Max Clifford: A grubby predator operating in plain sight
TV review: Max Clifford – The Fall of a Tabloid King refuses to glamorise its wicked subject
The 90-minute documentary is a grim portrait of a wicked man given licence to prey on young women by a tabloid media culture that simply cannot do without Max Clifford. Photograph: Bruno Vincent/Getty
Justice is done at the conclusion of Max Clifford: The Fall of a Tabloid King (Channel 4, Monday 9pm) as the Fleet Street fixer introduced by Terry Wogan as “publicist, promoter, keeper of the flame of truth” is convicted on multiple accounts of sexual assault.
But there is no sense of a happy ending in this 90-minute of Clifford’s degeneracy, and of the hubris that finally does him in. This is a grim portrait of a wicked man given licence to prey on young women by a tabloid media culture that simply cannot do without Clifford and his conveyor belt of tittle-tattle about David Beckham, David Mellor and others.
The documentary does its job in that it doesn’t glamorise Clifford. Even at the height of his influence he comes across as a grubby predator hosting “filthy” sex “parties” and maintaining a cubby hole at work from which he spies on colleagues having sex.
When one of his teenage victims writes to him later in her life to excoriate Clifford for his crimes, he keeps the letter beside his bed. It’s one of many moments when your blood runs cold.
But why didn’t the blood of those in his orbit run cold too ? One Fleet Street editor recalls a power play in which Clifford shows him a jiffy bag full of polaroids of prominent media figures in flagrante. It damns Clifford as a voyeur – yet, such is his importance to the tabloids, nothing is done about it.
He also shared his proclivities with his biographer Angela Levin. In fact, he practically boasts to her. “I loved to do naughty things,” we hear him say on tape. “Have my cake and eat it.”
Nobody blinks when the book is published.
But he is finally hoisted on his own hypocrisy. One of Clifford’s victims – to whom he promises stardom when she is 15 and then assaults – sees him on television waxing sanctimoniously about holding to account paedophiles such as Gary Glitter. And she realises she cannot live with herself unless she does something.
The allegations of abuse, when they are brought to the police, do not drop out of thin air. There have been whisperings. Clifford even shuts down a Mail on Sunday investigation into rumours that he was acting as a glorified “pimp” for his clients and putting young women in harm’s way.
Yet in the wake of the unmasking of Jimmy Savile as a sexual predator, the atmosphere changes. Clifford is no longer Mr Untouchable. He is arrested and his world falls apart. We see him unravelling in real time when he stands behind a television news reporter delivering a piece-to-camera about Clifford’s trial. Fleet Street’s broker-in-chief cannot fathom being the focus of the story rather than the one pulling the levers behind it.
Sentenced to eight years for multiple counts of indecent assault, he suffers a fatal heart attack behind bars in 2017. Two years later an appeal brought by his daughter against the convictions is rejected.
“It’s a long to wait isn’t it?” muses one of his victims. “Thirty years to get justice.”