Sir Jimmy Savile: The medallion man with a heart of gold
SIR Jimmy Savile, the colourful and eccentric broadcaster known for his garish track- suits, chunky jewellery and sense of fun, has died.
The first presenter of Top Of The Pops and popular Radio 1 DJ, who went on to win new generations of fans with Jim’ll Fix It, was found dead at his home in Leeds, where he was born 85 years ago tomorrow.
It was not known last night how Savile, who had a quadruple bypass operation in 1997, died although he had been admitted to hospital earlier this month with pneumonia. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances.
Savile, who had a home in the Scottish Highlands, claimed to have revolutionised popular music by being the first DJ to use two turntables and a microphone, at a ball in 1947, although his pioneering status had been disputed by others.
A woman leaving the apartments in the Roundhay district of Leeds said yesterday she had seen Savile in a restaurant about two weeks ago and claimed he seemed ill.
She said: “He was really, really poorly. He really should not have been out. It’s the first time in all the times we’ve seen him that he didn’t have a joke. You could tell he was really ill yet he was still dressed in his string vest in a smart restaurant.”
“She added: “He always used to say to me and my friend – who are both in our nineties – when we used to be going out and we’d bump into him, he’d say, ‘are you clubbing, girls?’”
The self-styled medallion man, rarely seen without his trademark cigar, raised millions for charity by running marathons for charitable causes, particularly for Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where he worked for many years as a volunteer porter.
Savile, who presented the higely-popular Jim’ll Fix It from 1975 to 1994, started his radio career at Radio Luxembourg in 1958 and was still presenting on air four years ago, most recently with Real Radio.
Yesterday, tributes flooded in from former colleagues and other broadcasting figures after the news of his death was announced.
Former Radio 1 colleague Tony Blackburn said Sir Jimmy was a “big, over the top personality”.
“He was quite a character. I think he will be best remembered for his charity work, and you know those tracksuits he always used to wear, and he was just an unusual person.”
Veteran radio presenter David Hamilton said Savile, who was knighted for his services to charity in 1990, worked “tirelessly” to raise funds for various causes. “He was a very energetic character. But most of all, I remember him as just a totally flamboyant, over-the- top, larger-than-life character and as he was on the air, he was just the same off.”
Former Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis said: “We are all going to be worse off without him around.”
The youngest of seven children, Savile almost died of pneumonia at the age of five months.
He was conscripted as a Bevin Boy, working in the coal mines as an alternative to serving in the armed forces, but began making money from playing records in local dance halls, getting his first break helping to run the Locarno club in Leeds. He was also a professional wrestler and competitive cyclist in the 1950s.
His breakthrough with the BBC came in 1964 when he presented the first episode of Top Of The Pops, then later joined Radio 1’s line-up.
In its heyday, Jim’ll Fix It would attract 20,000 letters a week. BBC director general Mark Thompson said: “I am very sad to hear of Sir Jimmy Savile’s death.
“From Top Of The Pops to Jim’ll Fix It, his unique style entertained generations of BBC audiences. Like millions of viewers and listeners we shall miss him greatly.”
A spokeswoman for Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust – which runs Stoke Mandeville Hospital – said: “He was tireless in his attempts to fundraise for the hospital and was integral in the creation of the National Spinal Injuries Centre that we have today. Sir Jimmy will be sorely missed by staff and patients alike.”
Savile, who never married, lived alone in his native Leeds, reserving part of his home as a shrine to his late mother.
His guarded private life was the subject of a controversial BBC documentary in 2000 fronted by presenter Louis Theroux.
In a recent interview, he said: “The reason I can do things that other people can’t is because I’m a single guy and have plenty of time. I don’t want anything from anybody. I’m just unusual.”
Savile was a hugely popular figure in the Glencoe area – where he had a modest home – and nearby Fort William, being widely regarded “as an adopted Highlander.” He said he fell in love with the glen when he cycled through it in 1942.
“It was a voyage of discovery, and this was Shangri-La,” he said in an interview five years ago. “It’s not scenery. It’s a feeling.”
He was a long-time chieftain of Lochaber Highland Games and famously forced the BBC to abandon plans for a live broadcast of the final episode of Top Of The Pops as it clashed with the event. Alan Lindsay, secretary of the games, said: “We have lost a great friend and supporter.
Savile had a 36 year association with the games – all but the last two years as chieftain. He considered himself a special friend of the games for the last two years. He took his role very seriously and with great pride.”