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Sir Jimmy Savile bid farewell by people of Leeds

08 November 11 12:57
A photo, cigars and This Is Your Life books next to the golden coffin of Sir Jimmy Savile
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The coffin of TV and radio presenter Sir Jimmy Savile has gone on display in his home city of Leeds ahead of his funeral.

There was not much conventional about Sir Jimmy Savile in life - the steadfast defiance of fashion, the £40m raised for charity, the enigmatic personal life, the endless energy and charisma.

And so in death, it should not seem surprising that he has been brought, a day before his funeral, to a hotel bar near the train station in Leeds, where his satin gold coffin is on display next to the last cigar he ever smoked and his two This Is Your Life books.

"I can just picture Jimmy now with a big smile on his face looking down," says Howard Silverman, a hairdresser in the city and a friend of Sir Jimmy's for four decades.

"Jimmy really, although he was friends with Elvis and Mrs Thatcher and The Beatles and royalty, his true friends were ordinary people. All these people that have come out now."

The coffin is on display so friends, acquaintances and fans can pay their final respects.

"He was the most gregarious guy I knew, flamboyant to the end," Mr Silverman continues. "So I suppose this is Jimmy - the flamboyant showman in life and even a showman in death."

It is an informal lying in state that would not, you suspect, have come about had Sir Jimmy just been a TV personality.

Many in the city also feel a connection with him either through his charity work or as the larger-than-life local personality who was born here and died here.

Gold casket

The closed coffin is at the centre of the Queen's Hotel bar, which has been taken over for the occasion because it has a separate doorway onto the street.

Stories of a gold coffin had circulated beforehand, but rather than being a sparkling medallion gold, it is a stainless steel casket with a relatively tasteful brushed gold finish. The funeral director, fearing grave robbers, is anxious to point out that it is not solid gold.

Several cascades of white roses are placed around the room, along with two photographs of a thoughtful Sir Jimmy wearing pink sunglasses and a table with his ashtray and two cigars, a crucifix, a candle and the This Is Your Life books.

The hallmarks of a hotel bar - the gaudy orange and blue carpet, the bright paintings of couples doing the tango, the fully stocked fridges - are there, but are easily overlooked.

One of the first people in the queue gave his name as Roy Pavarotti Hunter.

A former maintenance man at Leeds General Infirmary, the hospital where Sir Jimmy worked as a voluntary porter and for which he raised money, Mr Hunter said: "He was my great friend, was Jimmy. He was a great guy.

"Passing through, I'd have a talk with Jimmy when he was shoving empty trolleys back. He was friendly with everybody."

Mr Hunter also recalled seeing Sir Jimmy DJ at the Mecca ballroom in the city, imitating his MC patter before copying the goose-scaring guttural honk that Sir Jimmy somehow turned into a trademark. "I was there."

Another mourner, Tony Greenall, 54, from the city, said: "I think he was a saint for Leeds because he did a lot for Leeds and nobody in my lifetime has done what Jimmy Savile's done for Leeds.

"He was born and bred, and it might sound awful what I'm going to say, but he lived and died for Leeds, and I'll miss him." He pauses to hold back tears.

"He'll probably be looking up there and smoking his cigar and rattling his gold, that's the type of fella he was.

"He loved the limelight, did Jimmy, and he'd love this. He was a showman."

Barbara Gill, 61, whose older sister's boyfriend was a doorman at Mecca, recalls that he once brought Sir Jimmy round to her house, long before he was famous.

"I was only a young child," she says. "I've always grown up with the knowledge of him, I've always known of him, so I just want to be here to pay my respects. That's all."

Another fan among the several dozen waiting before the doors opened, Lee Carnall, 39, from Rotherham, never met Sir Jimmy but says his TV and radio shows had "played a big part in my life".

"There's not many people like him in the celebrity world - a lot of them are out for themselves but he was a people's person and that's why I've decided to come down today," he says.

The arrangements for putting the coffin on display were not stipulated by Sir Jimmy before he died - in fact, the idea came from his niece and nephew, who are organising funeral arrangements.

"The family are trying to reflect his life, really," says funeral director Robert Morphet.

"Today is a chance for his family and friends and people who knew him through the television to pay their respects, and tomorrow will be more solemn with the mass.

"From the moment we met the family, they wanted the whole community to be involved, as they were in his life."

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