Just over five million people tuned in to BBC1 last night for the hour-long Panorama special Jimmy Savile – What the BBC Knew, despite the programme not airing until 10.35pm.
Panorama averaged 5.1m viewers, a 38% share of the viewers at the time. This figure beats other recent special editions of the current affairs strand, such as its investigations into the Stephen Lawrence case (January 2012, 2.6m viewers) and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (April 2012, 4.9m viewers).
Ratings for the BBC1 show also easily eclipsed Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, the ITV1 documentary that began the current scandal around allegations of abuse by the former Jim’ll Fix It presenter and Radio 1 DJ. The ITV1 programme was seen by 1.9m viewers on 3 October, albeit in an even later 11.10pm slot.
Jimmy Savile – What the BBC Knew was presented by Shelley Jofre and consisted broadly of two lines of enquiry: first, how many people knew about Savile’s abuse at the BBC in his 60s, 70s and 80s pomp, and the extent to which abuses occurred on BBC premises; and second, why a 2011 Newsnight report into Savile’s activities, compiled by producer Meirion Jones and reporter Liz Mackean, was shelved by Newsnight editor Peter Rippon.
The programme featured testimony from Savile’s victims, including Karin Ward, who had been filmed for the original Newsnight piece. Jones and Mackean also contributed.
It was the prospect of Panorama attacking their BBC colleagues that had attracted massive press attention prior to broadcast – and viewers stuck around to see this, despite it not arriving until late in the programme: viewing peaked at 5.4m at 11.10pm.
The ratings for the Savile special were Panorama’s highest since 2008, when 5.6m saw a report on the Shannon Matthews kidnapping case.
Panorama was a late addition to the BBC1 schedules and was placed opposite Newsnight itself, which was seen by 400,000 viewers on BBC2, and ITV1’s discussion programme The Agenda, which only attracted 800,000 viewers despite featuring David Cameron as a guest.