Jim fixed it for ‘Supergran’

IN SADDLE Joan Cade got the chance to ride with the White Helmets and got all the riders to sign a helmet.  Picture: Ian Hargreaves (113924-6)
IN SADDLE Joan Cade got the chance to ride with the White Helmets and got all the riders to sign a helmet. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (113924-6)

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Autographs adorn the famous white helmet. It is among Joan Cade’s most treasured possessions.

And even now she still cannot quite believe she has it. Until, of course, she looks at the photographs that prove that 21 years ago she did indeed ride with one of the world’s most famous motorcycle display teams.

FIXED Top of the tree - Joan Cade riding with the White Helmets in 1990

FIXED Top of the tree - Joan Cade riding with the White Helmets in 1990

She was 65 and the former Wren was inevitably dubbed ‘Supergran’ after she appeared on peak-time television at the top of a pyramid comprising the daredevil White Helmets team from the Royal Corps of Signals.

It had been one of Joan’s great ambitions. She never thought it could possibly come true until grand-daughter Claire Spottiswode wrote to Jimmy Savile asking if he could fix it for her grandmother.

Joan is one of many from this area whose lives were briefly touched by the larger-than-life DJ and TV personality, who died on October 29 aged 84.

Over the years he was a frequent visitor to Portsmouth, a big fan of the Royal Navy and a huge supporter of the British Transplant Games which began in the city in 1979.

Joan, now 85, of Lennox Road South, Southsea, appeared on Jim’ll Fix It in 1991 but had recorded her stunt-riding exploits with the White Helmets at the end of the previous year.

She says: ‘I suppose it was fairly unusual for a 65-year-old grandmother to appear on the programme thanks to their grand-daughter. He usually made children’s dreams come true.’

Joan, who keeps her prized Jim’ll Fix It badge with the crash hat signed by the White Helmets team, adds: ‘I thought someone was pulling my leg when someone from the production team rang up out of the blue and asked if I’d like to ride with the team.

‘I’d been riding since I was 21 when I came out of the Wrens. I went to Catterick in Yorkshire to make the film and had a fantastic time, although I had to overcome my fear of heights to stand on top of that moving human pyramid.

‘I also led the criss-cross, when the riders cross each other at fast speeds.’

So, what was it like meeting the man when the show was finally broadcast in April 1991?

‘To be honest, he was rather different to the man I was expecting to meet. He seemed bored to tears.

‘Jim’ll Fix It was nearing the end of its time and I suppose he was getting a bit fed up with it all,’ adds Joan.

The programme, which became a Saturday evening institution, ran from 1975 until 1994 with Sir Jimmy (he was knighted in 1990) playing the role of favourite uncle to the nation’s children.

Jim Rhodes, of Waterloo Crescent, Waterlooville, had more reason than most to mourn Sir Jimmy’s death because the 83-year-old grew up with him in Leeds.

Jim says: ‘We went to Park Lane Infant School together and my mother and his, who he always called The Duchess, worshipped at St Anne’s Cathedral together.

‘Jimmy’s family were very poor. His dad was a bookie’s runner and there were seven children. My mum would take the top two layers of Oxos out of the tin to give to Jimmy to give to his mum.’

Sir Jimmy became the first superstar disc jockey starting his record-spinning career with Radio Luxembourg before hitting the big time with Radio 1. He had started playing records in dance halls in the 1940s.

Jim adds: ‘Jimmy had never heard a gramophone until he came to our house. We used to have one of the old wind-up ones with the big trumpet-like speaker that played 78s. Jimmy was fascinated by it.’

That first introduction to recorded music in the 1930s obviously stood the young Sir Jimmy in good stead for his later career as a DJ, which was to bring him to Portsmouth for the first time.

Dave Allen, the archivist of popular music in Portsmouth, says Sir Jimmy played at the opening night of the legendary Birdcage club in Eastney Road, Eastney, on October 21, 1965.

Dave explains: ‘The Walker Brothers failed to appear, but Jimmy put on a good show and a great time was had by everyone.’

Jim lost touch with his old school pal for decades until, after he had moved to Portsmouth, he saw that he was appearing on Southsea seafront in an event for disabled people.

‘As we arrived, he came out of the hospitality tent. I said: ‘‘Hello James (he was always James, never Jimmy), they were bloomin’ hard times when we lived in Hanover Street’’.

‘All he said to me was: ‘‘Have you got that 10 bob you borrowed from me?’’ and he turned on his heel and walked off without another word.’

In 1978 it was The News which fixed it for five-year-old Simon Warne to meet his hero.

His mother, Val, dug out a picture of Simon squeezed into a chair alongside Sir Jimmy at a Southsea hotel.

Val said: ‘Simon was a member of The News’s Chipper Club which ran a competition for members to meet Jimmy. You had to say what you would say to Jimmy if you met him and Simon said he would say: ‘‘Can I sit on your knee please?’’

Annette Dart remembers her two children, six-year-old Mellissa and Damien, 10, were both thrilled to meet Sir Jimmy in 1989 after the Miles of Miles running event in Portsmouth.

Annette says: ‘He was fantastic with the kids and they loved meeting him.

‘But I’ve got to reveal that he cheated. I was a member of Portsmouth Joggers and he took part in the run with us.

‘But as we came back to Alexandra Park, somebody shouted to him that he could take a short cut. I’ve been waiting 22 years to tell that story!’

JIMMY’S SUPPORT

Sir Jimmy is remembered for a series of public information films promoting road safety. They had the catchphrase Clunk Click Every Trip and were intended to make people use seatbelts,

He was able to weave it into this occasion in April 1978, his first flight in a Buccaneer of the Fleet Air Arm.

Over the years Sir Jimmy was a big supporter of Royal Navy and here he had clunked and clicked as he strapped himself into the cockpit at RAF Honington, Suffolk.

He had been attending a farewell party given by the station to mark the departure of 809 – the Royal Navy Buccaneer squadron who were about to embark HMS Ark Royal.

Three years earlier he was given a taste of life aboard Britain’s biggest warship when he took the wheel as she steamed towards Portsmouth from an exercise off Scotland.

He had flown out from Newcastle to join the Ark and spent 24 hours touring the mess decks, working spaces, hangars and flight deck. He left her when she arrived in Portsmouth.

And Sir Jimmy also caused a stir inside top security prison Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight in 1982.

In a shimmering gold tracksuit he went on the run and wisecracked his way around the prison garden for 13 miles to raise money for charity, to cheers from inmates and prison staff.