A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe I performed a show which climaxed with me picking on an audience member, giving them a wig, cigar and tracksuit top and then getting them to present me with a Jim’ll Fix It badge.
I had female Jimmy Saviles, Black Jimmy Saviles, young Jimmy Saviles, disabled Jimmy Saviles...all united in their ability to do a passable impression. Looking back now it all seems rather creepy and sinister.
Whilst the revelations of the last few weeks have undoubtedly been shocking and horrific, I was particularly interested to hear DJ Paul Gambaccini say how he thought Savile used his charity work with disabled people to cover up his activities. Indeed it has now emerged that Savile allegedly abused sick and disabled children in various hospitals and institutions. To me, the fact that he was able to get away with this kind of behaviour for so long is partly down to how society rarely questions or takes an objective, critical view of activities done in the name of charity.
Admittedly I’m probably a charity collector’s worse nightmare. A while ago I spent a day travelling around London with a collection bucket to test what would be the most ludicrous fake charitable cause that someone like me could get money for from the British public.
As you can see, most people automatically throw coins into a collection bucket at the sight of me, irrespective of the cause I’m collecting for. Nobody seems to question what I’m actually doing in the name of charity, just as no-one questioned the activities of Jimmy Savile for so long.
In contrast to his saintly public personae, amongst disability rights campaigners Savile was always a somewhat infamous, incredibly patronising figure. There is a near-legendary incident in the early nineties when Savile clashed with activists at Leeds Railway Station where he was opening a ‘garden for the handicapped'. Ironically however, at the time both the station and the trains were not accessible. So disabled protesters occupied the garden whilst flourishing banners saying ‘Rights Not Roses’. Their aim was to draw attention to the farce that £30,000 could be spent on a garden whilst rail travel was still inaccessible. By all accounts, Savile was pretty miffed at having his photo opportunity spoilt.
I myself encountered Savile when my class at the special school I attended made it onto Jim’ll Fix It in 1990. Our fix-it was sandwiched between a boy who wanted to become invisible, a father playing maracas in a Mariachi band, a swatty kid who wanted to become a cinema manager and a little girl surprising her gran by making cheese – as if there wasn’t enough cheese already on Jim’ll Fix It!
We asked for a helicopter to land at our school and take away our French teacher – a pretty straight-forward request. But Jim didn’t do as we’d asked. He thought the public couldn’t possibly cope with seeing empowered, intelligent disabled kids playing a trick on their teacher. So he spoilt our surprise by telling our teacher, probably thinking it’d make him look better if he surprised us - the disabled kids - with the helicopter instead.
But even back then at the tender age of 15, I could see how patronising and manipulative the whole thing was. So when we were sat in the studio with him and he declared “you all have to pay £13,650 for your teacher’s day out!” I shouted back “Get lost!”.
So yes, I told Jimmy Savile to get lost on national television in front of millions of viewers - now that really did make my dream come true.