THE streets were frozen as Agnes Savile made her way to the cathedral. Headscarf pulled tight to ward off the chill wind, her lips moved silently as she murmured a prayer over and over . . . all in the hope that her youngest son would survive the night.
Back at home, left in the care of his grandparents and six siblings, was Jimmy, suffering from an illness which no doctor had been able to cure – the last physician leaving a death certificate on the sideboard after taking one look at the two-year-old.
Entering the church, a leaflet about Margaret Sinclair, a young nun from Edinburgh believed to have been a miracle worker with amazing healing powers, caught her eye . . . so Agnes changed her prayer and begged Margaret for help instead. “At that moment I apparently took a 100 per cent turn for the better, and when she came back to the house, my grandparents said I was all right,” recalled Sir Jimmy Savile some 70 years later in the Evening News as he backed the campaign by St Patrick’s Church in the Cowgate to have Sinclair made a saint.
Certainly, Sir Jimmy – who sadly passed away on Saturday at the age of 84 two days before his birthday – believed that, without the blessed intervention of the former biscuit factory worker who became Sister Mary Francis of the Five Wounds, he wouldn’t have lived another day.
And without the long-haired blond DJ with a penchant for yodelling, the popular culture of Britain could well have been very different.
There would have been no Jim’ll Fix It entertaining the masses on a Saturday night and making the wishes of boys and girls come true – and making a Jim’ll Fix It medal as iconic as a Blue Peter badge.
There’d have been no cigar waggling, no “now then, now then” and “how’s about that then, guys and girls?” gargled catchphrases to grab the nation’s imagination.
Marathons might well be devoid of celebrity runners and, while there would still have been a Top of the Pops, without such a flamboyant man at the helm, it may well have flopped.
And Edinburgh would have lost one of its biggest supporters. For while he was born in Scarborough and grew up in Leeds, Sir Jimmy had a soft spot for the Scottish capital, perhaps at first because of its connection to Margaret Sinclair, but latterly because of family connections and charitable causes. He even attempted to work his own miracle and save a lioness at Edinburgh Zoo.
Indeed, he would visit Edinburgh at least every three years to visit Sinclair’s tomb in Mount Vernon Cemetery, before she was moved to a side chapel in St Patrick’s Church.
As he remembered in an interview with the News: “I was the youngest of seven children in a house with no money. When I was two years of age – bearing in mind things were a lot different than they are today – I had a condition which was known as ‘dying’.
“Children died of malnutrition but they didn’t give it names. They just called it dying. The doctor came round and said, ‘Ah, yes, he’s dying’. So to save himself a journey, he wrote a death certificate out and left it on the sideboard. It wouldn’t be dreamed of today but that sort of thing happened in low-income areas in those days.
“If a young person was dying, they would send the parents out of the house and the grand- parents had the job of overseeing the death.
“So the duchess – the pet name for my mother – was banished from the house and walked down to St Anne’s Cathedral in Leeds. She saw a pamphlet extolling the virtues of Margaret Sinclair at the back of the cathedral and prayed to her for help.
“She came back home expecting to be one family member less but found that I had taken an amazing turn for the better and was still there. The grandparents said ‘It’s nothing short of a miracle’ and she showed them the pamphlet.”
He added: “The doctor had to come back and tear up the [death] certificate. When I got a few quid I brought my mum up here to the cemetery.
“The priest from the cathedral and the doctor wrote this up and sent it to Rome and it’s now in some room in the Vatican forming part of [Margaret Sinclair’s] CV to become a saint.”
While Sinclair’s beautification is still to be resolved, Sir Jimmy ended up playing a part in another Edinburgh woman’s personal mystery.
Pam Ward was 43 when she discovered that he was her long-lost uncle. Now 65, the St Columba’s Hospice nursing auxilliary says she has nothing but fond memories of him, and describes him as a “lovely man”.
Pam, who was adopted when she was 18 months, waited until her adoptive parents had died before she started to search for her birth parents. It was then she discovered her father was John Henry Savile – Sir Jimmy’s older brother.
“We weren’t in touch a lot, just through some family events and cards at birthdays and Christmas, but he was a really lovely man,” she says. “Because I work at St Columba’s, sometimes when young children were in I would ask him to send autographed photographs and he would do it every time. He was a kind man and would do what he could to cheer children up. I was very fond of him.”
She adds: “I am actually quite shocked that he has died. It might sound odd, especially because I work in a hospice, but I always thought he would go on forever.
“And, of course, it brings back a lot of memories for me about my situation from years ago. I don’t think I’ll go to the funeral, though. I prefer to remember him as he was, rather than in a coffin . . . just as a lovely person.”
Of course, there are many who’ll remember him for his charitable works, especially in Edinburgh.
Sir Jimmy had a long association with this paper and took part in the annual Evening News sponsored Walk for 11 years, raising £350,000 for worthy causes in the process.
In 1999 he also backed a campaign to save Jody the lioness at Edinburgh Zoo from being put down after fears she might have had feline BSE – even paying the animal a personal visit.
In 2001, he raised £1000 for The Salvation Army when promoting the Edinburgh City Challenge Road Race, and in 2007 he opened the British Transplant Games by taking part in a parade along Princes Street.
The same year he, along with then Archbishop Keith O’Brien, unveiled a £375,000 “jumbulance” to help the disabled make pilgrimages to Lourdes at St Mary’s Cathedral. Two years previously, the presenter – who was made a Papal Knight by Pope John Paul II for his services to the Catholic Church – donated £1000 to the Edinburgh charity Special Education Advice Scotland to keep it afloat.
He had met Linda Lohman from Gyle Park Gardens while holidaying in Gibraltar and been touched by the plight of her son who had learning difficulties. He contacted the Evening News to help find her. “I’ll do anything for anybody if I can because I’ve no axe to grind,” he said at the time. “I’ve got some money to donate and I wanted to help raise the profile of this charity but I had not been able to get in touch with her.
“I told her to write to me and she did, but I’ve not had a chance to reply. I think she must have thought I had forgotten about her.
“So, when in doubt, always get in touch with the Edinburgh Evening News, they’ll get you out of any bother.”
Ow’s about that then?