The four-part BBC drama, titled The Reckoning, will depict Savile’s decades-long history of paedophilia and will feature interviews with four of his real-life victims.
The show’s announcement in 2020 provoked the ire of some critics who argued that it would exploit Savile’s many victims. The BBC was also accused of hypocrisy for commissioning the programme, having missed five major opportunities to report Savile while he was still working at the broadcaster.
Coogan, 57, addressed the backlash in a new interview with Radio Times this week.
“It is controversial and I understand that,” the Alan Partridge star said. “The BBC are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and I believe the correct choice is to be damned if they do.
“Broadly, it’s better to talk about something than not. The team had the right attitude and it was done with the cooperation of survivors. I think when it’s broadcast, it will vindicate itself.”
Following the Top of the Pops host’s death in 2011, aged 84, hundreds of survivors came forward with stories of abuse by Savile, who used his work at the BBC and at hospitals, prisons and children’s charities to conceal his wrongdoings.
BBC shows Jim’ll Fix It and Top of the Pops allowed Savile, who was one of the broadcaster’s most popular presenters, close contact with children for years. It later emerged senior figures in the corporation had heard stories about his abuse, but were unwilling to act.
The actor said he believes it is vital to “contemplate and look back and reflect on why it was allowed to happen, how he was able to do this, and then learn from it” before “you can move on”.
Coogan emphasised that the BBC is “held accountable” in the series, insisting that there is “no whitewash in this drama”.
“To play Jimmy Savile was not a decision I took lightly,” he said in a statement following the series announcement. “Neil McKay has written an intelligent script tackling sensitively a horrific story which, however harrowing, needs to be told.”
The BBC unveiled the first official photograph of Coogan in character last month. Sporting Savile’s distinctive cropped hairstyle, Coogan is seen sitting in a chair with a cigar in hand.
As part of the duty of care in place for the drama, the production invited multiple survivors to the set in an attempt to convince them of the responsibility they felt in ensuring the story was told sensitively.
In March this year, one survivor named Sam Brown, who was repeatedly abused by Seville, revealed what it was like seeing Coogan in character as her abuser.
She told Deadline she knew she would be approached by Coogan after he had finished filming a scene in Cheshire, but was not prepared for the “powerful” reaction she’d have to seeing him.
While speaking to the actor, who was in costume as Savile, he “repeatedly reminded” Brown that he was just an actor wearing a costume. Brown also said that Coogan’s response to her question asking him why he decided to play Savile is what led to her permitting producers to use her story in the series.
“He said it took him six months to make his decision, talking back and forth with friends,” Brown told the outlet. “He said everyone had a strong point of view on whether he should.
“He answered in a way that I was comfortable with. Otherwise I would have just said, ‘It’s not for me then, just take my part out.’”
If you are a child and you need help because something has happened to you, you can call the NSPCC free of charge on 0800 1111. You can also call the NSPCC if you are an adult and you are worried about a child, on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adults on 0808 801 0331
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact your nearest Rape Crisis organisation for specialist, independent and confidential support. For more information, visit their website here.