A new book claims to reveal the truth about the legendary Sir Jimmy Savile. Stuart Arnold reports
BEING the only Leeds-born reporter in the newsroom, it was inevitable that the authorised biography of Sir Jimmy Savile would land on my desk for review.
I never met Sir Jimmy – or wrote to Jim’ll Fix It for that matter – but I do recall colleagues at my former newspaper, the Scarborough Evening News, ringing him on his birthday each year.
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My dad also frequented the Leeds Mecca dance hall in the late 1950s and has talked about the strict door policy operated by Sir Jimmy which involved bouncers checking trousers to ensure they were not drainpipestyle and taking a razor to inappropriate haircuts.
The book How’s About That Then? by journalist Alison Bellamy – the first since the star’s death – tells the “extraordinary rags-to-riches story of a working class hero”.
She struck up a relationship with Sir Jimmy and has interviewed his family, as well as several of his closest friends in the past ten years.
They were so close that when Bellamy had her first child, Florence, he turned up to see her in hospital, joking to staff that the baby was his first born.
“Jimmy was simply a one-off, eccentric, young-at-heart, fun-loving, interesting, intelligent, zany, positive person. He somehow became embroiled in my life, and me in his,” says Bellamy.
Born into poverty, in Leeds, on October 31, 1926, to his County Durham-born mother, Agnes, or “the Duchess”, and father Vincent, Sir Jimmy was one of seven children.
He was conscripted as a Bevin Boy to work in the pits during the Second World War, surviving an explosion which left him wearing a metal jacket for three years and walking with sticks.
He went on to build a successful career as a dance hall manager and disc jockey – hosting the world’s first disco and being acknowledged as the first person to work as a live DJ.
As news of the flamboyant Leeds lad quickly spread, he was signed up by Radio Luxembourg and then Radio 1.
He also became the first DJ to host Top Of The Pops in 1964, returning for its final show in 2006.
What is amazing is how much he managed to cram into his 84 years, before his death on October 29 last year.
Bellamy details his time as a professional cyclist, as well as an 11-year wrestling career in which he lost his first 35 fights and broke just about every major bone in his body.
He was also the first celebrity to raise cash by running marathons – completing 217 in total.
Sir Jimmy combined his showbiz career with part-time stints as a hospital porter at Leeds General Infirmary and was also a volunteer at Broadmoor, where he mixed with the likes of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and gangland boss Ronnie Kray.
He also cherished friendships with the Beatles, Elvis and the Royals, regularly receiving cards from Prince Charles and Princess Diana before and after their split.
Instantly recognisable thanks to his bleached blond hair, chunky gold jewellery and, of course, tracksuits, Sir Jimmy became a very wealthy man and had a fleet of Rolls- Royce cars and a £100,000 Rolex watch permanently perched on his wrist.
However, despite having millions in the bank, Bellamy notes his “bizarre frugality” at times, which included wringing out tea bags, washing his underpants in the sink and living in a flat with no hob or cooker.
She does not shy away from peering into the darker recesses of this “complex” celebrity’s life, who arguably as the presenter of Top Of The Pops and Jim’ll Fix It became the most famous man in Britain.
Bellamy says the star’s private life became the thing most people wanted to know about him, undoubtedly because of the many rumours that swirled around him.
“Why was he not normal?”, she asks. “Why did he lead such an odd existence?
“But why is being an unmarried man, or someone without a serious relationship such a problem for others?
“Jimmy certainly had relationships, quite a few of them, although it was not something he would talk about.
“Journalists have dug for six decades of his life to find out the real story, amid rumours of him being gay, bi-sexual, a womaniser and even a possible paedophile, though no such charges were ever brought against him.”
THE book reveals some interesting insights such as claims Sir Jimmy had a lovechild, Georgina Ray, as the result of a fling with a waitress in a motorway services cafe.
She tried to contact him and even turned up among the crowds who viewed his gold coffin lying in state at the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds before his funeral mass.
Bellamy also speaks to a long-term girlfriend, Sue Hymns, who had an on-off relationship with Sir Jimmy which lasted 40 years.
“I think Jim is remembered for all the small kindnesses he would go out of his way to do for people,” she tells Bellamy in the book.
“These must have run into hundreds of thousands.”
It is this kindness that is perhaps Sir Jimmy’s lasting legacy. As a fundraiser he raised a staggering £42m for good causes. A total of £3.6m was also left to charity in his will.
Following Sir Jimmy’s death, thousands lined the streets of Leeds to pay their respects to him. He was later buried in the town which was his second home, Scarborough, at a 45-degree angle so he could see the sea, as he had requested.
• How’s About That Then? The authorised biography of Jimmy Savile is published by Great Northern Books.