8 Nov 2011

Golden send-off for Sir Jimmy Savile

As fans of Sir Jimmy Savile file past his gold coffin in Leeds, Channel 4 News speaks to some of the people who knew the private Sir Jim – and others who served him ham and eggs.

Some might say lying in state and a three-day funeral is more in keeping with dictators and royals than Leeds pensioners.

But Sir Jimmy Savile, keeping us entertained in death as in life, has fixed it for his final farewell to lie somewhere between poignant and comical.

Members of the public have queued outside The Queen’s Hotel in Leeds to pay their respects to the veteran TV and radio star, who died on 29 October aged 84.

“I would say [he would think] the more people there, the bigger the crowds, the better,” said Debbie Leathley, landlady at his favourite pub and a close friend.

“But I do think he would have liked something away from that as well.”

Sir Jimmy Savile in the garden of The Priests House near Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire. (Photo: Dave Cropper)

Pictures of Sir Jimmy, in his trademark round, pink-tinted glasses, adorn the walls at The Priests House, where he regularly ate roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Read more: Sir Jimmy Savile's body 'to lie in state' at Leeds hotel

Ms Leathley told Channel 4 News: “I spoke with him a week before he died and we talked about a lot that day. I knew there was something different.”

Yet even the story of his last appearance at the restaurant, a popular wedding venue set in dramatic Dales landscape, is a humorous one.

“He came to a gay wedding and got chatting… I worried that he might say the wrong thing and told him to go.

“But the two women wanted him to stay, and he ended up having a whisky with them.”

So how did Sir Jim become Yorkshire royalty and how did he stay so popular long after his showbiz career ended?

“He had the time of day for everybody,” explains Leathley, who will be attending his funeral.

“People asked for photos with him, sometimes in the middle of his meal. He never once said no. Nothing was too much for him.

“It isn’t just sad for me – there’ll be customers who are going to miss him.”

Photographer Dave Cropper is the man behind many of the photos of Sir Jimmy.

He told Channel 4 News: “In my lifetime pop music has always played a big part, and I grew up with Jimmy on TV as presenter of Top of the Pops and Jim’ll Fix It.

He came in and said ‘oh look, same vest’, and I said ‘I hope you’ve washed it!’ Sandra Kirkham

“It was a real pleasure to meet him at The Priests House, and he was still a larger than life character in his later years.

“Also anyone who raises the amount of money he has for charity demands respect from anyone.”

Charity, ham and eggs

“Mainly it’s his charity work in Yorkshire,” Sandra Kirkham told Channel 4 News.

She runs Coxwold Tearooms in North Yorkshire, another favourite haunt for Sir Jimmy, who for many years was a marathon runner who trained around the area.

“He raised millions for local charities. He used to run up here as well, doing half marathons.

“Most people remember him for his charity work – he never faltered in that.”

Coxwold Tearroms in North Yorkshire.

“When I first met him he said: ‘I’ll be back.’

“He came in every couple of months and liked to have ham and eggs and a pot of tea.

“He was such a larger than life character – he spoke to all the customers and was very friendly, everybody liked him and he lit the whole place up.

“I’ve got a picture here of him in a yellow shell-suit and vest.

“He came in once, looked at it and said, ‘Oh look, same vest’, and I said, ‘I hope you’ve washed it!'”

“But I feel a bit humbled actually, going to his funeral.”

‘It was good while it lasted’

More details of Sir Jimmy’s last wishes have emerged, including his request to be buried at a 45-degree angle overlooking the sea in Scarborough.

And the last cigar he ever smoked is on display next to his coffin.

On Wednesday Sir Jimmy’s funeral cortege will visit his mother’s house before arriving at St Anne’s Cathedral in Leeds for a requiem mass. On Thursday, the coffin will tour Scarborough before he is laid to rest.

He will be buried in his own clothes, with a Royal Marines medal, green beret and a Help for Heroes wristband.

The words “It was good while it lasted” will be engraved on his gravestone.