THE great British public has always been easily seduced by the cult of celebrity, bestowing on some very slimy characters far more deference and respect than their morals deserve.

It's why some genuine losers and scumbags achieve national prominence through reality TV.

That was certainly true of the depraved Jimmy Savile, but the jailing of Rolf Harris leaves a palpable sense of public disappointment, a betrayal of a trust already eroded by greedy politicians, robbing bankers and abusive clergy.

Harris was genuinely liked, everyone's favourite daft uncle, named No.90 among the 100 most trusted Aussies.

And yet celebrity disgrace has also always been an avid spectator sport for the masses.

Harris and Savile were the UK's leading children's entertainers for decades, feted as national treasures.

Savile introduced the Aussie on Top Of The Pops in 1969 with his Christmas No.1, Two Little Boys, and later millions of families watched Jim'll Fix It and Rolf's Cartoon Time.

Kids could listen to the latest Top 20 pop chart only on Radio One every Sunday and with the internet yet to be invented and no Sky to challenge BBC1, BBC2 and STV, it was no surprise such presenters dominated popular culture.

Savile, with his quirky speech and platinum pelmet hair, favoured bling, tacky shellsuits and outsize cigars.

He convinced us he was making kids' dreams come true. In reality, he was giving them nightmares.

In contrast, the bearded Harris presented an arty image, as warm and cuddly as any koala he may have encountered in his TV hit Animal Hospital.

In reality, he was nicknamed "the octopus" by female TV colleagues because of his wandering hands.

On one Fixit, Savile had Harris teach two children how to play a didgeridoo.

Savile would later return the favour by taking Harris on a tour of Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital - where, unbelievably, Savile was given his own keys and was allowed to watch female patients being undressed.

So why did it take so long to expose their abuse? Because their privileged position, as darlings of the establishment, convinced them and their victims and those in authority they were untouchable.

Harris was invited to paint the Queen's 80th birthday portrait and he was a regular at Buck House functions.

Savile, who held court for local Yorkshire police and politicians, was gifted a knighthood by his pal Maggie Thatcher in 1990.

Over six decades, he was reported to six separate police forces, yet none took action.

Bosses at the BBC and in the NHS were alerted he was molesting girls. They chose not to listen.

Nothing was done to upset or unmask one of Auntie's biggest stars, and now Harris joins the Beeb's It's A Knock-Out front man Stuart Hall in jail.

Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months for 12 indecent assaults against four girls, including one just seven or eight.

Less then six months per offence seems derisory and it has been referred to the Attorney General under the "unduly lenient sentence scheme". At 84, he'll likely die in prison, anyway.

Many people believe institutional guilt over their criminal dereliction of duty surrounding Savile spawned a Met witch hunt of ageing personalities.

Of 17 people arrested in the Savile-inspired Operation Yewtree, five have been charged and so far only Harris and PR guru Max Clifford have been jailed.

But while Hall's arrest was not part of Yewtree it was sparked by one of more than 600 victims encouraged to come forward by the Savile revelations.

Octogenarian former celebrities are an easy target, though. Let's see if there's the same energy in investigating the alleged paedophile network operating at the heart of Westminster.

An "explosive" 40-page dossier was handed to then Home Secretary Leon now Lord Brittan in 1983 by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.

It was said to name Savile and the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith among more than 10 current and former politicians.

BRITTAN says he handed it to the police. The Home Office say that file and 114 others have been lost. Now there's a surprise.

The cover-up has always been the first line of defence for the UK Establishment.

Meantime, and independently, an unnamed Labour peer is being investigated after 12 men made allegations of historical child abuse against him, and we await promised answers to why Smith was not jailed for child abuse in the late 1990s and why a Tory MP caught at customs around the same time with indecent images of young children was not pursued by police.

The BBC and the NHS have been shamed into holding independent inquiries into historic child abuse. At Westminster there is no shame, which is why we still need a public inquiry.