on the other hand, some facts emerged in support of the view that the boys Chris went with were not forced into anything, were happy to be involved and suffered no harm other than hassles from the police.
The Independent, for instance, reproduced a remarkable Prague Post interview with Chris that first appeared in 2001. In that piece, reporter James Pitkin wrote that one boy was 14 when he first met Denning in a Prague club. He testified against Chris but then phoned him as soon as the former DJ was released from prison, and remained close to him during his last days in Prague. The boy was quoted as saying “Chris is my good friend. I had to testify against him. The pressure from the police was really heavy.”
As well as having lived further east, in Slovakia, Chris also dwelt for a while in the Czech capital, spending time in the gay clubs there. He says that in the Prague clubs boys always approached him first and he often formed lasting friendships with them. He would offer payment or gifts at first; once a relationship was established they often they liked to hang out at his apartment.
It is a mistake often made to suppose that so-called “rent boys” such as these were just vulnerable prey to abusive men. Yes, a club scene will expose youths to undesirables but a bigger part of the story is the exciting access they get to the exact opposite: desirables! These teenagers may be hunted by lustful men, but they are also deliberately on the hunt themselves, ostensibly for money but in reality they often crave the glamour and excitement of having their own big, properly grown-up, friend – and if they are gay, the desirability of the adult will focus on, well, desire – a hunky guy is precisely what they are after.
Chris knew this. He had been a rent boy himself from the age of 13. This had been entirely voluntary. Coming from a comfortable middle-class home, with non-abusive parents, he wasn’t desperate for the money nor is he a case of “the abused becoming the abuser”.
He does, however, remember being sexual from long before his teens. In boarding school, he says relationships with other young boys were commonplace. At eight, he was visiting an elderly museum curator for “favours”, and as a teenager he was hitting the streets and clubs of London on weekends, getting paid for sex but often giving it away free.
He insists that for men, prostitution is a choice. “The press always talks about being forced into it, as if they were reluctant,” he told the Prague Post. “They do it because they enjoy it.”
The teenagers at the Walton Hop were not on the gay scene like the Prague rent boys. But you don’t have to be gay to appreciate a glamorous adult in your life, as Chris was. To the straight youngster at that age the attraction is often a matter of overwhelming, hair-trigger, sexuality that will burst out at the slightest provocation, combined with the flattering attention of a hero-worshipped grownup and a positive need for affection.
Men like Chris are excoriated for “grooming” such youngsters. But what does this mean? It means being decent, nice and kind enough to make friends with a kid and spending time with him, rather than just having sex. It means being affectionate, taking an interest in the boy’s own life and preoccupations. It means earning a boy’s trust through being reliable and steadfast.
All these things are good and fine qualities. Simply to propagandise against them by insisting they are somehow evil is itself a monstrous distortion and perversion of the truth.
As for the middle-aged men who made the allegations in the UK case, it may be that some or all of them were approached by the police following leads in the aggressive pursuit of their Operation Yewtree, set up as one of many investigations aimed at leaving no stone unturned from the supposed misdeeds of decades ago, following the (still totally unproven) Jimmy Savile allegations. In other words, rather than having gone through decades of “torment” over what happened, they may instead merely have been badgered by the police into making statements. If any of them had made powerful and persuasive “victim impact statements” you may be sure the media would have made a meal of it.
I was going to write about Charles Napier as well in this piece. In order to justice to his case, though, I will have to return to it separately. More soon, then, inshallah.
THANK YOU, HERETICS
A huge thank you to all those heretics who have responded with encouraging words after hearing the audio recording of the interview I gave to Testimony Films, which was intended for Channel 4’s The Paedophile Next Door but never used. It is very gratifying to know that the consensus view is clearly much more positive than I had feared. Thanks to the sterling work of David Kennerly, it is now also possible to hear an amusing audio of less than 17 minutes in which interviewer Steve Humphries’ questions are stitched together in the absence of my answers, followed by some telling quotes from the programme as broadcast. Titled Stitching Up Steve Humphries, this compilation cleverly shows who was actually stitched up, and how. Excerpts from the show as broadcast come in at the 13-minute mark.