'Kids can't be kidded - they smell the truth'
Talking to Joe Jackson, media-savvy Jimmy Savile explains why rumours of necrophilia, paedophilia and homosexuality don't bother him
IF YOU came of age anywhere between the 1960s and '80s you must have at least one vivid memory of Jimmy Savile.
Maybe, "guys 'n' gals", you tuned your "tranny" into 208 Radio Luxembourg and heard him host The Teen and Twenty Disc Club. A show that, incidentally, later transmuted into Top of The Pops, which Savile hosted the night it started and presented for 20 years. Then again, maybe you took part in the sponsored walks he organised for the Central Remedial Clinic. Or sat in front of the telly, wishing you were one of the kids whose dreams Savile helped come true on Jim'll Fix It.
Either way, when the man says, "There are 60 million people on these islands and they all know me," he's probably not exaggerating. But he's lying. In a sense. Because relatively little is known about his private life.
And media-savvy Savile himself doesn't usually give too much away. Which has led to tabloid allegations that he is secretly a necrophiliac, a "poofter", or "associates" with little girls.
Surprisingly enough, Savile does address these questions during our interview which took place in the CRC. But first, his background.
Sir James Savile was born in Leeds on October 31, 1926, and though his family was "poor, financially", Jimmy's late mother Agnes he still calls her "the Duchess" was "rich" in spirit.
"We never complained about having no money, it was a fact of life," he explains. "For instance, at Christmas time, the Duchess would take me to one of the department stores in Leeds and we'd walk through the toy floor. That was worth looking forward to. Yet it never occurred to me to ask for a toy. We'd been brought up with nothing so that was no problem. We had a lot of spirit. A total love situation."
Even so, life for Savile, the youngest of seven children, was shattered during his teens. His dad, a bookie's clerk, died. But despite Jimmy's even more desperate need for cash, plus the fact that he was "surrounded by people who did a bit of stealing", he decided not to go down this path.
"There was never 52 pay weeks in the year for that. You couldn't score every week," he explains, pragmatically. "And when they'd tell me how clever they were, I didn't think it was clever getting locked up every other week. So I decided you're better off with 52 pay weeks than eight and a hand on your collar."
And so Jimmy, like his brothers, joined the army. Then was "pulled out of the forces to go down the pits because they found they'd called up the coal miners and coal production was stopping". However, during a pit accident he was "blown up" and had to wear a steel corset and use crutches for two years.
"That meant I couldn't do physical work," he remembers. "But when people say clouds don't have a silver lining, I say they do. Because this is when I started being a DJ! I borrowed a gramophone and eight records, wrote on tickets 'Grand Record Dance: One Shilling', then rented a room in Leeds for five bob. And sold 12 tickets. So in one night I made seven bob profit when I was on 16 bob a week sick pay! That was 1945, and for 10 years I worked that circuit."
And that, folks, was the start of the career that would finally make Savile the highest paid DJ in the world. He got his break when he was hired by Radio Luxembourg in '61. The same year he met his hero and subsequent "pal" Elvis, on the set of Wild In The Country. They'd meet again during the making of Love in Las Vegas and Roustabout, but that first meeting was maybe the most memorable.
"A lot of people say silly things when they meet famous people for the first time," he suggests. "So, instead, I jumped out of the car, Colonel Tom Parker says, 'Here's this guy from England, Jimmy Seville', Elvis sticks his hand out and I say, 'Hang on, there's this amazing girl down there, I'll be back in a minute!' Then I run off looking for a girl in a red dress who wasn't there! But nobody ever shook hands with Elvis then ran off to pull a bird. That established me as different. And Elvis was a bird-er, I was a bird-er."
Quite. Savile says he's "done it" with "hundreds of girls" in trains, boats, planes, everywhere.
"Naturally! Being a fella of athletic power, when the girls are there, off you go!" he gushes. "But I never lied to them. I never said, 'If we have it off now I'll marry you tomorrow.' Because they know the score. I'm not the marrying kind. And all through my life it's been marvellous that one could enjoy all these ladies without two-timing somebody."
Did Savile ever propose to a woman?
Was he ever proposed to?
What about the claim that he was going to marry Polly Brown of pop group Pickettywitch in 1972?
"That was a publicity stunt. I never spoke more than 10 words to her."
In fact, the 75-year-old Savile claims he's never been "remotely close to marriage". And says, "No, I don't think so," when asked if he's ever been in love.
"Love is stupid and illogical, it's doing something that goes against your common sense purely because it is emotional," he suggests. "In other words you fall for somebody not worth falling for. Like the girl who says, 'I know he's no good for me but I can change that.' Or the guy who says, 'She's a bit of a cow but I'm sure she'll calm down.' With me it was never like that. I was more logical. I'd say, 'She is everything a fella could want but tomorrow it's going to fall apart."'
This, too, is why Savile decided "about the age of 10" never to marry. "I saw my brothers, sisters and people I knew all end up with upsets. So I thought, what's the difference between the amazing lovey-dovey atmosphere of a wedding, with the bride and groom kissing each other, then next minute wanting to beat each other's heads against the wall, kill each other. That question has always intrigued me. But one thing I realised for sure was that this set up, for me, was hopeless. Yet on top of that logic I had this marvellous life going for me. Why swap that?"
Despite this "marvellous life" with "hundreds" of women, it does seem the only one Savile ever loved, in his own logical way, was his mother. "That's a different sort of love to the kind you're talking about."
How so? "With the Duchess it wasn't so much love as respect."
But would Jimmy ever simply tell his mam, "I love you," or declare any emotion along these lines? Did he ever?
"No, because if I started talking like that, she'd take out the Beecham's powder and say, 'Are you alright!"' Savile replies, also admitting, not surprisingly, that hisfamily wasn't "demonstrative" and "never held one another or anything like that".
Yet Jimmy certainly held on to the body of his mother in a physical, if not metaphorical, sense for five days after she died in 1972. This has been described as morbid, obsessive, conjuring up images of Savile mumbling and weeping alone beside a corpse.
"That's so far from the truth," he says. "The Duchessdied in one sister's house, then had to be brought back to another's house, so it was a week before we could have the burial. And it was a Catholic funeral, a wake, a terrific time for me, with her in the next room."
A terrific time?
"Yes, because, firstly, we all know what happens to old people in the modern world. My brother Vince was in his 80s and thugs came, smashed his window, reached in and robbed his wallet, which scared him to death. I didn't want that to happen to the Duchess. So when she died I knew she'd never get robbed, mugged, knocked over or lie in hospital fading away, in discomfort, suffering. So, by my standards, she was lucky, 85, had a terrific life and now she'd gone."
And "some afternoons when the others were at work" Savile did sit alone beside the Duchess. And talk to her?
"Think with her. There's no point in talking because she couldn't answer," he says, pragmatic as ever. "So I let my mind freewheel over the past. If you'd been pals with somebody like I'd been pals with the Duchess for so long, it takes some readjustment to accept you've lost a pal. But you don't get morbid. I didn't, anyway. I was happy for her."
But "the Duchess", your mom and closest friend, was dead, Jimmy. "Yes but bollix to me, I'm still here."
Did Savile even cry? "I've never cried in my life."
Statements such as this prompted Professor Anthony Clare to suggest, during his radio programme In The Psychiatrist's Chair, that Savile hasn't "any room" for emotions. It might be more accurate to say that Savile instinctively jumps back from an emotion, moves into a mode of self-analysis the moment an emotion hits, rather than simply feels nothing at all.
"Maybe," he says, smiling. "I definitely believe that analysing an emotion isn't getting away from it, it's getting even closer to it.
"Yet Anthony Clare's programme is like a tabloid. He was talking about emotions and I knew that on the show before me he had Claire Raynor, who wept on air. To a broadcaster that's wonderful. But if you get a hardnose like me, who's ruthless when it comes to discussing things, I say, 'Emotions? What for?' Then he says, 'So you've no room for emotions,' and I say, 'If it means being stupid, okay.' But I only meant it in the way I explained it to you earlier. When I said emotions like love are, by their very nature, stupid and illogical."
Even so, after that programme Jimmy was tagged with the "man of no emotions" label to such an extent that one interviewer asked, "Are you a psychopath?"
Similar "misunderstandings and misinterpretations", he believes, led to claims that he is into necrophilia.
"An interviewer once asked me what I did as part of my voluntary work at Stoke Mandeville hospital," Savile explains. "And I said, 'Everything, from taking milk into the wards to taking the lately deceased from the wards,' and that suddenly becomes 'he's into' necrophilia. But that doesn't bother me at all."
What about the claim he's a "poofter"? "The Sun started that," he responds. "And obviously from time to time the tabloids are going to have a pop like that at me, at Cliff Richard, but the difference is that I don't get upset. It doesn't bother me. Because that's what tabloids do. Look for dirt. So if they use the line, 'It's said you're a poofter,' I just say, 'It would be a lot worse if it was true,' and that silences that line of enquiry."
Maybe. Maybe not. But is Savile, say, into necrophilia?
Is he gay?
Is he "into" little girls?
"Anthony Clare asked me my feelings towards children and I said, 'I couldn't eat a whole one ... I hate them,' but that, too, is because I want to shut up someone who's trying to go down that dirty, sordid road with questions like that."
I once interviewed a peer of Savile, PJ Proby, who boasted about how he "took to bed" pre-teen girls. Would that idea sicken Savile?
"Yes," he says, emphatically. "I would never have the time to excuse anything like adults being into children. In fact, I'd rather not even opinionate on this. I'll leave it to the Anthony Clares of this world to sort out the psychology of child abuse. But I will stand up and say, 'This sort of thing is sickening, not part of my world at all."'
And what, if after Jimmy dies, all these rumours or similar stories form part of his legacy?
"Bollix to my legacy. If I'm gone, that's that."
Yet claims that Jimmy Savile was a necrophiliac or paedophile might even now sour the minds of fans who are children. Or were, when they first heard his name.
"Grown ups can be kidded but as with these people here in the Central Remedial Clinic kids can't be kidded," he says.
"They smell the truth, they sense it. If any of those stories were true they'd know it. And I have to say that all the things I've done in my life including Top of the Pops have got to be worthwhile to allow me to sit here today. And be accepted by these children who have such crosses to bear. In that sense, whatever is said after I'm gone is irrelevant."