Oi, Oi, Savile-oi!: an interview with Jimmy Savile, Front, 2000

Oi, Oi, Savile-oi!: an interview with Jimmy Savile, Front, 2000


We have here… a young man from Leeds… ex-coal miner, ex-disc jockey, cyclist, wrestler… runner… lovely programme for 20 years… Jim’llFix It… Sir James Savile OBE – the inspiration behind the frOnt Hero medal

Front, 2000

[Mrs Gale wasn’t too keen on me publishing this Q&A with one of Britain’s most notorious sex offenders. As a kid, I loved Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall so when I was asked to interview “Mr Fix It” as one of my first assignments at Front, I couldn’t grab my tape recorder quickly enough.

Of note: it doesn’t appear in these published words but I asked him about rumours that were circling concerning under-age relationships. His response was firm and convincing – it was all nonsense and that he felt anger that people could bad-mouth him despite all the millions he’d raised for charity. I didn’t push the point – it seemed petty to do so. I just wanted to hear the anecdotes.

Do I feel strange that I’d placed a Front Hero medal round his neck? Well, it wasn’t my finest moment. Savile also mentioned that me and him were cut from the same cloth, in reference to his mining background and my own family’s mining heritage. Anyway… people often ask who are some of the top names I’ve interviewed in my career and when I mention Savile, there is a sharp intake of breath. Well, in case you didn’t believe me, here it is…]

Rattle, rattle, jewellery, jewellery. At Stevenage Borough FC there’s a steward who is the double of Sir Jimmy Savile OBE: long white hair, prominent chin, pointed nose and comical eyes. Fans of Conference FCs are not slow to make the connection. When Doncaster Rovers played at Stevenage, the voice of 600 travelling supporters chanted, “Now then, now then”; “Rattle, rattle, jewellery, jewellery”; and “Oioioioioio” whenever the poor fellow passed by. It was a magical moment. Even better when the Savile lookalike lunged at a Rovers supporter when asked, “Dear Jim, could you fix it for Rovers to score a goal?” The fake Jimmy was dragged away by the Hertfordshire constabulary.

Seven months on, the real Jimmy Savile hops up a flight of stairs in the classy Alfred Dunhill in Jermyn Street, London. Not bad for a man of 72, with a broken leg, to boot. Dressed in bright-as-buggery tracksuit, he enters Dunhill’s Humidor Room, an air-conditioned, cigar-smoker’s paradise, and parks himself on a comfy leather chair.

All right, Sir Jim? Are you keeping yourself busy?
Me and the Pope, we never have a day off. You can’t retire when an opportunity like frOnt comes along. Saying that, really, my last day’s proper work was 54 years back, down pit.

Why did you stop working down the pits?
I worked down three pits: South Kirby, the Waterloo pit in Leeds and I trained down the Prince Of Wales in Ponte[fract]. So I worked at those pits for about seven-and-a-half years. The only reason I finished at the pit was because I got blown up, underground at Waterloo Colliery. I was where I shouldn’t have been, but nobody told me not to be there, and it done me back in.

Is it still painful?
Oh aye. But hey, who gives a shit anyway? It’s like the broken leg, the trick is, not minding. But I loved it down the pit. I just loved it. I don’t know why I loved it, I just loved it.

Where were you born?
Leeds – that’s where one of my homes is. I still live a mile away from where I was born. And that’s important to me because for a few seconds when I wake up in the morning I’m not quite sure whether I’ve got to get up to go to the pit, or whether I’m a millionaire.

How often do you come over to Alfred Dunhill’s?
I’ve been getting my cigars from this place for 35 years. It’s a great atmosphere – I love the atmosphere. You’ve got these lovely big chairs and you can have a good smoke.

Do you have a favourite cigar?
Any, as long as they come from Cuba.

Are you still involved with charity work?
I’ve just come back from Stoke Mandeville Hospital this morning, and you can’t be more current than that, can you?

Apparently, you still go running.
I’ve just done my 212th marathon – I’ve done 17 Londons. That’s not counting 10Ks and things. I’ve done as many 10Ks. And I’ve done over 300 cycle races – I rode in the Tour Of Britain, the first Tour in 19… in about 1649, if I remember right. No, 1951. And 107 pro fights – I was a wrestler, too.

Are you doing London this year?
No, because l’ve broken me leg.

Where’s the pot?
I couldn’t be doing with it, so I had it taken off.

How did you break it, Sir Jimmy?
I fell off my mountain in Scotland, near Glencoe. About three weeks ago I was out training and fell off the bleeding mountain at the back of my house. When the TV people see me walking, they say, “Have you got a broken leg?” and I say, “Yeh,” and they say, “What’s the trick?” and I say, “The trick is, not minding!” Heh-heh-heh!

Why did you give up wrestling?
The only reason was because I was building the Spinal Centre at Stoke Mandeville and I couldn’t risk getting injured. There was a famous wrestler called Jackie Pallo and I was his tag partner. Me and him tagged all over Britain. Jackie was a bit of a bad-tempered geezer, heh-heh-heh, and I used to get all the screams cos I was doing Top Of The Pops, and he used to get all the boos, even though he was my tag partner. So when I used to tag him, he gave me a good hiding first, and when I tagged him to come back out, he’d give me another clout. I was always top of the bill. I fought 107 times and had 106 sell-outs. The only place I didn’t have a sell-out was in Huddersfield, and there was a bus strike on, but it was three-quarters full anyway.

You were the first superstar DJ, weren’t you?
Yeh, I invented the game.

Apparently, you asked for a twin turntable.
Indeed. It was in Manchester, in the middle of town, and I said I wanted two turntables. The owner said, “You don’t need two, cos these don’t break down,” and I said, “I need two,” and he said, “What for?” and I said, “As they’re dancing to one record, I want to get the next one ready,” and he says, “My God, are they in that much of a hurry?” and I said, “My people are, yeh!” So I invented the twin turntable.

Did you ever mix with other records?
No, no, no, no, no. It wasn’t like that in those days. You could have 3,000 teenagers, not one of them had had a bevy, they wouldn’t even know what a pill was, they’d never even heard of wacky-backy, and you had 3,000 stone-cold sober teenagers, and we had marvellous times.

What do you think of DJs today – some getting 10,000 sheets for working a couple of hours?
And good luck to ’em, oh aye, yeh. Fortunately I finished up with more than that. Well, they’re different animals, not disc jockeys really. They are technicians – an extension of the technical thing.

Do you buy music?
No, I listen to it, but I’ve never bought a record in my life. There’s something called the BBC record library and that had everything anyway.

What television do you like?
I know I’m fairly safe with National Geographic, Discovery and the History Channel. I tend not to watch soaps because I wouldn’t be in the same place regularly enough, so I’d rather not get hooked. I was hooked on Dallas, because that was terrific – only because I taught JR all he knew. He was an amateur and I was the pro.

Do you have an agent?
I’ve never had an agent in my life. No agent, no manager, no secretary. I’ve never employed anybody, ever. Ever, ever, ever. I’m a one-man band. I save money as quickly as anybody else and I don’t have to give 15 percent of it away.

Did you ever think of going into acting?
Acting’s telling lies. I’d rather be me.

You must have had the opportunities, though.
Ohhhhh… would you believe, films, plays, everything? Acting’s doing the same things night after night. That’s not my life. My life’s different.

How did Jim’ll Fix It come about?
I was working on TOTP and they were desperate for me to do a series. So we did a series called Clunk Clickto start with – a magaziney thing. One of the BBC men says, “Listen, Jimmy, you’ve been fixing it for people all your life, why don’t we do a programme where we fix it for people on film?” “Alright then, we’ll call it Jim’ll Fix It. He said, “Jim Will Fix It.” I said, “No: apostrophe, double L. Jim’ll Fix It. It comes easily off the tongue. That’s how it started. We didn’t do a pilot or anything. Straight in. Bang! Twenty years.

What was the success of the show?
The standards: we didn’t have no nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we had no sex, violence, nothing like that. They prophesised doom-and-gloom because I wouldn’t do anything like that. They thought it was a great avenue to do all manner of things, and I said no. One kid wanted to throw a custard pie at his teacher and I refused. They said, “Surely you’re not going to draw the line at custard pies,” and I said, “I’m gonna draw the line a long way before custard pies.” It sounds yucky, but we made decency popular. You could watch Fix It with your 80-year-old grandma, or eight-year-old daughter, and you’d not be embarrassed.

So why did it stop?
Because I’d done Top of the Pops for years, done Fix it for years, and I went in one day and said, “Last series. That’s it.” It’s just instinct. I own the programme; I can bring it back when I feel like it.

What’s happened to your remote-control chair?
Well, after 20 years it fell to bits, didn’t it? It died an honourable death.

What if the BBC came to you and said, “Come on Jim, let’s do another Fix It.’ Is that something you’d consider?
They do that with regularity. There’s no doubt that I’ll bring it back some day, anyway. Oh yeh.

What makes you laugh?
Characters. It could be a cab driver, or a character on TV, or whatever. You never really know when you’re going to laugh.

Do you have a favourite tipple?
No. Never have done. When I’m in Scotland I’ll have a dram; when I come here [Alfred Dunhill’s) I’ll have a dram. Sitting here, with a cigar and a dram is a way of life. It’s not a drink, do you understand? It’s a way of life. And that’ll be the last one I have now until I get to Scotland in a couple of weeks. It has to go with the occasion: not bevvy for bevvy’s sake.

Where did you get your tracky top from?
From a firm in Leicester. I said I wanted England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They made it for me.

How many Rollers have you had?
Eighteen new ones. Now I’ve got an XJS Jaguar; the Isetta bubble car I got 36-years ago; a Rascal VW camper; a runabout with a Porsche engine.

What do people say when they see you out?
They all smile and say, “Jim! How are vou?” And the next one goes, “You won’t remember this, but…” Would you believe about eight million times a day? But I love it. I spent all my life getting in the business, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life getting out of it.

Have you ever taken Viagra?
[Laughs] Hardly. Funnily enough, would you believe, I’ve been in the business all my life and I’ve never been offered drugs? I put my hand on my heart: I’ve never actually seen a pill of any sort. To an athlete, it’s a foreign world. I wouldn’t know what one is. We never had the problem in the past in the dance halls. Now, today, they have chill-out rooms, and I couldn’t live with that. Me, I invented zero tolerance, and I wouldn’t stand for anything like that in my places.

[Presents Sir Jimmy with frOnt Hero medal…] We have… little boy here… from Leeds…
frOnt Hero, eh? Wonder where you got the idea for that medal from? I’lI tell you what, I’ve got more frOnt than Brighton and Blackpool put together – heh-heh-heh! Lee Gale

Mr Fix It
* Jim’ll Fix It was on BBC1 from 1973-1989, on Saturday evening, at 5.20pm. It went superbly with Findus fish fingers and tinned mushy peas.
* Fix It was one of the few programmes that had a different song for the start and the end of the show. We can only think of Record Breakers and Citizen Smith that could also boast such luxury.
* In the 80s, Musical Youth re-styled the Fix It catchy theme tune and turned it into a reggae dub with electro influences. It wasn’t as good as the original.
* One child wrote in asking if he could polish a python. The Fix It team concocted a tin of Python Polish, and a cloth and duster were grabbed from a cupboard in the BBC props department. No snakes were blinded or poisoned in the making of this programme.
* Some bizarre girl wanted to appear on the anti-hilarious Terry And June sitcom. This was sorted, and the weird individual appeared on a cross-channel ferry episode where T Medford, Terry’s boss, had a stinky Camembert in his coat pocket. Humour was different in those days.
* Jimmy’s kindly deeds were spotted by benevolent brethren in the Vatican and the white-haired one was made a KCSG – Knight Commander of The Order Of St Gregory.