The most powerful woman at the BBC has lavished praise on Louis Theroux describing him as “one of the strongest voices we have on British television today”.
Charlotte Moore, who’s in charge of all the BBC TV channels, says Theroux has risen to the top of his profession “because he asks the questions most of us wouldn’t dare to ask”.
Moore, whose official title is director of content, was speaking at the Grierson documentary awards in central London on Monday night where Theroux was honoured for his work of more than 20 years.
She said: “He may have cut his teeth on the bizarre and the extreme – hanging out with porn stars, survivalists, swingers and celebrities – but by the time everyone else had latched onto the power of celebrity Louis had graduated to more serious territory, turning his attention to some of the most complex issues we face in the modern world – addiction, paedophilia, rehabilitation, justice, collective guilt. He ploughs his own furrow, he never stands still.
“He is drawn to communities whose stories are not easy to tell. People with dementia, transgender kids, people with autism. He’s also drawn to communities whose stories are sometimes not easy to hear. Prisoners, drug addicts Nazis…
“He doesn’t shie away from situations that he, and we, find uncomfortable. But Louis is very comfortable with being uncomfortable. He might be from a privileged background but he can make himself at home anywhere.
“His gentle probing voice asking the kinds of questions others wouldn’t and finding, therefore, the kinds of answers that others simply couldn’t.”
Of course, the answers that Theroux, and many others, failed to get were about Jimmy Savile. Moore said the subject had “haunted” Theroux.
She described last month’s documentary sequel to his original 2000 When Louis Met Jimmy documentary as one of BBC2’s standout films of 2016.
“It’s classic Louis to revisit the very subject that challenges him, and us, the most. His determination to confront his own relationship with Savile and the collective guilt that he and all of us in society feel when we discover just how close we had all been to a serial paedophile.”
Theroux made no reference to Savile in accepting the Grierson Trustees award, instead thanking the subjects of his documentaries for giving him access to their lives.
“It’s the contributors who make the films what they are,” he said.
“Over the years I have been welcomed into countless homes all over the world by people who had no obligation to speak to me and who were often going through extremely stressful things at the time. And they trusted us with their stories, with their lives…”