Sunday, November 6, 2011
Losing Sir Jimmy
It hit me in a strange way. I had not thought about Sir Jimmy Savile for decades but when I read about his death this week it was like a big, gaudy diamond studded medalion had fallen to the ground and shattered into a million tasteless pieces.
That's because I grew up with Jimmy. In the days when we were kids and were subjected to the worst of deprivations - brown floral print wallpaper, chequered flaired trousers from the jumble sale, orange pullovers and three channel TV ( although BBC 2 was a snow storm), Jimmy was often there with us. There he'd be presenting Top of the Pops, hanging out with bands with names like Mud and Slade who came from towns without hairdressers, sporting his bling before bling was invented and trademark fat cigar, a cigar it seems he never smoked.
Some time later the former wrestler underwent an unlikely transformation to fairy godmother when Jim'll Fix it was born. Jimmy became the man who made kids' dreams come true. He'd review their letters and select kids, their experiences would be filmed and they would return to the show to receive their medallions in the 'magic chair.'
Our parents encouraged us to write, but there was much soul searching because we couldn't think of anything we really wanted Jim to do for us. I believe I asked Jim to fix it for me to ride a historic Penny Farthing bicycle. In the event, Jim didn't fix anything for me or my sister and my mother became outraged a few series later when another kid stole my idea and got to ride a Penny Farthing. I didn't really want Jim to fix it for me anyhow. That would involve the whole nation being exposed to my unpleasant brown plaid flared trousers. Nor did I really want Jim to balance me on his knee and say "now, then, now then."
Remarkably Jim'll Fix It ran from 1975 until 1994. Some kids apparently wrote to Jim mistakenly believing his name was Jim'll. I was interested to read the original Magic Chair was later replaced by a robotic chair designed by Kevin Warwick of Reading University. A few years ago I interviewed Kevin after he wired up his body and house with sensors that meant doors would open when he walked in, lights would go on as well. Kevin told me he was working on a project with his wife in which their thought processes could go automatically onto a computer screen. I thought this wasn't such a good idea.
But I suppose the real lesson of Jim'll Fix it is about how television can distort the young mind. Jimmy, the quintessential radio star who wasn't quite killed off by video, attained this image as a benefactor, a man who was deeply involved in charity and made dreams come true for children.
However, numerous reports suggested other things about Sir Jimmy (in Britain annoying people who do too much high profile charity work are usually knighted). In a recent interview in the Mirror his best friend and personal assistant Janet Cope revealed he hated being around kids.
Sir Jimmy even upstaged her wedding by wearing white and turning up in a Rolls Royce. She recalled: "When the ceremony started he lay down across four chairs so people would look at him rather than us. Later he gave a speech which outlasted the best man’s.”
Savile emerged as an egomaniac in a documentary with Louis Theroux which had some sinister undertones. He addressed some of those persistent paedophile rumors in a later interview in the Guardian.
Jimmy died alone. His relationship with women was always unconventional and he claimed he never spent a whole night with a woman. Perhaps he didn't want to make the coffee the next morning. Or he feared she'd be accidentally blugeoned to death by his bling in the night.
"When he talks about women, girls, he often mentions brain damage in the same breath," the Guardian reported. "Nooooaah. That's a generalism," he protests. "My logic has always been to sip at the cup of life and never gulp at it. Now ladies, God bless them. Marvellous . Lovely. If you sip at them. They will enjoy you enormously, you will enjoy them enormously. Then you go to bed on your own and you wake up not disillusioned. You wake up with no brain damage."
In short Sir Jimmy wasn't the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with, although I would have loved to have interviewed him. He was egotistical, flamboyant and strange - he clearly had mother issues. Yet it's the characters who make life a vibrant tapestry and save us from the reality of faded floral wallpaper and Jimmy was certainly different...
According to his personal assistant he didn't get married because he didn't like to be told what to do. There's some saying here involving the words "chord" and "struck," that keeps going round my head.