BBC paedophile statue must go say sex abuse charities

Prospero-and-Ariel-eric-gillBy Jamie Elliott

Charities representing survivors of child sexual abuse are calling for a statue depicting a man and a naked boy on the front of the BBC’s London headquarters to be removed because its creator was a paedophile.

The organisations claim the graphic and prominently positioned sculpture by Eric Gill, who abused his sisters and two of his daughters, is hurtful and insulting to victims of abuse.

“It’s an insult to allow a work like this to remain in such a public place,” said Fay Maxted, Chief Executive of the Survivors’ Trust, a body which represents 130 organisations supporting survivors of rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse. “It is almost mocking survivors, it is intolerable.”

Peter Saunders, CEO of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) agrees.

“There’s a strong argument that this [the statue] should be removed,” he said. “These symbols are in people’s faces.”  The statue was especially inappropriate in the light of the recent Jimmy Savile scandal, he added.

Eric Gill statue above main entrance to BBC Broadcasting House

Gillian Finch, who runs CIS’ters, a charity that provides support for adult survivors of childhood incest, believes the work positioned directly above the entrance to Broadcasting House is a potential source of distress for people who have experienced abuse.

“I think victims of abuse would feel uncomfortable seeing that statue and would go out of their way to avoid it because it is a trigger and reminder of their vulnerability,” she said.  “This statue is obscene in terms of what we know now. By removing it the BBC would give survivors of child sexual abuse a visible indication that they are sincere about their statements relating to abuse issues.”

The work created by Gill in 1933 shows Shakespeare’s Ariel as a naked young boy held against Prospero in a full frontal pose.

Gill’s history of sexual abuse was exposed in 1989. His diary entries recorded that he had had sexual relations with two of his daughters, his sisters, and even his dog.

There were calls to remove Gill’s works from Westminster Cathedral in 1998, but these were rejected by the Catholic Church.  Parallels have been drawn with the recent controversy surrounding Graham Ovenden – an artist who was found guilty of indecency with a child – and the Tate’s subsequent decision to remove Ovenden’s prints from its gallery.

A BBC spokesperson told London Journalism Centre: “The statue of Ariel and Prospero on the front of Broadcasting House stands as a metaphor for broadcasting, executed by one of the last century’s major British artists whose work has been widely displayed in leading UK museums and galleries. There are no plans to remove or replace the sculptures at the front of Broadcasting House.”

Eric Gill is also the designer of the font used for the BBC logo. The font ‘Gill Sans’ was selected by the BBC when it redesigned its logo in 1997.