LONDON — For years, the affable, white-haired Max Clifford has been the "go to" guy for British celebrities seeking help with public relations fiascos. Now it is Clifford who may need help: He was arrested Thursday as part of a wide-ranging U.K. inquiry into sex abuse.
Clifford called the allegations "damaging and totally untrue" as he left a London police station to a flurry of photographer flashbulbs.
News of the arrest shocked Britain's entertainment and media communities; Clifford has long been seen as a sage adviser with an uncanny ability to shape the news in his client's favor.
He is known for his fabled ability to get certain stories into the papers – and keep others out.
It is too early to judge the impact of Thursday's arrest on Clifford's formidable reputation. Few details were available, and it is not clear if the 69-year-old will be charged with any offenses.
Police did not name Clifford, as is customary, but his lawyer, Charlotte Harris, confirmed his arrest, which had been widely reported in the British media. She said he was cooperating with detectives.
"Max Clifford is being interviewed by police," she said in a statement. "Mr. Clifford will assist the police as best he can with their inquiries. When we are in a position to provide further information, we will."
Police said that a man in his 60s was arrested Thursday morning in Surrey, south of London, on suspicion of sexual offenses and is being questioned at a central London police station.
The police statement said the arrest was part of Operation Yewtree, a broad investigation into child sex abuse spurred by the case of Jimmy Savile, a prominent BBC television host who has, since his death last year, been linked to serial sex abuse of underage girls. Police have said there may be several hundred victims.
The police statement does not link Thursday's arrest to child sex abuse. It was not clear what Clifford was being questioned about, and other people arrested as part of Operation Yewtree have not been charged with criminal offenses.
Clifford said the allegations date back to 1977, but he declined to go into further detail after giving a brief statement outside the police station where he had been questioned and released on bail.
"Anyone who really knew me all those years ago and those who have known me since will have no doubt that I would never act in the way I have today been accused," he said, adding that the allegations were "very distressing" to him and his family.
Clifford has been a fixture on British television news programs and in British newspapers, which frequently seek his thoughts on how celebrities can come up with novel marketing strategies to maximize their appeal – and how celebrities dealing with marital breakdowns, drug problems, legal issues or fading popularity can rebound.
His clients include entertainment mogul Simon Cowell, former Harrod's owner Mohamed al-Fayed, and the late reality TV star Jade Goody, as well as dozens of ordinary people who found themselves at the vortex of the news and who sought to sell their stories to the press, which is a common, and lucrative, practice in Britain.
Clifford's easy sense of humor, elegant clothes and friendly manner made him a media mainstay. And he has been comfortable discussing the Savile inquiry with reporters, telling The Associated Press in October that many celebrities were worried they might become ensnared in the investigation.
"They're phoning me and saying, `Max, I'm worried that I'm going to be implicated.' A lot of them can't remember what they did last week, never mind 30 or 40 years ago," he said.
Clifford did not answer calls placed to his mobile phone Thursday.
The Savile allegations have hugely embarrassed the BBC, which has been accused of failing to report on investigations into their late star's alleged crimes and instead broadcasting tributes to the entertainer, who hosted several popular children's shows.
Four other people have been arrested in the investigation of the alleged abuse. No one has been charged.
British media have identified the suspects as including comedian Freddie Starr and former glam rock star Gary Glitter.
Associated Press writer Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.
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Jimmy Savile in 1961 around the time he was working for Radio Luxembourg. He is at London Airport with Pan American stewardess Birgit Johansson with two gold discs; one is for American singer Elvis Presley for having sold one million copies of "It's Now or Never" in the UK, and the other is for Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker
Cilla Black and Jimmy Savile before a Variety Club Luncheon at the Savoy Hotel. Taken in 1964, the year Savile became the first presenter of Top of the Pops
Two women have come forward with allegations from the 1960s, one who was 14 and another who was a teenager when she claims Savile sexually abused her in Scarborough
Savile in 1969 with Physically Handicapped and Able-Bodied (PHAB) member Erika Mentz from Germany and other PHAB members at a dance at Devonshire House
1969 also saw Savile begin volunteering at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital for specialist spinal injuries. He would later be given a room there
Jimmy Savile presenting a cheque to children on behalf of the NSPCC in 1969
The 1970s saw Savile start volunteering at Leeds General Infirmary and...
... Broadmoor secure high-security psychiatric hospital. Allegations by former patients have been made against Savile although ex-workers have disputed the idea that he could have been left alone with anyone whilst working there
The 70s also saw the start of Jim'll Fix It. Allegations from this period include Caroline Moore, a 13-year-old patient at Stoke Mandeville hospital in 1971, who says Savile "rammed his tongue" down her throat and another allegation accuses Savile of molesting a brain-damaged teenage patient at Leeds General Infirmary in 1972
The 1980s saw the continuation of Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It as Savile became a much loved household name. Two allegations relating to this time include one from a then-15-year-old girl (not pictured) who made a complaint of abuse by Savile in Lancashire. Pictured is 12-year-old Rebecca Heap
Savile at the Stoke Mandeville hospital with injured children from Beirut in 1987
Savile was knighted in 1990 and continued his charity work throughout the decade
Savile was questioned in 2007 by police about allegations of sexual abuse but the Crown Prosecution service says there is not enough evidence to warrant a prosecution
A 2008 police report into abuse at the Haut de Garenne children's home in Jersey names Savile, although this is never made public
Savile re-united with his Jim'll Fix It chair in 2009. The previous year Sussex police received a complaint of sexual assault but went on to say the victim was "unwilling to co-operate in any investigation"
Jimmy Savile is found dead at the age of 84 in October 2011. He is buried in Scarborough
In December 2011 the BBC drop an investigation by Newsnight into the allegations of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile. Three tribute programmes are aired instead
ITV airs a documentary, 'Exposure, the Other Side of Jimmy Savile', in which a number of women claim they were abused by Savile as youngsters, including Karin Ward (pictured)
Within days of the documentary, many more allegations surface. By the 9 October Peter Spindler of the Metropolitan Police tells the BBC: "It is quite clear from what women are telling us that Savile was a predatory sex offender"
11 October 2012 and George Entwistle, Director General of the BBC, asks journalists why the Newsnight programme was dropped as police from Tayside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and North Yorkshire police say they are investigating allegations going back to 1959
12 October and police reveal they have 340 potential lines of inquiry
15 October sees a man come forward alleging that Savile abused him when he was a nine-year-old boyscout
Savile's family removed his headstone from his grave and broke it up in the wake of the furore
Jimmy Savile sexually abuses transgender man
A transgender man comes forward alleging that Jimmy Savile 'stuck his hand up his nightdress' while he was a 17-year-old teenage girl at Broadmoor in the 1970's. More here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/15/jimmy-savile-timeline-abuse-allegations_n_1966426.html?1350304573#slide=1641388