Nov 042011

Sir Jimmy Savile

As an American, the death of Sir (yes, good heavens, he was knighted) Jimmy Savile cannot have the resonance with me that it might for many Brits of a certain age. Let’s think of him as a kind of freaky Dick Clark. Well: at least freaky in a different way. Anyway, for a long time, he was to me just “that really weird guy who pops up in a lot of old British invasion clips.” But as the longtime host of Top of the Pops he was undoubtedly a sort of institution in the UK. Perhaps Happiness Stan can put this in some perspective for us.  In the meantime, here is the New York Times obit.


  9 Responses to “He Was a…Rather Strange and Annoying but Undoubtedly a Great Man”

  1. Happiness Stan

    Now then, now then, ‘ow’s about that then guys and gals, er-e-er-e-er-e-er, now then now then, what have we here then, oh yes, [slows to virtual standstill, but sustains the ends of words so that the sounds still all join together] what… we……….[holds the final zz sound of that word for up to about fifteen seconds]………… ……. …….. ……. …… ………. ……… ………… ………… a… record… by… [gradually speeds up again] theeee…one…and….only [insert name of hyper-commercial middle of the road act and ramble on for about another twenty minutes enjoying the sound of own voice while half an album’s worth of middle of the road pap plays underneath…]

    I’ve been thinking about him quite a bit off and on this week, and have had conversations at work about him initiated by colleagues ten years older and twenty years younger. From the early Sixties to the mid-Eighties he was always there – and, well, now he isn’t.

    What I am about to write is not intended to sound like talking ill of the dead, (see, I’ve barely started but already feel a bit guilty about even thinking about writing anything other than a hagiography for Saint Jim) – it’s purely my impressions of a man who it was impossible to avoid on British TV and radio for about thirty years of my life, and even though it was common knowledge that he had been very unwell for quite a long time it did feel as though a Great British National Institution left us last weekend. He was certainly unique.

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the man – on the one hand he raised a huge amount of money for charity – absolutely ridiculous quantities for Stoke Mandeville Children’s Hospital, (amounts which would still be huge if raised today, but most of it was about thirty years ago), running marathons many, many years before it was fashionable to do so.

    For years and years he presented a Saturday teatime show called “Jim’ll Fix It”, where people would fulfil a lifetime’s ambition to jam with Status Quo or fly a helicopter, or bake a really nice cake – the premise of which was that he was making people’s dreams come true, but regularly made me feel uncomfortable because what it actually seemed to be doing was less about the participants than fuelling his ego and fulfilling his insatiable desire to be adored.

    If he was doing the dj bit then the music wasn’t allowed to overshadow his own performance, the records he played were uniformly absolutely dire. His radio programmes were the equivalent of listening to a stream of James Last albums, punctuated and very often drowned out by his extraordinary ramblings in that bizarre drone adapted from his original Yorkshire accent, which sped up and slowed down, interspersed with odd vocal noises. He would talk over the introduction up to the vocal, often through it, and if he stopped to allow the music to breathe he would start again halfway through the last chorus, if not before.

    By God he talked, he went on and on and on and on, filling the silence with whatever came into his head. In all the hours of his talking and talking and talking I listened to I can’t remember a single meaningful phrase or insightful comment. If he was making people’s dreams come true then no-one but he was allowed to take any credit for it, and at all times he needed to be seen as a saintly puppet-master figure making everything happen. If he was raising money for charity then it appeared that he needed to be at the centre of it (which to his credit was not always the case, it just felt that way). I think that he believed that if he wasn’t continually being bathed in reflected glory while filling the dead air with the sound of his voice then he would cease to exist. Watching him on TV was like watching a choreographed wrestling match in the presence of the monarch who was simultaneously being tickled and poked by a court jester, with Jimmy Savile playing all of the parts and refereeing at the same time.

    Did I mention that he never, ever, ever, ever stopped talking?

    I also have a serious problem with his political associations during the 1980s, but tend now to think that whoever had been in power he would have been seen to be there alongside them. A lot of popular entertainers who liked to project a very left-field persona associated themselves with the hateful Thatcher Government, and for a lot of us it still leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

    And yet, on the other hand he did do amazing, decent, kind and genuinely benevolent things away from the public eye and with no publicity at all – visiting hospitals and prisons he brought humanity into the lives of people who didn’t get much in the way of lighthearted fun, but I don’t think that there was very much joy in his own.

    I don’t think that he was happy, or fulfilled, or actually liked himself very much, and ultimately I feel rather sorry for him because even if he could convince others with his act I don’t think he ever believed it himself, which drove him to push his body harder and harder, and to do all those good works as a sort of atonement. Many if not most of the legends he built up around himself have been questioned or debunked, and yet there is no shortage of stories about his generosity, (I read that he gave at least 90% of what he earned to charity and lived a quite basic and frugal existence outside the public eye, and wouldn’t doubt that was true).

    I’ve no idea if that is offering any sort of perspective, and I promise I’ll shut up soon.

    If I could raise that much for good causes and bring that much pleasure into strangers lives by making their dreams come true then I would feel pretty good as I looked back at the end of my life, and rightly so. I just wonder if he ever really did reflect and feel good about himself.

    There is a peculiar breed of British entertainer who desperately wants to be seen to be clever and erudite and wonderful company, while as soon as the mask slips a sense of lost emptiness tipping into self-loathing reveals itself – Kenneth Williams, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan were all of his generation. I think that he shared whatever it was that destroyed them, but is to his credit that he drove himself and his body to insane lengths for the good of others, and didn’t self-destruct as they did.

  2. Beautiful stuff, Happiness Stan! Thank you.

  3. Happiness Stan

    It’s just occurred to me that, for those who are unfamiliar with the peculiar “er-e-er-e-er-e-er” noise he used to make, that you would not be far off if you were to imagine the opening lick to Ziggy Stardust (which I shall represent here as “bing bang bing bang diddle diddle dum”) and – taking a beverage of your choice – gargling along loudly with the “diddle diddle dum” at the end, and keeping it going for several rotations.

  4. Happiness Stan

    Obvously that should be Mott’s version of All The Young Dudes… it’s past my bedtime.

  5. tonyola

    I had heard the name Jammy Savile in passing over the years, but I never actually heard or saw him until Turner Classic Movies showed the 1965 music film Pop Gear several years ago. There between the gratuitous Beatles live clip and the lip-synced studio performances by other artists was an odd, goggly-eyed, hyperactive 38-year-old man in what appeared to be a poorly-fitting blond wig. I still am amazed that he was such an institution in the UK.

  6. jeangray

    Strong work Happiness Stan. Thanx.

  7. He was unknown to me, yet you made me feel the ending of an era.

    Nicely done.

  8. I’m really only familiar with him because of Pop Gear as well. Glad I know a little more now.

  9. Happiness Stan

    If anyone’s interested, there is a fascinating piece here describing his send-off arrangements

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