The Fame Years
“HOWZABOUT THAT THEN”
Over a decade of DJing secured Savile work at the BBC. One of his first jobs was presenting on a topical radio discussion programme called ‘Speakeasy’. And in 1964 he became the first presenter on what would turn out to be the world’s longest-running television music show – ‘Top of the Pops’.His success gave him power within the BBC;
“...within the BBC, the whole organisation was at his beck and call. He had a huge amount of power, he certainly knew it, and constantly built it around him. With everything in life, he used it to get his own advantage”David Hardwick, Radio show contributor
But despite the fame and the money, Savile was never seen out with a girlfriend. If he was asked to a film premiere, he’d take his mother, ‘The Duchess.’When his mother died in 1973, Savile spent five days with her dead body.He later called it the happiest time of his life.
JIM’LL FIX ITIn 1975 Savile began presenting the show that would make him a national treasure – ‘Jim’ll Fix It’. Each Saturday millions tuned in to see children send in their dreams to see which lucky one would come true. The format was phenomenally successful – the show’s ratings sometimes beat Coronation Street with over fifteen million watching it at its peak. It ran for two decades as production staff opened up to five thousand letters a day.
But then the children’s presenter made a bizarre admission – he didn’t much like his audience;
“I think all children should be eaten at birth. That’s for sure.”Jimmy Savile
“He did not like children at all. He tolerated them, but that’s about as far as it went.”Janet Cope, Savile’s Former P.A.’
But this supposed private aversion to children was camouflage, intended to kill rumours of his real practices. And indeed, Jimmy’s very image – so odd and so eccentric – was his greatest asset, attracting attention but deflecting speculation. How could such a preposterous and prominent person be a pervert?
The platinum-haired, tracksuit-wearing Savile sported ostentatious jewellery, a cigar, and yodelled in between his catch phrases. His eccentric image – evolved over decades – meant he was soon everywhere on radio and TV:
“I can’t think of any media celebrity today who is more famous than he was then.”Dave Hardwick Radio show contributor’
In 1977 his TV show lead to his first meeting with the future prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher:
“He was pretty much ingrained in the nation’s consciousness.”Miles Goslett, Journalist
AUTOGRAPHS FOR KISSESBut it was his charity work that catapulted him above the rest of his fellow celebrities.It is estimated that the man who after his mining accident was told he’d never walk again, ran over 200 marathons, and that during his lifetime, he raised £40 million for charity. Savile particularly focused on the world famous Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injury Centre and the Leeds General Infirmary. The public reason given for his personal attention was because of the spinal injury he’d received as a young man and the time he’d spent in hospital.And in recognition of his tireless work, he was given a bedroom at Stoke Mandeville. Savile would have many places to lay his hat, Broadmoor would give also give him a room, but he never called anywhere home. He once said that he never slept anywhere two nights in a row.
But there were also innumerable instances of what seemed genuine compassion.Dennis Lemmon, his former minder, remembered how Savile spoke to his son, Russell, who was dying of leukaemia after Savile recognised the boy’s surname on a hospital ward visit:
"... He went in and chatted for half an hour and our Russell thought the world of him. Jimmy hadn't seen me for 20 years but he remembered the name. That's his good side."
Another person related how when he found out her mother was in hospital, Savile rang the nurses knowing that his call and connection would ensure the mother was well looked after.
But the charity work was – like his supposed dislike of children – perhaps also camouflage. And like his presenting work, his charity work gave him access to the vulnerable.
NATIONAL PUPPETMASTERAnd it also gave him access to the powerful. During the 1980s he even became friendly with Prince Charles.
And it was Savile’s connections to everyone from princes to prime ministers that helped make him untouchable:
“He had friends in the very highest echelons of society...nobody messed with Jimmy Savile because he had connections that were unique... It was like he was the puppet master of controlling everything that was going on.”Peter Saunders, Chief Executive, National Association for People Abused in Childhood
In 1988, after years of voluntary work, Savile was appointed by the Department of Health as the head of a taskforce overseeing Broadmoor psychiatric hospital. Savile told people it was all part of his quest to be given a knighthood. Savile was literally given the keys to the institution and even a house on the site.When female patients were stripped for showering – a practice common in the late 1980s – he would make inappropriate comments.There were rumours that something was wrong with Savile. But the idea that the famous and loveable children’s presenter, the generous and tireless charity worker, the feted friend of the establishment and seemingly everyone, could be a paedophile was preposterous.And Savile was useful to those in power.
When the staff unions at Broadmoor threatened an overtime ban, Savile told the government that he would sort it in his own way. During the 1980s, the Conservative government was very appreciative of anyone who could control the unions and within a month of Savile being at the helm, the overtime ban was called off.Savile soon had influence over the hiring and firing of staff.And so he was given more and more access to more and more places.
In the 1970’s Savile also secured regular visits to Duncroft school in Surrey – a residential school that housed young girls sent there by the courts:
“Savile...worked on the principle that the mixture of his fame and the fact that he treated them to things like trips to the BBC, or trips out in his Rolls Royce that this was, if you like, a thrill that they wouldn’t get from their normal lives - in effect in an institution. So I think he gambled on that that would at the time would actually guarantee their silence.”Paul Connew, Former Editor, ‘Sunday Mirror’