Did Jim Fix It for Londonderry?
The passing of the legendary BBC broadcaster last weekend, two days shy of his 85th birthday have brought tributes from far and wide in praise of his charitable work down many decades.
But few in Londonderry perhaps would realise that Sir Jimmy had a direct link to this place through his sporting activities.
The release of embargoed Stormont papers in late 2007 revealed that 30 years earlier in 1977, at the height of his fame, Jimmy Saville personally lobbied then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Roy Mason, to bring a plant the Viking bicycle manufacturing company to this city.
No-one will now ever know if Jimmy Saville’s personal intervention was the ultimate persuader in the company locating and remaining in Londonderry for many years and bringing much needed steady employment in a period when hundreds of other firms shunned the city because of the ongoing violence.
Perhaps, it was the fact that both men originally hailed from mining backgrounds in Yorkshire and both found themselves down the pits from the age of 14 in the 1930s that helped to cement the deal.
What is clear however, is that Saville had an association with Viking and from the 1960s onwards was one of the company’s main advertising faces.
Not only his fame as a DJ or TV presenter would have made Viking realise his potential as a boost to sales, but also the fact that he had competed in the 1951 Tour of Britain, as well as over 300 professional level bike races. In fact it was a Viking bike that carried the first winner of the Tour of Britain across the winner’s line in that year of 1951.
Jimmy Saville’s exploits as a professional wrestler and marathon runner in order to raise money for Stoke Mandeville Hospital are legendary, but he was also one of just two civilians to be awarded an honorary green beret by the Royal Marines having completed their speed march across Dartmoor carrying 30lbs of kit back in the 1970’s.
A man who wore brightly coloured tracksuits and chunky gold jewellery thirty years before hip-hop stormed the charts, he was also the first and last presenter of Top of the Pops and surely remains one of very few people to receive a Knighthood from the Queen and and it’s Papal equivalent in the same year-1990.
The original Viking brand was formed in 1908 in Wolverhampton, lasting until 1967 when it closed.
In 1968, the Viking name was sold off as a separate business concern. The Londonderry plant lasted for over a decade having arrived in the city in the early 1980’s.
If any readers who worked at the plant in the city and would like to tell their stories or have older photographs printed, contact the Sentinel on 02871341175.