Never can this writer remember two men falling at such speed, both taking the breath away in equal measure. However, as one hurtled from space, another careered from grace, both causing the respective audiences to drop their jaws in disbelief and shake their heads.
Daredevil ‘nutter’ Felix Baumgartner stepped off a ledge and fell to Earth, filling children’s eyes with disbelief and wonder, thus ensuring that a new, innocent generation had a scientific landmark moment of their own to rival the lunar landings, the Space Shuttle launches and crashes, and Dolly the Sheep of their parents and grandparents memories.
Conversely, details emerged of the systematic abuse of that unprotected innocence, and the children at the hands of one of England’s most famous personalities, thus ensuring horrific disbelief and erasing the innocence of an entire tea-time-watching-and-wishing generation.
Every child is asked at school what they would like to be when they grow up. Invariably, these can include train driver, astronaut (never a cosmonaut – this is The Righteous West, dagnaggit!), footballer or famous, to name but a few. For us nearly-40-somethings, to be famous in the late 70’s and 80’s would have included an appearance on TV. And, unless we were religious and our church was selected to host Songs of Praise (we weren’t), or perhaps a bit of charity do-gooding for Blue Peter, it was unlikely. Our best chance, and using the power of imagination and madness that only a child of that time could have, was to write to Jimmy Savile, and hope that our letter sparked similar giddiness in the production rooms of Television Centre.
Every Saturday evening, we as a family would sit down and watch the process of platinum-haired, cigar-smoking, marathon-running, jewellery-botherer Savile read a scrawled letter from Bethany, 8, Stockton-on-Tees, who’s wish was to sing with Buck’s Fizz after their triumphant, Eurovision Song Contest win. Or, a group of Scouts eat their packed lunch on a roller-coaster, with hilarious milkshake spillages.
And, occasionally, it could be moving, too: in 1986, Peter Cushing, or “Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars!” as we shouted at the telly, appeared. His asked Jim to fix it for him to have a rose named after his wife, who had recently died. His wish was duly granted, and, as with all televised wishes that came true, he was given his Jim’ll Fix It badge – a manhole-sized piece of gold-coloured tin, suspended on a blue ribbon that was as classy as the presenter’s tracksuit or knitwear. It was great television, from 1975 to 1994, when the BBC required his services no longer.
But, having spent decades on BBC television and radio, as age crept in he focused his time on raising money for charities, including the hospital that Pause Jnr (snr) was born in. The public perception of Savile was of a man that was eccentric at worst, and “madcap” at best. Yet, this illusion was shattered as, a year after his death, allegations were made against him of abuse of young girls. And, as the momentum, groundswell of hate and number of allegations increases, it appears that another establishment cover-up has been unearthed, as senior figures at his employers were aware of potential indiscretions, yet turned either a blind eye or refused to investigate. I will leave it to the lawyers and ghouls to pour over the details of some deeply disturbing allegations.
And, as sordid and horrific details continue to emerge, including the predictably, almost inevitable arrest and implication of everybody’s Glam-Bogeyman – and most accurate rhyming slang since James Blunt – Gary Glitter, the façade of this once-perceived generous personality has been shattered forever. And with it, the aftertaste of every Saturday wish we witnessed. Forever tainted, like his ridiculous circular glasses that once signified kindness, yet now disguise the face of a hideous monster that preyed on the innocent.
At times of such disappointment, we humans often need an antidote to the poison of reality. And it was exactly this remedy that Felix Baumgartner provided us with. As a famous devil himself, although prefaced with the word ‘dare’ in front of it, we sat and watched his balloon rise to the edge of space at 128,000 feet, wondering what may happen.
But, in times of fear, you need a calming influence. It also helps if this man is USAF Colonel Joe Kittinger, who’s voice was Papa Smurf doing an impression of Father Christmas, wrapped in a pillow stuffed with puppies ears and marshmallows. As ‘Big Joe’ counted through the steps of the mission, our comfort was offset by the butterflies in our stomachs, until he stepped out onto the platform, and we saw the overhead camera – below him was Planet Earth. Not just a field or grand open speck of land in which to land, but an entire continent! And then he stepped off…
In a year of so many momentous occasions, the word “wow…” has often been repeatedly overused. But in this case, the only other suitable, simpleton word that fitted was “fuck…” He fell, then he started to spin, which we were informed by our commentator was the biggest risk to his safety. And tumble he did, cartwheeling at the speed of sound. We gasped, as hearts pounded and hands covered mouths. Yet, as he started to level out, and the Earth accelerated towards him, his parachute opened and he glided serenely to his landing, slowing the pulses he had made race moments before.
“Let me tell you – when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don’t think about breaking records anymore……the only thing that you want is to come back alive,” the Austrian said.
Perhaps that is a parallel thought of the victims of Savile – you don’t think about wishes or dreams coming true, you just want to survive the ordeal. For all concerned, your writer hopes that the truth about this sordid episode expands like Baumgartner’s parachute, to return some innocence to a jilted generation.
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