Little slaves’, sordid boasts and the dark truth about my ‘friend’ Jimmy Savile, by the biographer who tried to unmask him
Over eight years, writer Dan Davies was given unrivalled access to Jimmy Savile and his coterie, but no one dared to unmask the world he found… until now.
I first met Jimmy Savile at his penthouse flat in Leeds in 2004.
After buzzing on the intercom, I was told to wait in the small foyer of Lake View Court, a modern block overlooking Roundhay Park. When the wooden doors of the lift slid open, releasing a cloud of pungent cigar smoke, Jimmy emerged flanked by two large, unsmiling men.
‘Frisk him,’ he barked and I was pinned to the wall and searched for 20 rather uncomfortable seconds.
As I entered his flat he beckoned me through to his kitchen, which was decorated with tiles of pink and brown – or ‘the colour of sex’ as he put it – before sitting down in his reclining chair to begin regaling me with tales of his poverty-stricken childhood, his friendship with the Royal Family and his curious opinions on the opposite sex.
‘Intriguing subject’: Jimmy Savile relaxing at his flat in Leeds, where writer Dan Davies first met him in 2004
He boasted how many girls would be available to him on a typical night in one of his dancehalls and claimed to have ‘loved them all’. He also said that it ‘never occurred to me to take a liberty with them’. It struck me then that this was an odd caveat.
I asked him about the rumours that had long dogged him, namely that he was into young girls.
‘You’ve got to bear in mind that we live in a funnier world than we did ten years ago, he said. That is why in this building I don’t have the internet and I don’t have email, because someone would break in here thinking that I would be up late at night looking at all that porno business, and steal my hard drive. If I ain’t got it in the first place, they can’t get anything on me.’
I interviewed Jimmy many more times in the years before his death, at his homes in Leeds and Scarborough, over lunch at the Athenaeum Club in London and even during a short cruise on the QE2.
He was an intriguing subject and something approaching a friendship developed between us. Yet despite his generosity and entertaining company, nagging doubts persisted.
During our time at sea I was alarmed by how often he stopped elderly couples and used the same quip each time to the husband.
‘You want to be careful about being seen with underage girls,’ he’d say, motioning to the man’s wife. ‘You can get in trouble for that.’
It was an extremely odd thing to say and I began to fear he harboured a guilty conscience. I also started to entertain the notion that his tireless charity work might be some grand bid for atonement for past sins.
Jimmy talked about ‘being put through the washing machine’ by the newspapers but coming up clean. I knew he was litigious and was in his flat in Leeds in 2008 when he instructed his lawyers over newspaper claims about his connection with the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey.
His line was always consistent: ‘The big secret about me is there is no secret. What you see is what you get.’
What is now known is that Jersey Police investigated an allegation that he molested a girl at the home during the Seventies. When asked whether such rumours bothered him, he replied:
‘It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, not at all. I have a phrase when someone outs a story in a tabloid about underage sex – I say, “It would be a lot worse if it was true.” They say, “Are you saying it’s not true?” I say, “I’m not saying nothing but it would be a lot worse if it was true.”
Jimmy Savile, above with two girls in 1967, boasted to biographer Dan Davies about how many girls would be available to him on a typical night in one of his dancehalls
When I first walked into his time- warp flat, with its garish fixtures and mementos from his long career at the forefront of popular culture, I had not seen Jimmy Savile in the flesh for 24 years.
Not since an evening in the autumn of 1980, when as a treat my mother took me to watch an episode of Jim’ll Fix It being recorded at the BBC Television Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush, West London.
I was nine and Jim’ll Fix It was one of Britain’s biggest family shows. My overriding memory of that evening was not of giddy excitement but of leaving the theatre afterwards with nagging doubts about Jimmy Savile.
The troubling experience of watching from the audience would have probably remained just that, had it not been for the discovery some years later of a dog-eared copy of his 1974 autobiography, As It Happens.
Rather than chuckling at his capers as child drummer in a wartime band, a Bevin Boy miner, cyclist, pioneering DJ and pop personality, I was disturbed by his morbid fascination with death and the frequent references to teenage girls – inevitably followed by cheerful accounts of narrow escapes from suspicious parents.
‘I started to entertain the notion that his tireless charity work might be some grand bid for atonement for past sins’ Jimmy Savile’s biographer Dan Davies
In one story from the early Sixties, during his stint as manager of the Mecca Locarno dancehall in Leeds, Jimmy recalled the police asking him to keep a lookout for an attractive young girl who was on the run from a remand home. He told the female police officer that if he found her, he would keep her for one night as his reward.
Jimmy recounted in the book that the girl came in to the Locarno that night and it was ‘agreed that I hand her over if she could stay at the dance, come home with me, and that I would promise to see her when they let her out’.
At 11.30 the next morning she was willingly presented to the female police officer, with Jimmy adding that she ‘was dissuaded from bringing charges against me by her colleagues, for it was well-known that were I to go I would probably take half the station with me’.
We now know that he wrote this at a time when he is alleged to have been grooming and abusing girls at Duncroft, an approved school for ‘intelligent, emotionally disturbed girls’ in Surrey, and also at the Top Of The Pops studios.
In another story, he boasted of picking up a girl in his E-Type Jaguar who had been sitting with her parents on the seafront at Scarborough one stormy night.
‘You would not believe the stories I might tell you about some parents,’ wrote Jimmy – before regaling readers with the news that after saving the girl from the waves, he took her to a garage where he kept his Rolls-Royce and she was ‘duly appreciative’.
As It Happens is littered with references to his ‘romantic’ encounters. He talked in elliptical terms of ‘the gleaming bodies of beach girls’ on his trip to California to meet Elvis Presley in 1960 and how he ‘felt it officially criminal that the age of consent in that admirable state is 18’.
He admitted to being chased along the seafront at Scarborough by ‘forty fine-bodied young girls’ and making an appearance at a charity event in Otley, near Leeds, on the condition he would ‘sleep in a tent up the local hillside with another tent alongside with six girls to sleep there as my bodyguards!’
The late DJ and television presenter surrounded by girls at a Radio 1 event near his home in Leeds in 2000
God’ll Fix It, his slim volume on religion published in 1978, contained many more unusual insights.
Jimmy opened a chapter titled How Do I Cope With Sex? with the following thought:
‘Sex at its worst is corruption, as when young people might be corrupted to provide sex.’
He went on to talk about how sex could be the source of ‘great remorse, great guilt’ and insisted his rule was never ‘make love to anyone if it causes them distress’ or if they were in ‘a state of drunkenness or don’t know what they’re doing. I mustn’t take them knowing that when they return to normal they’ll be distressed’.
In closing, he offered a final thought:
‘Whether it’s OK to God we’ll just have to wait and see.’
These books, and a persistent doubt, sparked my long quest to find out who Jimmy Savile really was, and why he had succeeded for so long in remaining hidden.
In 1992, Professor Anthony Clare also tried to get behind the mask, interviewing Jimmy for his In The Psychiatrist’s Chair series on Radio 4. They discussed his emotionally and materially deprived upbringing – as the unwanted, youngest child of seven – and why he had remained so determined not to show or share his feelings.
But Jimmy simply refused to lay his psyche bare, feinting and ducking and, when all else failed, shutting up shop entirely.
‘There is something chilling about this 20th Century “saint’’ which still intrigues me to this day,’ concluded Britain’s best-known psychiatrist at the end of a particularly prickly encounter.
Seven years later, a ‘transcript’ appeared on the internet detailing an exchange that was alleged to have taken place between Jimmy and Paul Merton during the filming of an episode of Have I Got News For You. The exchange, which has since proved to be a hoax, contained allegations about Jimmy and an underage girl he’d threatened with violence after she had said she’d go public about their relationship.
Jimmy’s lawyers quickly intervened and websites carrying the transcript were forced to remove the offending material. Or, as Jimmy told me later: ‘I’m an honorary Doctor of Law, so I have plenty of clout.’
From the real-life Pied Piper he’d been as the host of Top Of The Pops and Jim’ll Fix It, Jimmy suddenly seemed at odds with the modern world – a demise that was most famously captured by documentary-maker Louis Theroux. When Louis Met Jimmy went out on national television in September 2000 and shone a beam of light on what a strange old man Jimmy Savile really was.
Visits: Jimmy Savile would offer rides in his Rolls Royce to girls from Duncroft School in Surrey
Aged 73, after 40 years at the forefront of popular culture, he was seen leading a somewhat sad, lonely and peripatetic existence – a track-suited, cigar-chomping dinosaur who wanted to appear as a happy-go-lucky everyman but actually came across as wilfully evasive, controlling and occasionally menacing.
What I’d discovered, meanwhile, was that he was not merely a tracksuited clown, but multi-faceted, surprising and extremely well connected, with contacts ranging from Ronnie Kray and Peter Sutcliffe to popes, prime ministers and princes. He was also Teflon-like in his ability to avoid dirt.
Initially, I was interested in how this singularly odd individual had inveigled himself into the corridors of power – but it was the constant innuendo that trailed him that I found most compelling.
One source revealed he had spent a week with Jimmy at an exhibition for teenagers in the early Sixties. Jimmy was the DJ and compere on a stand and pop stars dropped in to do PAs.
‘It was great fun, but if I could tell the story of what happened that week he’d probably be in jail for ever,’ said the witness. So the rumours were true? ‘They’re totally true.’
In 2009, we sat in Jimmy’s front room in Scarborough discussing something entirely different when he launched into the shocking and unsolicited defence of Gary Glitter that featured in last week’s Exposure documentary on ITV.
Star was ‘caught on mattress with Stoke Mandeville girl, 14’
Savile took young female hospital patients to his dressing room at BBC Television Centre after inviting them to watch Jim’ll Fix It being filmed.
The girls came from Stoke Mandeville, the hospital in Buckinghamshire with which he was most closely associated.
A magazine journalist yesterday recalled an occasion when a girl, aged about 14, who was bald after receiving treatment for cancer, lay on a mattress next to Savile in the dressing room as he gave an interview in the late Eighties.
It was in this room that Gary Glitter is claimed to have raped a 13-year-old girl in front of Savile.
After the interview Savile followed the journalist along a corridor, grabbed him by the arm and threatened: ‘Don’t you dare mention that girl in your article or you’ll be bloody finished. Do you understand?
Savile raised millions of pounds for Stoke Mandeville but it has been claimed that he used his work for charity as a cover for his predatory sexual behaviour.
A former student nurse said: ‘I heard the stories that he took patients to see Jim’ll Fix It at the BBC and that they went to his dressing room. It was one thing him being at the hospital with the kids, but quite another that he was alone with them.’
Stoke Mandeville said it was ‘shocked’ to hear of these allegations and would co-operate with any police investigation.
Jimmy argued the images of child pornography found on the disgraced singer’s computer were ‘for his own gratification and whether that’s right or wrong is, of course, up to him as a person.’
I was taken aback and suggested that Glitter, real name Paul Gadd, had gone much further than downloading images – as evidenced by his 2007 conviction for obscene acts with minors in Vietnam.
Jimmy’s answer: ‘Are you telling me that some evil person didn’t stick little birds into him?’
Without missing a beat, he explained how, many years before, two policemen had once come into his dancehall.
‘They said, “Jim, we’ve had reports of you going in and out of public toilets in Leeds.’’ I said, ‘Is that right? How long have you been checking toilets? That must be a terrific job. Do you have a bath when you get home because you stink of p*** and s****?” When they realised they weren’t getting anywhere they got up and left.’
I was struck at the time by the hard edge in his voice and the language he used.
But for all my growing suspicions, questioning and research, I could not find anything or anyone to conclusively nail the rumours. Access to those who were close to Jimmy was limited by his desire to control and his dogged determination to be the curator of his own myth.
There was a part of me, too, that hoped he was right, and there was no sinister secret lurking behind the carefully cultivated facade.
It was only after his death in October last year that the shackles on the truth began to fall away. I attended his three-day funeral and it became apparent, talking to those who knew him, that he kept his life strictly compartmentalised.
By remaining constantly on the move – bouncing between his homes in Leeds, Scarborough, Scotland and London, and rooms he kept at Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor – his pockets of friends, or ‘teams’ as he called them, were kept mutually exclusive. It was a lifestyle that made him remarkably difficult to trace.
In offering their voices to the chorus of tributes, his former Radio 1 and Top Of The Pops colleagues revealed only that none of them professed to know Jimmy. David Hamilton talked of a ‘very remote figure’ who didn’t mingle.
Mike Read said he was ‘quirky, eccentric’, Tony Blackburn thought that he was lonely and didn’t have many friends while Dave Lee Travis – who learned his trade as a DJ from Jimmy while working in the dancehalls of Manchester – spoke of knowing him for 50 years without ever having a meaningful chat.
‘He kept himself to himself and put a shield up,’ said Travis. To a man, they all used the phrase ‘a one-off’.
‘He was a naughty man’ Jeffrey Collins, former DJ at the Mecca Locarno
For the book I was writing, I wanted to place Jimmy in the context of the times he passed through and influenced. To do that, I set about finding people who might have known him better or drifted into his orbit at different stages of his life. I worked chronologically, starting with his early days as a miner, racing cyclist and dancehall manager.
In one of my first interviews, Alan Simpson, who as a teenager worked part-time at the Mecca in Wakefield, made a startling revelation:
‘One of the biggest laffs we had [with Jimmy] was either he was going to be a huge success or in prison for screwing 14-year-old girls. Everyone in the Mecca company knew about it. It was wink, wink, nod, nod. It was never made public. It was a different world. If he could get away with it – wink, wink, nod, nod – good luck to him.’
This was quickly corroborated by Jeffrey Collins, at the time a young DJ at the Mecca Locarno dancehall in Leeds that Jimmy managed.
‘He was a naughty man, a naughty man,’ said Collins. ‘He’d go with teenagers . . . I don’t know how he got away with it but he got away with it. Maybe it was because he was Jimmy Savile.’
When I asked if he found these underage girls in his dancehall, Collins confirmed this was the case: “ ‘Go up to my office, I’ll be up there later.” That sort of thing.’
Tony Calder was 18 when he first met Jimmy at Decca Records in 1961. Calder, who would go on to co-manage The Rolling Stones, had just stormed out of a meeting when he bumped into the DJ – who was contracted to play the company’s records on Radio Luxembourg.
‘Jimmy said, “Come with me to Leeds for the weekend. I’ll make sure you get laid,” ’ said Calder.
Calder did go, and said for the next 18 months Jimmy became his ‘mentor’, training him up as one of his DJs.
He also stated that Jimmy had girls throwing themselves at him, and that he’d normally had sex with them before he ‘passed them on’.
‘They’d do what they were told,’ Calder recalled. ‘They were followers. They were his little slaves.’
He confirmed that for Jimmy,
‘the rule was: the younger the better’, although he was ‘terrified of getting nicked with underage girls’.
By the early Sixties, Jimmy might have been forgiven for feeling untouchable. With his hit Radio Luxembourg shows, a weekly pop music column for a Sunday newspaper, a role with Mecca that gave him control over the music policy at Britain’s biggest chain of dancehalls and a job hosting Top Of The Pops, he was arguably the most influential man in a British music scene that was conquering the world.
Jimmy talked to me on occasion about the close relations he maintained with the police, while Calder recalled being at the table as one senior officer was wined and dined.
He remembered Jimmy being warned about his behaviour: ‘[The police officer said] “You’ve got to cut it out,” whatever it was. [Jimmy] was taken aback.’ Once one police chief retired or moved on, Calder said Jimmy would move on to wooing the next: ‘He wasn’t stupid. Whatever he was doing, he was covering his back.’
As his flatmate, support DJ, chauffeur and sidekick, Ray Teret was better placed than most to witness what his boss was doing. Teret styled himself on Jimmy and they shared a half- derelict apartment in Salford in the early Sixties.
‘He was a pop star,’ Teret said. ‘When you’re in that business they’re always there in front of you. There were so many [girls] around. The Sixties were the sex years. All the girls wanted to try sex and all the boys wanted to be into sex. Everyone was at it everywhere like rabbits. Girls chatted to us. We were harmless because we weren’t chasing anybody. We were great at consoling girls when they’d fallen out with other boys. We liked to console them.’
I asked Teret what sort of girls Jimmy liked, and he paused before answering
‘I think Jim, like me, preferred girly girls rather than smart girls . . . girls who are prepared to do a cartwheel and jump and dance and have a giggle and a laugh. Not the ones that go to work and be dead straight and sensible. He liked fun girls, show girls.’
I put it to him that it must have been an amazing experience for a young man to hang out with someone who was rich, famous, charismatic and surrounded by girls.
‘They always wanted Jimmy’s autograph,’ said Teret, ‘and while they’re all queuing up I get chatting to them, “Who are you? What’s your name? What are you doing later? We’re staying in the caravan, do you want to come and see us at six o’clock? Bring a girlfriend.” It was that easy.’
As Teret explained on a radio show recorded soon after Jimmy’s death
‘I actually spent so much time with Jim in the early days that he told me how to live, how to think, how to be.’
Jimmy Savile presenting Top Of The Pops in 1976
He recalled that Jimmy referred to him as ‘My son’, to which he dutifully responded by calling him ‘Father’. Jimmy’s protege went on to become a DJ for Radio Caroline, at which point they parted company.
In March 1999, Ray Teret, then 57, was jailed for six months for seducing and bedding a 15-year- old schoolgirl.
I also discovered that in 1980 Jimmy’s older brother John Henry was fired from his job at a London psychiatric hospital for sexually assaulting a female patient. He was alleged to have lifted the patient’s smock and groped at her breasts in his office.
While trawling the newspaper archives, a recurring theme began to emerge. Whether rescuing girls on the seafront in his aforementioned E-Type, offering lifts home in his Rolls-Royce or inviting female guests back to his caravans and motorhomes, Jimmy’s impressive array of vehicles was as much a part of his image as the outlandish hair, clothes and jewellery.
In a conversation with one of Jimmy’s former assistants, he admitted the only dubious thing he ever heard him say was that he really shouldn’t give girls a lift in his car. Jimmy hadn’t heeded his own advice by July 1977 when 16-year-old Julie Ball reported she had gone for a spin with the then 51-year-old star in his golden Rolls-Royce.
They had met at a health farm where she worked as a trainee beautician and Jimmy had driven her home to Letchworth in Hertfordshire, where ‘he signed autographs for hordes of children and sat talking with the family until the early hours’.
The next night he took Julie out to see a play and on the way home, they pulled into a quiet lay-by where they ‘kissed and cuddled for half an hour’. Other than the love-struck teenager’s feelings being hurt when Jimmy insisted there had been ‘no romance’, there is no evidence that anything further happened,
The same cannot be said for the allegations that have emerged 25 years on. They too involve cars, and lay-bys and more. Claims that Jimmy had sexually abused under-age girls at Duncroft School in the late Sixties and early Seventies surfaced earlier this year after a Newsnight report – in which a number of victims were spoken to – was controversially axed by the BBC.
Contact with the former Duncroft girls at the centre of the claims proved difficult because of the anger and betrayal they felt over the BBC’s decision. Many felt there had been a cover-up and were fearful of going on the record again, although one, Karin Ward, did blog about Jimmy’s regular visits to the now-closed approved school in Surrey.
‘I looked forward to Jimmy Savile visiting because it meant pleasant food, rides down the lane in his sports car and extra cigarettes,’ wrote Ward, who was 14 at the time. ‘Sadly, it also meant one had to put up with being mauled and groped when he pulled into a lay-by some five miles along the road.’
She added: ‘I wasn’t the only girl that he favoured with this either. In fact, he often tried to press me to “go further’’ than simply fondling him and allowing him to grope inside my knickers and at my partly-formed breasts. He promised me all manner of good things if I would give him oral sex.’
We now know those rewards were said to have included visits to the BBC studios to watch his television shows being filmed – visits that offered opportunities for further assaults in his dressing room.
And he did go further, allegedly raping two of the Duncroft girls who were hand-picked from the headmistress’s office, as well as others unconnected with the school.
Five women appeared in former police detective and child protection specialist Mark Williams-Thomas’s investigation for ITV, although not all were from Duncroft.
He interviewed many more – among them were some previously interviewed by Newsnight. So far, more than 40 women have come forward to claim that they had been sexually assaulted by Jimmy Savile at the height of his fame. They were aged between 12 and 20 at the time.
‘The pattern is consistent with all of those women I spoke to,’ says Williams-Thomas. ‘I have no doubt there are many, many more victims. I know some of them and they are too scared to talk on the record.’
Murders with Savile links
Irene Richardson murdered outside Savile’s flat
Josephine Whittaker murdered in Savile Park in Halifax
Vera Millward murdered in the grounds of the Royal Manchester Infirmary, where Savile regularly frequented
Emily Jackson was murdered off Roundhay Road just a short distance away from Savile’s home in Roundhay Park
Marcella Claxton attacked in Roundhay Park near Savile’s flat
Jayne MacDonald murdered in a playground on Reginald Terrace, also close to Savile’s home in Roundhay Park
Wilma McCann murdered on the Prince Philip Playing Fields in Leeds. Prince Philip was of course a close pal of Savile & nearby streets are Savile Drive, Savile Avenue and Savile Place!!