The Reckoning: Why is the BBC show so controversial?

The BBC will air a new drama of Jimmy Savile, exploring his rise to fame and the aftermath of horrific sexual abuse crimes

Steve Coogan will portray Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning. (BBC)
Steve Coogan will portray Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning. (BBC)

The Reckoning, a new four part drama series of the Jimmy Savile scandal will air on BBC One next week after years of delay.

The series will follow the horrific sexual abuse that around 500 victims, mostly women and children, suffered at the hands of the disgraced BBC presenter for a period of over 50 years.

Read more: What we know about The Reckoning

The drama, which was commissioned by the BBC, has recently been at the centre of controversy given the position Savile held as a major personality at the broadcaster, where much of his abuse occurred.

The former Top of the Pops presenter used his position and power as a respected charitable worker, who visited hospitals and prisoners to conceal years of his sexual abuse crimes.

The allegations of the abuse came to light after Savile’s death, which prompted hundreds of victims to come forward on ITV’s exposure documentary.

What is The Reckoning about?

Savile sexually abused around 500 women, men and children. (Getty Images)
Savile sexually abused around 500 women, men and children. (Getty Images)

The four-part mini series will revisit the life of Jimmy Savile, the man who rose from a working-class background to eventually become one of the biggest names in British television.

The first episode will debut on BBC One on Monday, 9 October at 9pm, with the multi-award winning actor Steve Coogan to portray Savile in the series.

The story will explore his career at the BBC, his rise to fame, the impact his abuse had on victims, and how Savile was able to get away with a large scale of crimes for over half a century.

The first trailer for The Reckoning was released in late September, with a brief 40 seconds of Coogan’s take on Savile’s character.

The Reckoning (BBC)
Steve Coogan portrays the disgraced presenter in The Reckoning (BBC)

The Reckoning is written by Neil McKay who also wrote Four Lives and Appropriate Adult. The BBC said the team have worked closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect.

The broadcaster added it aims to highlight the impact his crimes had on his victims and the powerlessness many felt when they tried to raise the alarm.

Read more: Steve Coogan expected 'antipathy' over Jimmy Savile role

Executive producer, Jeff Pope, says: "I think this is a story that has to be told. We must understand why a man like Jimmy Savile seemed to remain immune for so long to proper scrutiny and criminal investigation."

The drama series will also feature four survivors of Savile who tell their story in the hope that it will prevent something like it happening again.

News of the mini-series was first announced back in 2020 when Coogan was confirmed as the lead for the role of Savile. Coogan will be joined by cast members, Gemma Jones, Siobhan Finneran, Mark Lewis Jones, and Mark Stanley.

Why is the BBC facing criticism over the drama series?

The Reckoning (BBC)
The Reckoning has garnered some criticism since it was first announced (BBC)

The decision to air the controversial drama has sparked outrage from the public and victims who say the BBC knew about complaints against the abuser but did not do much due to fear of backlash.

Some argue that rumours about the Jim’ll Fix It host being a sexual predator had persisted for decades and that the duty of care weighs heavily on the institutions that enabled him to prey on vulnerable women, men and children.

One victim told The Sun: "The idea of making a drama out of Savile's life, for the purpose of entertainment, is so distasteful and distressing.

"I hold the BBC partly responsible for my abuse – many people knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it. To find out the same organisation is now planning to use these events to gain ratings is unacceptable. It's almost like being abused again."

A day in the life of Jimmy Saville' Feature by Mike Hellicar. Here he is pictured on the set of BBC's Top of the Pops show, 7th October 1971. (Photo by Ron Burton/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Jimmy Saville pictured on the set of BBC's Top of the Pops show in 1971. (Getty Images)

Coogan backed the series in his appearance on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch last year. He said: "I think that’s because Jimmy Savile played a trick on the entire nation so there’s a real feeling of antagonism about it.

“But you need to look at someone like that to understand how they’re able to operate and to prevent it happening again. If you sweep it under the carpet and just don’t talk about it anymore, then those people are destined to come back."

The BBC also faced criticisms from Victims Support, a charity supporting Savile’s victims. Manager Lesley McLean, said: “It is deeply disturbing to learn of the many missed opportunities by the BBC to stop Savile and Hall’s appalling behaviour – these vulnerable victims could and should have been protected.”

The Reckoning (BBC)
The Reckoning explores Savile's history of abuse, which also saw him target young people in hospital wards he volunteered at (BBC)

Piers Wenger Controller, BBC Drama, fought back saying: “The story of Jimmy Savile is one of the most emotive and troubling of our times. We do not intend to sensationalise these crimes but to give voice to his victims.

“We will work with survivors to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect and to examine the institutions which Jimmy Savile was associated with and the circumstances in which these crimes took place. Drama has the ability to tackle sensitive real life subjects and consider the impact of a crime on its survivors and what lessons can be learnt to stop this ever happening again.”

A day in the life of Jimmy Saville' Feature by Mike Hellicar, 7th October 1971. (Photo by Ron Burton/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Jimmy Savile pictured in 1971, he became one of the biggest faces on British TV when he was alive, hosting the likes of Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It (Getty Images)

As news of the drama circulated on social media, comments came flooding in on X, formerly known as Twitter, one user said: “I think we should refrain from even mentioning this diabolical piece of BBC trash and not give it ANY recognition! “

Another said: "Sooo the BBC are putting out a new drama about Jimmy Savile called ‘The Reckoning’. Something absolutely insane about monetising and profiting from the scandal they were complicit in.”

Who was Jimmy Savile?

The Top of the Pops host received the OBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1971. Photo: Getty Images
The Top of the Pops host received the OBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1971. Photo: Getty Images

Jimmy Savile rose to fame in the mid-1950s, when he started freelancing as a radio host at various events across the UK including BBC Radio 1.

His humorous and outgoing personality helped him gain popularity from the likes of celebrities and the Royal family.

His charitable work was noticed by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who praised him was the fundraising he was doing.

The Reckoning (BBC)
Madeleine Edmondson as Sam in The Reckoning, who appears to be one of Savile's victims whose story is told in the show (BBC)

Savile received the OBE and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1971, making him Sir James Savile.

The disgraced DJ and TV host died in 2011, age 84, before the revelations of his horrific history of sexual abuse came to light.

Following his death, hundreds of people came forward with allegations against Savile claiming he had raped, molested and coerced them into sleeping with him.

The Reckoning will be aired on BBC One on Monday 9 October at 9pm

Watch: The Reckoning - Official Trailer - BBC