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The Celebrity Icon Mask: The Multi-Institutional Masking of Sir Jimmy Savile

Greer, C. & McLaughlin, E. ORCID: 0000-0003-4003-3272 (2021). The Celebrity Icon Mask: The Multi-Institutional Masking of Sir Jimmy Savile. Cultural Sociology, 15(3), pp. 364-385. doi: 10.1177/1749975520985385


The aim of this article is to develop the concepts of masks and masking to interrogate the role of institutions in the co-production of ‘untouchable’ celebrity icon status. The empirical focus is the multi-institutional masking of Sir Jimmy Savile OBE KCSG. For decades, Savile was celebrated as one of the UK’s best-loved celebrity icons. One year after his death, he was exposed as a serial sexual predator. We argue that the largely compartmentalised official reports on Savile have presented a partial analysis. They have emphasised the importance of Savile’s celebrity status while taking it for granted, downplayed the significance of his moral standing in British society, and marginalised the proactive, enabling role of the BBC, the NHS and the British establishment. However manipulative the individual, we propose that it was Savile’s cumulative multi-institutional masking as celebrity personality (the BBC), celanthropist (the NHS) and, ultimately, celebrity icon (the British establishment) that co-produced his ‘untouchable’ status and enabled him for decades to deflect and discredit rumour, gossip and allegations about his sexually predatory behaviour. We conclude by reflecting on the ‘researchability’ of powerful elites, and by suggesting how our analysis might inform further research into the power dynamics that have co-produced the ‘untouchability’ of other celebrities subsequently exposed as serial sexual predators.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Publisher Keywords: celebrity, icon, mask, Goffman, persona, sex offender, Sir Jimmy Savile
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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