TELEVISION / Long Runners: No 27: Jim'll Fix It

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The Independent Culture
Age: 19. The first show went out in April 1975. The 'fixees' were a boy who wanted to drive a train, teenage girls who wanted to meet the Osmonds and, somewhat more originally, a woman who wanted to dig the Channel Tunnel (she was filmed having a try on Ramsgate Beach).

Whose Idea Was It Anyway? It developed out of Clunk, Click, a mercifully short-lived BBC vehicle for Jimmy Savile which took its name from Savile's famous road-safety campaign.

Frequency: 13 Saturday evenings every year between April and June, plus Christmas and occasional Bank Holiday specials. At the unique broadcasting length of 35 minutes, the programmes are virtually unrepeatable.

Timing: it used be more prime-time, but has crept earlier and earlier over the years as programmers have tried to use its resilient popularity to boost early-evening viewing.

Ratings: at its peak, in 1980, the series was more popular than Coronation Street, with more than 20m viewers. The last series averaged 7m.

Formula: dreams come true. In its heyday, the show received 350,000 letters a series, of which only 70 were used - odds of 5,000-1. Even the lucky few must wait. One eight-year-old who asked to do a funny walk with Max Wall was 12 before it was fixed for him.

Why are kids and old people always chosen? 'Middle-aged people are considered more capable and financially well-off,' says Roger Ordish, producer since the show's inception. 'So there's the attitude: 'If they wanted to do that, why didn't they just go and do it?' '

The most popular request? To swim with dolphins. Runner-up: to walk down a grand staircase in a ballgown.

The most expensive Fix-It? The girl who got to roller-skate with the cast of Starlight Express.

Anything they won't do? Since the fatal accident on Noel Edmonds's Late, Late Breakfast Show, potentially dangerous stunts have been forbidden. Before then, dreams made true included that of a mother of five who wanted to drive a car off a jetty into the sea. Perhaps they should have just put her into custody for her own protection.

The set: Appears to be decorated with outstretched dirty rugby shirts set in varnish. Himself sits on an elevated blue velvet sofa, from which he descends to be among his people and hand out medals inscribed with the words 'Jim Fixed It For Me'.

What are these medals made of? Recycled aluminium drink-cans. Savile was so impressed to discover that 99 per cent of a can is re-usable that he decided to use them for the medals.

Current status: Savile declared a few months ago that enough was enough and that this series would be the last. Public opinion has apparently given him second thoughts, however, and the BBC will decide soon whether to commission a 21st series. Meanwhile the programme has evidently seen better days, and despite a token post-modernist makeover of the studio design, it carries the unmistakable aroma of the 1970s. Talking of aromas . . .

Cigars: Savile stopped smoking his Havana cigars on the show three years ago - because he never had time to enjoy them, he claims, rather than for health-education reasons.

Anything that makes you want to kick the set in? Not the sentimentality, because whatever Jimmy Savile might be - and not even Lynn Barber could crack that one - he isn't sugary and doesn't milk sentiment. But he can be bossy and abrupt on the show (he is a Yorkshireman) and his body language can be aggressive - 'playful' pinches on kids' cheeks, hearty punches on the arm for the grown-ups, dominating hands on guests' shoulders.

Social function: beyond giving a few people some happy memories, you wouldn't have thought there was one. Sir James disagrees: 'We have brought back a lack of envy into people's lives,' he claims.

The bottom line - how good is it?

It's simple and effective, although the acquisitive 1980s, when dreams came true with a swipe of plastic, knocked some of the shine off the show. Sir James is proud of 'just being myself', but if he becomes any more himself than he is at the moment, he'll be walking around in his pyjamas, winding up an alarm clock.

(Photograph omitted)

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