As host of Jim’ll Fix It, Jimmy Savile would grant the wishes of children who wrote to him. Looking back, Oliver Milman is relieved Savile didn’t try to make his childhood dream come true.
Back in 1988, I wrote a letter to you in my best eight-year-old handwriting, asking you to do me a favour.
This was no random request to a celebrated BBC TV presenter. After all, you were host of Jim’ll Fix It, a long-running show where you, Jimmy Savile, would grant the wishes of children who wrote to you. The requests ranged from the mundane (a ride on a rollercoaster, a trip to the beach) to the truly wonderful (simulated space flight, Mauritian dancing in a grass skirt while simultaneously building a wall).
You would read out the chosen letters on air and then grant, genie-like, the wishes of a lucky few. Once the ambition was fulfilled, you invited the child in question onto the show, where you presented him or her with a prized “Jim Fixed It” badge, with the aid of a mechanical arm that was hidden within your chair.
For a young person growing up in Britain in the 1980s, appearing on Jim’ll Fix It was a cherished goal. The only limit to these riches was your imagination (and yes, although not clear to a primary schoolchild, the BBC’s budget, but let’s not quibble).
So my carefully inscribed plea — in pencil, on lined paper — was a heartfelt one. As a budding illustrator, it was my unbridled desire to meet cravat-wearing TV art buff Tony Hart. Hart, a serene gent from another age, taught a generation of British children how to draw with the aid of his animated plasticine sidekick Morph.
Surely, Jim, you could’ve pulled a few strings within BBC Television Centre so I could share my etchings with Hart?
But, no. Clearly it wasn’t quirky enough. Or interesting enough. Or cheap enough. I would ask you for justification, but you probably wouldn’t remember. That, and your morbidity problem, of course. Whatever the reason, my letter, like many thousands of other hopefuls, was cast aside.
I admit this decision riled me for quite some time, Jim. But given the countless allegations of sexual assault — in care homes, hospitals and even within some sort of mobile sex den — that have surfaced since your death, I’m beginning to think I dodged a northern, cigar-wielding, marathon-running bullet.
Today, watching clips from Jim’ll Fix It has a rather creepy resonance. The benefit of hindsight not only condemns your gaudy jewellery and wet Golden Retriever hairstyle, it also provides pointers to your depravity.
For example: noting a small girl who was sat awkwardly by your side, you said “I have been invaded by a girlfriend who specifically wanted to sit in my chair”, while doling out a Jim’ll Fix It badge to young cardigan fan Mark, who had the surreal request of being a suitcase on an airport baggage conveyor belt for the day.
Rival badge applicants such as Mark, with his ludicrous luggage fantasies, used to bother me, Jim. You indulged their whimsical nonsense but, to my bitter consternation, ignored more worthy requests, such as the opportunity to hang out with cravatted illustrators.
I now realise the letters, like mine, condemned to the BBC bin were in fact the real winners in the rather dubious cost-benefit analysis that appearing on screen with you entailed.
After all, the former director of Jim’ll Fix Ittold The Sun last month that he walked in on you having your way with a girl aged “16, maybe 15”. David Nicolson, the director in question, told the Murdoch tabloid: “But she was just one of many — he always had one in the room. He said: ‘What do you want young man?’ and shouted at me to get out of the room.”
Nicolson claims the BBC’s response at the time to his allegation was “that’s Jimmy” — a bon mot that you can only imagine was delivered with a wry chuckle and a shake of the head.
The producer of the same show, Roger Ordish, recently admitted he knew Savile had a “predilection for younger females”. Confusingly, Ordish also reminisced about the bucolic times when he allowed Savile to sleep in the same room as his 14-year-old daughter.
Maybe, as I wasn’t a young girl, I wouldn’t have been on your radar, Jim. But it appears that boys with fixations on gaining Jim’ll Fix It badges were also prey. One, Kevin Cook, told the BBC he was lured into your “dingy” dressing room with the promise of a badge before being assaulted.
Now, I would’ve done a great deal to get a coveted badge. To have that mechanical arm pluck the precious prize from inside your voluminous chair, to feel the crackle of Velcro as the badge encircled my scrawny neck. But being forced to rub your Polyester-clad leg, and worse, in your dank dressing room would’ve been a price too much to pay.
From beyond the grave, you’ve retrospectively shattered several innocent childhood memories. Far more ghoulishly, you haunted many others while you still lived, in a way that will never be Fixed.
I’m glad you binned my letter, Jim.
*Oliver Milman is the editor of Crikey sister publicationStartUp Smart