Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hows about that, then?

Jimmy Savile is dead.

I suppose if you’re less than about 30 years old, you may not even know who he was. If you are a little older, then you probably have an image of a guy with a ridiculously long cigar and brittle white hair fronting a Saturday night TV programme called “Jim’ll Fix It”. A weird looking bloke making peoples’ dreams come true.

If that’s what you think, you don’t know the half of it. He really lived one of the oddest lives you could imagine, and he was someone who impacted on me immensely when I was a teenager in the late 50s - the most impressionable years of my life.

As I grew up in the late 50s, pop music simply didn’t exist. It hadn’t been invented. Commercial Radio, Radio Caroline and the like was several years away. You couldn’t even be “cool” in those days because the word had not then been invented. But those of us in the know used to listen to a strange radio station broadcasting from Luxembourg - wherever that was. Its signals arrived via the Medium Wave, 208 metres, and its reception, in Bedford where I lived, was the 50s equivalent of a lottery. The signal came and went like the tide coming in and out at the sea-side. Some evenings it was great, others you had to believe that the signal was coming from the Dark side of the Moon.

I used to be sent to bed at around 9 in the evening in those days, and one of life’s childishly clandestine pleasures was to sneak the (just invented) portable radio up to my bedroom, secrete it under my bedclothes and listen away very quietly to Radio Luxembourg, a bit like a wartime spy with one ear clamped to the radio and the other on the creaking stairs listening for my parents’ footsteps.

This was the way in the late 50s we all “found” pop music. It was the only real source of people like Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and the other great singers in the vanguard of Pop. No-one else played that sort of music. The BBC was still a million miles away from that sort of thing. They had the Home Service (R4), the Light Programme (R2) and the Third Programme (R3), and that was it.

Radio Luxembourg was the first meaningful commercial radio station, a total trailblazer and was funded by adverts at a time when ITV was still a figment of someone's imagination. To this day, anyone who knows how to spell Keynsham – K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M, and who smiles knowingly when the name Horace Batchelor is mentioned, will be over 50 and will, almost like one of Pavlov’s Dogs, be immediately transported back to the heady days of Radio Luxembourg.

The highlight of Radio Luxembourg’s week was a programme on Wednesday nights at 10.30pm called the “Teen and Twenty Disc Club”, a half hour programme introduced by a guy from Leeds named Jimmy Savile. He ran it as a club on the radio, where you could send in and join up to be a member. One of his never to be forgotten achievements was to have signed up a young American singer named Elvis Presley as a member. Presley’s membership number was 11321, a number which rather worryingly, I will remember till the day I die. That’s what happens when you’re in your early teens.

Jimmy Savile was the John Peel of his day, introducing us to new bands who later became household names. But, almost solely as a result of his programme, we all knew about them before they were well known. At that age, that knowledge was seriously important.

If you care to look up his history, you will find references to the Mecca Dancehall in Leeds, and him starting the first Discotheque, to his career as a wrestler, as a prodigious marathon runner, as an amazing philanthropist and bizarrely as an unpaid Hospital Porter. He absolutely doted on his mother – The Dutchess – and drove around in the most ostentatious Rolls Royce you could imagine.

Fast Forward now about 25 years and we lived in Aylesbury, about 40 miles north of London. The local hospital was at Stoke Mandeville, and it specialised in nursing spinal injuries. The stories put around by the media were that Jimmy Savile, the famous DJ and TV presenter worked there as a porter, something which any follower of the music world would scornfully dismiss as spin and rubbish – the invention of some sensation seeking newspaper hustler.

One evening, when one of my daughters suffered an accident, we had to rush her off to Stoke Mandeville for treatment, and as we shot in to get her attended to, I glanced into the Porter’s lodge next to the door.

Guess who was there.

There was a man who had made an enormous amount of money for himself, but someone who also had raised millions of pounds for charity, someone whose face was immediately recognisable by almost everyone in the country, and there he was working away for nothing in the Porter’s Lodge at my local hospital.

“Evening Jim.” was all I could manage as we rushed off to the Casualty department.

Forget whatever rumours you may have heard about him. He was a truly fascinating man, a One-Off and someone who played a large part in the development of my love of music.

How's about that, then?



1 comment:

Whitenoise said...

Interesting. As a just-under-50, had never heard of him, will have to fire up the google-machine...