David Hepworth: The best DJs don't need to put on an act

Jimmy Savile claimed never to have owned a record. But he knew how to get on

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Last year the dance music magazine Mixmag ran a poll to determine the best DJ in the world. The winner was Tiesto, who you may not have heard of. I voted, with tongue in cheek, for Jimmy Savile, who you definitely will have heard of. I voted for him because in Leeds in 1943 he invented the whole business of playing records for people to dance to.

Nobody had thought of this before. Savile, who died at the weekend aged 84, charged people a shilling for what he billed as "a record dance". When they started shuffling round the floor in response to the tunes he was spinning, Savile felt a new power – a power that's familiar to the Tiestos of today.

In recent years he recalled that occasion in wonder for the book DJ History. "What I was doing was causing 12 people to do something. I thought, I can make them dance quick. Or slow. Or stop. Or start."

Savile claims never to have owned a record, even in the 1960s when he was fronting the Teen and Twenty Disc Club on Radio Luxembourg and orchestrating the screams at the NME Poll Winners Concert from the Empire Pool, Wembley. He never mastered the basic duty of the DJ, which is saying, "That was....and this is..." He was the first and last presenter of Top Of The Pops, in which capacity he never learned to time a link, usually filling the gap between his last words and the band's first note by describing circles in the air with his cigar, or rattling his medallion.

Nonetheless he had enough business savvy to work in a senior capacity for Mecca dancehalls before getting on the radio, knew what it was like to work in a coalmine as a Bevin Boy, fought as a professional wrestler, and earned millions of pounds for charity.

Over the years, various smart profile writers and television producers tried to get him to drop the act. They usually came away convinced that it wasn't an act, which they found even more disturbing.

Most DJs are a little bit mad. If they aren't when they begin their careers, then a few years sitting alone talking to people they can't see means they generally end up that way. The average DJ nowadays is either a transferred television personality or some worthy soul who did media studies. They pretend they don't have an act, which probably means they're fooling themselves far more than Jimmy Savile ever did.

David Hepworth's numerous magazine editorships include 'Smash Hits' in the 1980s