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Friend of Sir Jimmy Savile recalls the good times
The man who helped Jimmy Savile stage one of the world’s first discos in Otley has paid tribute to “an amazing character”.
John Swale, who spoke to Sir Jimmy the day before he died and has been helping arrange his funeral, had known the larger-than-life DJ and presenter since he was 14.
That unlikely meeting, when they joined forces to move some hen huts at Norwood, took place in 1948.
It blossomed into a lifelong friendship that saw the celebrity, who would have turned 85 on Hallowe’en, join John for family holidays in France and work with him on numerous fundraising ventures, including Jim’ll Fix It projects.
The pair got involved in all kinds of entrepreneurial adventures, including selling on bale wire from local mills, in the early days.
But it was in 1951 that they made their mark on history.
John, 77, said: “We’d get a band on at the Civic Centre and James would be the MC and do the patter while I’d be on the door. Then, after we’d done a few, a lady wanted us to put a party on for her daughter’s 21st but we couldn’t afford a band.
“So I went to Neil’s Secondhand Bicycle and Radio Store and bought two old wirelesses and the innards of a gramophone, screwed lampholders onto a board and wired it all together so the lights flashed to the music.
“We took what was then the Wharfedale Cafe’s upper room for five shillings and put the records on with Jimmy spinning them and chatting – and that was the world’s first disco. If I’d patented it I could have made a fortune!”
John helped Sir Jimmy take his first steps into showbusiness by suggesting he take up a job with the Mecca dance hall in Leeds.
Jimmy, using a more sophisticated version of the prototype disco equipment, started putting records on and chatting during tea dances, and was soon in demand nationwide.
His big break came when he joined Radio Luxembourg, but at the height of his fame with that station – in 1967, just before joining the BBC – he returned to Otley to present the town’s first Pop Civic Ball.
The event, the brainchild of the chairman of Otley Council, Ronnie Duncan, proved a huge success and saw Jimmy performing at Otley Rugby Club in his trademark Union Jack jacket. This paper described it as: “The Swinging Scene Takes Over Otley”.
John has scores of other anecdotes about his famous friend, including one about the time Sir Jimmy arranged for a controversy-surrounded Jerry Lee Lewis to play a ‘secret’ show in Guiseley.
But he is keen for people to remember a more complicated person than the cigar chomping figure often portrayed. Someone who, as well as a philanthropist, was a close friend and confidante of Margaret Thatcher and who, as a devout Catholic, raised money for the first mobile intensive care unit to help disabled pilgrims get to Lourdes.
“He raised a phenomenal amount of money for all kinds of good causes,” said John.