Leeds hotel fixes it for Sir Jimmy to lie in state
Jonathan Brown joins a queue of mourners filing past television presenter's golden coffin
Lenin has had 87 years. For Jimmy Savile, a disc jockey turned turbo-charged charity fundraiser, the honour of lying in state was to last just a single day.
The Yorkshire flag and the Union Jack had been flying at half-mast above the art deco façade of The Queens Hotel in Leeds from first light yesterday. By the time the doors opened just before 10am, a 50-strong queue had formed.
And they continued to come until long after dark – 5,000 braving the November cold and gloom to pay their respects to the Technicolor life of the late Sir Jimmy.
He will be laid to rest later this week, interred in suitably eccentric fashion – decked out in his favourite tracksuit in a grave near his coastal holiday home in Scarborough, buried at a 45-degree angle so he can "look out" over the sea.
This, the first of three days of mourning, is the nearest Yorkshire gets to a state funeral. There were many fans of his long radio and television career, but there were also those who had been touched in some quiet way by his unique brand of larger-than-life altruism.
A mixture of curiosity and respect had drawn them to experience this final strange fix-it for a man who brought thousands of dreams to life. They filed slowly past the gold-coloured coffin with its five enormous sprays of white roses, his two This is Your Life books, a candle, a crucifix and a final cigar.
Richard Firth, 34, dressed in tracksuit and sweatband, had travelled up from London despite Sir Jimmy having ignored his childhood plea to fix it for him to train with the (then) Leeds United goalkeeper John Lukic three times. "I'm calling today's journey a 'Jim'll-grimage'. It just feels like [we're] doing the right thing," he said.
The mood was neither mawkish nor ironic. This was the gritty industrial city's tribute to a celebrity of the pop and mass-broadcasting age who, despite the lure of money and fame, did not lose sight of his origins right up until his death last month at his Leeds flat, aged 84.
"A kind man, a star, a gentleman – one of the very best," said the message from Ray from the old Mecca dancehalls that Sir Jimmy ruled in the 1950s, after his recovery from a near fatal coal-mining accident. He was "Yorkshire's own hero" and "a Leeds lad done well", others wrote in the books of condolences.
Typical of those that made the journey was Josephine Varey, 57, a cleaner who worked alongside him at Leeds Royal Infirmary in 1972. She recalled how he would "keep every bugger on their toes" as he patrolled the wards, putting in full shifts as a porter between television shows. "He would do anything for anyone," she said. Former Royal Marine sergeant Clive Crawshaw, 70, had come to remember his former charge. So had Susan Thompson, 67, who met him when he came to her Bradford youth club in 1959.
Sir Jimmy's nephew, retired primary school head teacher Roger Foster, 66, admitted that lying in state had not been the star's idea, but said he would have approved. "His whole life was spent with ordinary people I think he would revel in it. "
A requiem mass will be said for Sir Jimmy later today at St Anne's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Leeds.
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