Sunday, 30 October 2011

Heavy burden of claims for Sir Jimmy

There have been an awful lot of claims for Sir Jimmy Savile, since he died yesterday.
It is claimed he was the first Disc Jockey to realize you could run a dance to records, as opposed to live bands which had been the normal until he came along.
I doubt this. Surely the American clubs had already invented this. David Jacobs played records, as did Pete Murray and others before Sir Jimmy made the big time.
Sir Jimmy himself said in interviews that he invented the double deck, allowing DJs to play one record while lining up the next one. That was in the dance halls where he learnt his trade.
That has more authenticity and indeed laid the foundations for the current club DJs.
I heard someone say he persuaded the man who ran Mecca to bring bingo to this country. Whether this was a good thing, they didn’t say. But again I have my doubts.
He was the first celebrity to run marathons for good causes, said some. This was indeed an amazing claim if true, considering the billions of pounds that have been raised for charity since.
And he wore his shell-suits and bling jewellery so setting the template for all those fancy-dress fun runs that have also benefitted mankind.
But whatever claims were true, Sir Jimmy was indeed a one-off.
I met the former miner and wrestler several times, the first time being when I was about 10, around 1960 when my father discovered him in the Glasgow dance halls and brought him to Tyne Tees Television to front a live popular music programme. He had tartan hair at the time, so later hair-styles seemed tame to me.
I then heard him on Radio Luxemburg and saw him as launch host on Top of The Pops before went on to front the very successful Jim’ll Fix It for 20 years. This show really set the template for bucket lists, or wish fulfillment for children.
It was while he was recording this show that I was sent by the Daily Star news desk – it would have been 1973 or 74 - to persuade him to sign a Christmas card I had also had to buy and dedicate it to a terminally ill girl who had written to the paper.
I had to wait outside his dressing room at the BBC’s Shepherd’s Bush studios for a couple of hours before he would see me. He then took the mickey unmercifully about the card I had bought and kept me on tenterhooks for another hour before signing as asked.
It was typical of the man that he could be awkward and wary.
But he could not be faulted for his devotion to fun and good causes. Not only did he raise £40 million for Stoke Mandeville hospital unit for spinally injured patients, he turned up frequently to give morale support.
Less publicly he also spent a day or two a week as an unpaid porter at St James’s hospital in his home town of Leeds.
There was so much to admire about the man, it doesn’t matter if some of the tales were garnished in the telling on his death at 84 years old: RIP Sir Jimmy.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Serendipity triumphs

This is a sneak preview of an article written for Friends of Brewery Arts Newsletter in November:

SERENDIPITY is my favourite word in the English language. Not only does it have a lovely sound, but it also has such a positive meaning: “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”
Since I left The Westmorland Gazette, where I was Editor for ten years, I have been running a media consultancy, Lakes & Bay Communications, which keeps me in touch with many friends and contacts in this part of the world. I now have the time and freedom to make links that would not otherwise be made, and hopefully benefit all those involved.
Such a series of coincidences certainly came into play recently for The Friends of Brewery Arts.
When still Editor I got to know Mike Pennington, owner of Burgundy’s Wine Bar in Lowther Street, which hosted a micro-beer festival the newspaper sponsored.
Several years later, in autumn 2010, I went to interview the principals of Littoral Arts who own the Cylinders estate at Langdale, which was the site of the last installation by the German emigree artist Kurt Schwitters. I was preparing an article for Independent on Sunday about the proposed rebuilding of the Cumbrian barn that housed the artwork, at an exhibition of 20th Century Sculpture at the Royal Academy off Piccadilly in London early this year.
Ian Hunter of Littoral asked me to find a local film-maker to record the events, which I did. I was then asked to help develop the script for the film, arrange interviews and raise funds. So I went to see Mike at Burgundy’s and he kindly agreed to partly sponsor the film.
As a result I found out he was building an extension to Burgundy’s, to include a micro-brewery, and had obtained the recipe for the legendary Auld Kendal beer, originally brewed by Whitwell and Mark, whose brewery became the home of Brewery Arts.
In a completely separate sphere of influence I had met Hilary Claxton while being touted to help set up a new branch of the Rotary in Kendal, a venture that didn’t get off the ground. But Hilary and I had kept in touch and she had proposed I get involved in Friends of Brewery Arts, which I was happy to do as a long-term supporter of the venue.
I attended the fund-raising night, reacquainted myself with Ian Hoyle, who I had known years earlier through the Talking Newspapers charity, and he kindly invited me to attend a couple of Friends committee meetings as an observer.
At the first meeting I attended, I found out for the first time that Margaret Thomas and the Friends were planning a Brewery Story evening, including a talk by historian John Coopey on the building’s time as a brewery.
And what is more, by an amazing coincidence, the date of the event was the same week that Mike planned to produce the resurrected Auld Kendal.
Without my fortuitous intervention no-one would have made that link. It was then just a matter of persuading Mike to bring the new brew down to the Brewery Story evening so the audience could sample it. Very well it seemed to go down, too.
Serendipity triumphed. Perhaps that is what I should have called my company.