Obituary: Sir Jimmy Savile
- 29 October 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
In his distinctive Yorkshire tones, the words "Now then, now then" meant Sir Jimmy Savile was getting down to business.
For more than six decades, Sir Jimmy, who has died at the age of 84, was one of Britain's most established showbusiness figures and a leading charity worker.
The country's first pop disc jockey, Sir Jimmy was also a seasoned television presenter, marathon runner, Mensa member, wrestler and fundraiser.
With his trademark tracksuit and chunky jewellery, he pre-dated hip-hop fashion by about 40 years.
But for both his on-screen recipients and the beneficiaries of his charity campaigns, he was the iconic Mr Fixit.
Jimmy Savile was born on 31 October 1926 in Leeds, the youngest of seven children.
During World War II he was conscripted as a Bevin Boy, working in the coal mines as an alternative to active service in the armed forces.
In an era dominated by live music, he started playing records in local dance halls.
In 1947, according to his autobiography, he started using twin turntables and a microphone, effectively becoming the first disc jockey.
As the manager of local dance halls, Savile cultivated a tough image, which he carried into professional wrestling clubs.
He lost match after match, but claimed later: "I've broken every bone in my body. I loved it."
A born exhibitionist, Savile was spotted by television cameras spinning discs at his own Plaza dance hall in Manchester.
He grasped the opportunity to become a broadcaster, working at Radio Luxembourg before moving to Radio One.
He was the first host of Top of the Pops in 1964, and helped front the programme for more than 20 years.
Sir Jimmy also had a role on the music show's final edition in 2006.
Even among his fellow medallion men Savile revelled in his eccentricity, hanging upside down, appearing in a banana costume and generally refusing to follow fashion.
He was on BBC television for nearly two decades from 1974 in his guise as a perennial Santa Claus, granting viewers' wishes from his magic chair on Jim'll Fix It.
The programme received 20,000 letters a week. A handful of correspondents went on to see their dream come true, and with it they received a hallowed Jim'll Fix It badge.
Savile maintained this benevolent persona beyond the screen, raising more than £40 million for charity over the decades.
He personally helped the nursing staff at Leeds Infirmary and ran the entertainments section of Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital.
He ran more than 200 fundraising marathons, and as a devout Roman Catholic was given a Papal knighthood for his efforts.
He was similarly rewarded by the Queen in 1990, and acted as an unofficial advisor to the Prince of Wales for a number of years.
For more than three decades, Savile was most actively involved with the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. He stayed there so often he had his own suite.
The hospital is close to prime ministerial residence Chequers, leading Savile to spend time there.
In an interview he said he had been entertained by Margaret Thatcher there during her premiership.
"We used to have marvellous arguments," he recalled.
Savile was relentlessly gregarious in his professional duties. But his appearance - that of a platinum-haired, cigar-smoking, entertainment stalwart - hid a complex personality.
He eschewed the services of a manager or secretary, and shrank from the intimacy of personal relationships.
He claimed to have always slept alone, and saved his greatest affection and reverence for his late mother.
He called her the Duchess, and lived with her until her death in 1973. For the rest of his life, Savile continued to own the house they shared.
He kept her possessions as she had left them, even having her clothes annually dry-cleaned. "There's no reason for death to spoil a good friendship," he explained.
Savile was a millionaire but always lived frugally. He owned a score of Rolls Royces, but seldom changed his clothes and bought his first bottle of alcohol on the day his pension came through.
His eccentric personality, unconventional lifestyle and irrepressible self-belief all defied convention, invited personal speculation, and bemused many an interviewer over the years.
Some questioned the motivation of the man behind such a singular public persona, but his energy and ability were beyond doubt.
A self-professed loner, he nevertheless made an indelible impression on his audiences and, by virtue of his charity work, touched many lives.
"The reason I can do things that other people can't is because I'm a single guy and have plenty of time," he said.
"I don't want anything from anybody. I'm just unusual."
Update 24 October 2012: This article was published in October 2011. A more recent profile, which includes the widespread allegations of serious sexual abuse against Jimmy Saville, has since been published here.