See you, Jimmy
Louis Theroux seems to have spent the last few years investigating all manner of weirdness and eccentricity, reporting on his findings for BBC2. Last month, as documented in When Louis Met Jimmy, the object of his investigation was Sir James Saville OBE, former miner, wrestler, disc-jockey, charity campaigner and general celebrity fix-it man. It turned out to be the most compelling viewing on TV for some while.
Theroux spent a week with Sir Jimmy, travelling up and down the country with him and spending time at some of his seven residences. They developed one of those relationships whereby one person (in this case Theroux) is constantly treading on eggshells when in the presence of the other. That this was the case is partly explained by the fact that no room has yet been built large enough to accommodate an ego in addition to Jimmy Seville’s own. It was accentuated further by the actions of Theroux himself, whose prevailing air reflects the type of studied insouciance normally associated with disaffected undergraduates.
Theroux’s line of approach is generally one of seeking out significant and revealing minor details about people that others would tend to miss. In this regard, he can be too clumsy for his own good on occasion and at other times tends to latch on to details that are less instructive than he hopes. In this particular programme, Theroux demonstrated a fixation with Sir Jimmy’s underpants and the revelation that he only seems to use the one pair. It was indeed a revelation of sorts but quite how instructive it was meant to be was less obvious. In this sense Theroux himself was revealed as an interviewer specialising in Hello-magazine type intrusion, but with the cynic’s cutting edge.
More instructive was Theroux’s exposure of how Saville manipulates the media for his own ends, and almost maniacally so at that. When he’d broken a bone in his foot walking near his Highland retreat”I fell off my own mountain”he rang up the local hospital pressurising them to let in the media (including Theroux) so that he could be filmed having his plaster cast put on. By way of reminder, he told hospital staff that he’d bought them “lots of machines”, just in case they were wavering about being invaded by the media circus. When Saville saw his picture in all the tabloids the next day he was as happy as he got throughout the entire week, as if the packaging of his life, and his appearance as a media commodity, was real and tangible evidence that he, as an individual, did actually exist.
Tell us about the money, honey
But amongst all of Theroux’s snooping, there was plenty that he missed, most of it of more significance than Seville’s y-fronts. We were told, for instance, that Saville has seven homes, many of which look hugely expensive. He wears jewellery that costs hundreds of thousands of pounds, including an extortionately-priced diamond-encrusted Rolex watch. He gets driven around in a limousine (amongst other things). Yet not once did Theroux attempt to comment about how this formerly working-class Yorkshireman could afford all these things. Did he really get them through presenting radio programmes, Top of the Pops and then Jim’ll Fix It? Or does he have other massive sources of income, especially now that the only “work” as such that he does any more is for charity?
Speaking of which, Theroux didn’t bother asking him why he feels charity is quite so important either. The impression Saville likes to give is that the £40 million he claims to have personally raised for charity defines his status and justifies everything he does, meaning that he can deflect impertinent queries with remarks like “well how much have you raised for charity then?”, the same technique habitually employed by Bernard Manning. Though Theroux looked like he was going to tackle Saville about this on one or two occasions, he never did, nor, unfortunately did he ask him why he thought charity was—or should be—so necessary. Did Theroux not see a link between the patronising attitude adopted towards him by Saville which he complained about on occasion, and the whole charity shebang that Saville is immersed in as some sort of benevolent Godfather of Largesse?
That Saville is an intelligent man is without dispute, and it would therefore have been instructive if Theroux had given him the chance to explain why charity is still necessary in a world of plenty and if, for that matter, he ever feels in his charity work like he is performing the labours of Sisyphus. This is a pity for us and Theroux because Seville’s reply may well have been far more revealing of his egomania and tendency towards self-justification than a thousand wry comments about the state of his underwear.