Harris in November 2010
30 March 1930 |
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
|Residence||HM Prison Bullingdon|
|Occupation||Musician, singer-songwriter, composer, television personality, broadcaster, painter|
|12 counts of indecent assault|
|Five years, nine months in prison|
Rolf Harris, AO, CBE (born 30 March 1930) is an Australian entertainer. He is a musician, singer-songwriter, composer, painter, and former television personality. He has lived in the UK for more than five decades, and resided in Bray, Berkshire.
Harris, who was born and grew up in Perth, Western Australia, was a champion swimmer before studying art. In 1952, he moved to the United Kingdom, where he started to draw animations for television programmes. Harris soon afterwards began a musical career, initially singing and playing the piano accordion. In 1957, he wrote "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", which later became a Top 10 hit in Australia, the UK, and the United States. While performing in Canada, he introduced a longstanding, popular routine around his song "Jake the Peg". Harris has often used unusual instruments in his performances: he plays the didgeridoo; is credited with the invention of the wobble board (a rhythmic percussion instrument); and is associated with the Stylophone, a small electronic keyboard instrument.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Harris became a popular television personality in Britain, later presenting shows including Rolf's Cartoon Club, Animal Hospital, and various programmes about serious art. In 2005, he painted an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that was the subject of a special episode of Rolf on Art.
On 29 August 2013, Harris was charged with six counts of indecent assault relating to a girl aged between 15 and 16 from 1980 to 1981, and three counts of indecent assault relating to a girl aged 14 in 1986. He denied any wrongdoing, and his trial began on 6 May 2014. On 30 June 2014, Harris was found guilty on twelve charges of indecent assault between 1969 and 1986, on four victims aged between 8 and 19 at the time, and was sentenced to a total of five years and nine months in prison. In July 2014, he was imprisoned in HM Prison Bullingdon. Following his conviction, Harris was stripped of many of the honours which he had been awarded during his career.
Harris was born on 30 March 1930 in Perth, Western Australia, where his parents lived in the suburb of Wembley. They were Agnes Margaret Harris (née Robbins) and Cromwell ("Crom") Harris, who had both emigrated from Cardiff, Wales. He was named after Rolf Boldrewood, an Australian writer whom his mother admired. Having grown up in the suburb of Bassendean in Perth, Harris was once referred to as "The Boy from Bassendean". As a child he owned a dog called Buster Fleabags, about whom he later wrote a book (for the UK Quick Reads Initiative).
Harris attended Perth Modern School in Subiaco, later gaining a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Western Australia and a Diploma of Education from Claremont Teachers' College (now Edith Cowan University). While he was just 16, and still a student at Perth Modern School, his self-portrait in oils was one of the 80 works (out of 200 submitted) accepted to be hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales as an entry in the 1947 Archibald Prize. He painted a portrait of the then Lieutenant Governor of Western Australia, Sir James Mitchell, for the 1948 Archibald Prize. He won the 1949 Claude Hotchin prize for oil colours with his landscape "On a May Morning, Guildford".
As an adolescent and young adult Harris was a champion swimmer. In 1946 he was the Australian Junior 110 yards Backstroke Champion. He was also the Western Australian state champion over a variety of distances and strokes during the period from 1948 to 1952.
Career in television, music, and art
Harris moved to England in 1952 and became an art student at City and Guilds of London Art School in South London, at the age of 22. In 1953 he found work in television, at the BBC, performing a regular ten-minute cartoon drawing section in a one-hour children's show called Jigsaw, with a puppet called "Fuzz", made and operated on the show by magician Robert Harbin. He went on to illustrate Harbin's Paper Magic programme in 1956. In 1954, Harris was a regular on a BBC Television programme Whirligig, which featured a character called "Willoughby", who sprang to life on a drawing board, but was erased at the end of each episode.
By this stage, Harris had drifted away from art school as a slightly disillusioned student; however, he then met his longtime hero, Australian impressionist painter Hayward Veal (1913–1968), who became his mentor, teaching him the rudiments of impressionism and showing him how it could help with his portrait painting. At the time that he was working with Veal, Harris was also entertaining with his piano accordion every Thursday night at a club called the Down Under, frequented by Australians and New Zealanders. It was at the Down Under venue that Harris honed his entertainment skills over several years, eventually writing what later became his theme song, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport".
Although Harris chiefly appeared on the BBC, he was also on the British ITV network, and when commercial television started in 1955, he was the only entertainer to work with both the BBC and ITV. He performed on the BBC with his own creation, "Willoughby", a specially made board on which he drew Willoughby (voiced and operated by Peter Hawkins). The character would then come to life to engage in a comedic dialogue with Harris as he drew cartoons of Willoughby's antics. On Associated Rediffusion's Small Time, Harris also invented a character called "Oliver Polip the Octopus", which he drew on the back of his hand and animated. Harris then illustrated the character's adventures with cartoons on huge sheets of card.
Harris returned to Perth when television was introduced there in 1959 after he was headhunted. He subsequently produced and starred in five episodes of a half-hour weekly children's show, as well as his own weekly evening variety show. From 1959, he worked on TVW-7's first locally produced show, Spotlight, and during this time he recorded "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" on a single microphone placed above him in the television studio. The song was sent to EMI in Sydney, Australia, and was released shortly afterwards as a record, becoming both his first recording and his first number one single. The song was also successful in the UK. Harris offered four local backing musicians 10 per cent of the royalties from the song, but they decided to take a recording fee of ₤7 each, because they did not think the song would be successful. The novelty song was originally titled "Kangalypso" and featured the distinctive sound of the "wobble board". The fourth verse became increasingly controversial, due to the use of a racist term, and was removed in later versions of the song. In 2006, four decades after the song's release, Harris expressed his regret about the original lyric.
1960s to 1980s
At the end of 1960, he toured Australia for Dulux paints, singing his hit song and doing huge paintings on stage with Dulux emulsion paint. While painting on stage, one of his catchphrases was, "Can you tell what it is yet?" After Harris and his wife relocated to the United Kingdom, they regularly returned to Perth for family visits and also toured the rest of Australia, where he spent as much as four months travelling with his band. In 1964, Harris and his wife had a daughter, Bindi Harris, who was born on 10 March 1964, and who was named after the town of Bindi Bindi in Western Australia.
After returning to the UK in 1962 he was introduced to George Martin, who re-recorded all his songs the following year, including a remake of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" which became a huge hit in the US, and "Sun Arise", an Aborigine-type song Harris had written with Perth naturalist Harry Butler. The song went to number two in the UK charts, losing the number one spot to Elvis Presley. Harris met and worked with the Beatles after they started recording with Martin, and he compèred their 16-night season of Christmas shows at London's Finsbury Park Astoria in 1963. Harris sang "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", with the Beatles singing backing vocals, for the first edition of the From Us to You BBC radio show in December 1963. Harris changed the original lyrics to create a version that was specially written for The Beatles.
Harris was the presenter of Hi There and Hey Presto it's Rolf in 1964. By the time The Rolf Harris Show was broadcast in 1967, lasting until 1974, on BBC1, he was well-known on British television. He was the commentator for the United Kingdom in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest. Harris created one of his most famous roles in the 1960s, Jake the Peg, but his biggest success in terms of record sales was in 1969, with his rendering of the American Civil War song "Two Little Boys", originally written in 1902. Harris later discovered a personal poignancy to the song, as the story bears such a resemblance to the World War I experiences of his father Crom and Crom's beloved younger brother Carl, who died at the age of 19 after being wounded in battle in France, two weeks before the Armistice of November 1918. "Two Little Boys" was the Christmas Number One song in the UK charts for six weeks in 1969. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, his BBC TV series remained popular light-entertainment programmes in various versions, with the last show, Rolf on Saturday OK?, broadcast on Saturday evenings. On many of his television appearances, Harris painted pictures on large boards in an apparently slapdash manner, with the odd nonsense song thrown in, but he produced detailed results at completion. Harris would often say "Can you tell what is it yet?", just before the painting became recognisable. Such appearances led to a numerous television series based on his artistic ability, notably Rolf's Cartoon Time, broadcast on BBC One from 1979 to 1989, and Rolf's Cartoon Club, on ITV between 1989 and 1993.
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in December 1971, when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in New Bond Street in London, UK. In 1973 Harris performed the first concert in the Concert Hall of the newly completed Sydney Opera House. On his 1974 single "Papillon" (EMI), a cover of a German song for which he wrote an English lyric, he played autoharp, in addition to singing. He played the didgeridoo on the 1982 album by English pop singer Kate Bush, entitled The Dreaming. He played the didgeridoo for Bush once again, for her 2005 album Aerial; he also contributed vocals to the songs "An Architect's Dream" and "The Painter's Link". Harris was again the subject of the UK version of This Is Your Life in September 1995, when Michael Aspel surprised him during a bagpipes parade in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. He also appeared on the Australian version of the television programme on two occasions.
In the late 1980s, Harris was touring in Australia and was asked to sing his own version of "Stairway to Heaven" for the television programme, The Money or the Gun, hosted by Andrew Denton. He performed on the programme with his own small group and garnered great success, with the version released as a single in the UK several years later. The cover version ranked at number seven in the charts, which led to his appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in 1993. He then appeared at six subsequent Glastonbury festivals—1998, 2000, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2013—and a wobble board Harris used to perform "Stairway to Heaven" on Top of the Pops is an exhibit at the National Museum of Australia.[dead link] In 2000 Harris, along with Steve Lima, released a dance track called "Fine Day", which entered the "top 30" in the UK charts at that time. A "Killie-themed" version of the song was scheduled for release in March 2007, to coincide with the Scottish football club Kilmarnock's appearance in the Scottish League Cup final after the song was adopted by the club's fans in 2003. One of the adapted lyrics referred to a hypothetical situation, in which Kilmarnock could be losing the match 5–0, and the club coincidentally lost 5–1. Harris also performed "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" in 2000 with Australia's children's group the Wiggles.
From 1994 to 2003, Harris was the host of the reality television programme Animal Hospital, a chronicle of a British veterinary practice. During his time hosting the series, Harris adopted an abandoned English Bull Terrier from the practice named "Dolly". Harris presented 19 series of Animal Hospital for BBC One and the show won the Most Popular Factual Entertainment Show award at The National TV Awards on five occasions. Harris eventually announces that it was "time to move on" at the completion of the series, which broke "the hearts of thousands of fans across the country", according to the Radio Times.
In 2001 and 2004, Harris presented Rolf on Art, a television series that highlighted the work of a selection of his favourite artists, including van Gogh, Degas, Monet and Gauguin. In November and December 2002, under the direction of Charles Saumarez Smith, London's National Gallery exhibited a collection of Harris's art. Harris was commissioned in 2006 to complete a portrait painting of Queen Elizabeth II on her 80th birthday. The painting was conducted at Buckingham Palace and was unveiled there by Harris on 19 December 2005. Harris explained to The Daily Telegraph the following year: "I was as nervous as anything. I was in a panic". The portrait was later voted as the second most-favoured portrait of the Queen by the public. In September 2006, the Royal Australian Mint launched the first of the new 2007 Silver Kangaroo Collector's Coin series and Harris was commissioned to design the first coin of the series.
On 26 September 2004, Harris oversaw a project to recreate John Constable's famous The Hay Wain painting on a large scale, with 150 people contributing to a small section. On live BBC television, each individual canvas was assembled into the full picture as part of the episode Rolf on Art: The Big Event. Also in 2004 as a part of the Rolf on Art series, Harris travelled to Lapland to design and paint a Christmas card for the "Children in Need" charity organisation. He presented three series of the BBC art programme Star Portraits with Rolf Harris, with the first and second series airing in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Following the first series, a touring exhibition was organised with County Hall Gallery and featured portraits of Cilla Black, Michael Parkinson and Adrian Edmondson. In January 2007, a one-hour documentary titled A Lifetime in Paint, about Harris's work as an artist—from his early years in Australia to the present day—was screened on BBC One. In November 2007, an exhibition of Harris's new paintings was held at Portland Gallery, London, UK.
In 2007 Harris participated in the BBC Wales programme, Coming Home, in which he discussed his Welsh family history. In December 2007, a new DVD, titled Rolf Live!, was released through his website, while Rolf on Art: Beatrix Potter was screened on BBC One during the same month. Harris appeared with a wobble board in a Churchill Insurance advertisement in 2009, and hosted the satirical quiz show, Have I Got News for You, in May 2009. Harris was narrator of the 2010 Australian documentary series Penguin Island, a six-part natural history documentary about the life of the Little Penguin. From September 2010 to October 2010, he took part in Jamies Dream School teaching art to a class of 20 students, followed by an appearance as himself on the Christmas special of My Family, which aired on 24 December 2010.
Harris performed on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival on 25 June 2010, during the festival's 40th birthday, followed by an appearance at the Bestival Festival on the Isle of Wight in September 2010. On 5 August 2011, Harris played at Wickham Festival in Wickham, Hampshire, UK. and also appeared on The Wiggles 2011 DVD release Ukelele Baby, singing and performing the song "Good Ship Fabulous Flea" with his wobble board. In 2011 Harris made a guest appearance on BBC One's The Magicians, hosted by Lenny Henry. On 5 November 2011, Harris appeared in an episode of Piers Morgan's Life Stories, in which he wept as he spoke about a period in which he felt his "life was over": "I didn't know what to do with myself. I didn't know what to think. I now know what people mean when they say, 'I've got clinical depression.' I'd never felt so low. There's no way to come out of the blackness. I felt out of control". Harris also stated that he regrets missing so much of his daughter's childhood.
In December 2011, Harris's portrait of Bonnie Tyler was valued at an estimated £50,000 on BBC’s The Antiques Roadshow. From 19 May to 12 August 2012, a major retrospective of Harris's paintings, entitled "Rolf Harris: Can You Tell What It Is Yet?", was exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. The opening day yielded the busiest Saturday on record, with visitor figures peaking at 3,632.
On 2 May 2012, Harris appeared on The One Show, in which he described his artistic style as being "impressionistic". On 4 June 2012, Harris performed at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace in London, UK. In October 2012, Harris started presenting a series on Channel 5, based around Liverpool University's Veterinary School, called Rolf's Animal Clinic. At the time of Harris's arrest by British police on suspicion of sexual offences, the show was broadcasting a repeat run and was consequently ceased without any details of its future. As of 8 August 2013, Channel 5 has recommissioned the show under a new title, Ben Fogle's Animal Clinic, and have replaced Harris with former BBC host Ben Fogle.
Musical recordings and experimentation
Harris has released 30 studio albums, two live albums and 48 singles. His 1992 Rolf Rules OK? album was nominated for the ARIA Music Award for Best Comedy, while "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" reached number 1 in Australia, and "Two Little Boys" reached number 1 on both the Irish and UK charts.
Harris is credited with inventing a simple homemade instrument called the wobble board. As well as his beatboxing, similar to eefing, Harris went on to use an array of unusual instruments in his music, including the didgeridoo (the sound of which was imitated on Sun Arise by four double basses), the Jew's harp and, later, the stylophone (for which he also lent his name and likeness for advertising). A sample of Harris saying "You've just heard one of the most remarkable applications in modern electronics", recorded from a Stylophone instruction disc, appears at the end of the 1991 Pulp song "Countdown".
Harris recorded a version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and performed the Divinyls' "I Touch Myself", accompanied only by his wobble board, for "Denton's Musical Challenge" on MMM radio's Breakfast Show (the recording was released on the first Musical Challenge compilation album in 2000). Harris also recorded an Australian Christmas song called "Six White Boomers", about a joey kangaroo trying to find his mother during the Christmas period. The song describes how Santa Claus used six large male kangaroos ("boomers"), instead of reindeers, "because they can't stand the terrible heat" to pull his sleigh and help the little joey find his "Mummy". In October 2008 Harris announced he would re-record his popular 1969 song "Two Little Boys", backed by North Wales' Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir, to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. Proceeds from the release were donated to The Poppy Appeal. Harris was inspired to make the recording after participating in My Family at War, a short series of programmes that aired during the BBC's "Remembrance" season, which was broadcast in November 2008. He discovered that the experiences of his father and uncle during the Great War mirrored the lyrics of the song.
Arrest and trial
In March 2013, Harris was one of 12 people arrested during Operation Yewtree for questioning regarding historical allegations of sexual offences. The allegations were not linked to those made against Jimmy Savile. He was bailed without charge and did not comment publicly on the allegations, but was understood to deny them strongly. When returning to the stage in May 2013 for the first time since his arrest, he thanked the audience for their support.
In August 2013, Harris was again arrested by Operation Yewtree officers and charged with nine counts of indecent assault dating to the 1980s, involving two girls between 14 and 16 years, and four counts alleging production of indecent child images in 2012. London's chief crown prosecutor, Alison Saunders, explained to the media:
Having completed our review, we have concluded there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest for Mr Harris to be charged ... The decision has been taken in accordance with the code for crown prosecutors and the DPP's interim guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse. We have determined that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is in the public interest.
Harris appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 23 September 2013, charged with nine counts of indecent assault and four counts of making indecent images of children. His lawyer indicated that Harris would plead not guilty and he was subsequently bailed. In December 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that Harris was facing three further counts of sexual assault. The CPS said that the new charges were of alleged assault against females aged 19 in 1984, aged seven or eight in 1968 or 1969, and aged 14 in 1975. At a further hearing at Southwark Crown Court on 14 January 2014, Harris pleaded not guilty.
The four counts of making indecent images were related to the Protection of Children Act 1978, which interprets viewing images on a computer as making images. The charges were brought after detectives examined Harris's computer and found 33 images of possibly underage models amongst thousands of adult pornographic images. Harris never entered a plea on the charges, as his lawyers argued successfully that the charges should be severed from the 12 sexual assault charges and tried separately. In the aftermath of Harris's conviction, it was reported that his legal team had obtained the identity documents of the models involved, confirming they were adults over 18. The websites Harris had visited, according to the Internet Watch Foundation, are not known for illegal images of children. The prosecution informed the court that they would not be proceeding with the indecent images charges.
The trial of Harris began on 6 May 2014 at Southwark Crown Court. Seven of the twelve charges involved allegations of a sexual relationship between Harris and one of his daughter's friends. Six charges related to when she was between the ages of 13 and 15, and one when she was 19. Harris denied that he had entered into a sexual relationship with the girl until she was 18. During the trial, a letter was shown in court which Harris had written to the girl's father in 1997, saying: "I fondly imagined that everything that had taken place had progressed from a feeling of love and friendship - there was no rape, no physical forcing, brutality or beating that took place."
One charge was that he sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl who asked for his autograph at a community centre in Hampshire in 1968 or 1969. When questioned by police about this allegation, Harris replied "I would simply never touch a child inappropriately." Harris was also accused of groping the bottom of a 14-year-old girl at a celebrity It's a Knockout event in Cambridge in 1975. He denied that he had visited Cambridge until four years before the trial, but television archive material was produced in court showing that he had taken part in an episode of the ITV show Star Games, which had been filmed in Cambridge in 1978. Harris denied that he had told a deliberate lie and said that his failure to remember the show was a "a lapse of memory." Additional witnesses from Malta, New Zealand, and Australia were called to testify against Harris, although these charges could not be pursued in the British courts.
After several delays in the trial, where the judge's summing-up took three days, the jury retired to consider its verdict on 19 June. On 30 June, Harris was found guilty of all 12 counts of indecent assault.
On 4 July, Harris was sentenced to a total of five years and nine months in prison for the offences. Passing sentence, Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said that Harris had shown "no remorse", adding "You have no one to blame but yourself". Some sentences were expected to run consecutively, and Harris was expected to serve half of the total time in prison. He was told he must pay prosecution costs, though not compensation to the victims. The sentence was referred to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve after complaints that it was too lenient. On 30 July 2014, the new Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, announced that he would not be referring the sentence to the court of appeal for review "as he did not think they would find it to be unduly lenient and increase it. The sentencing judge was bound by the maximum sentence in force at the time of the offending."
Since Harris's conviction, there have been further reports to police regarding alleged sexual offences by him.
Harris received a number of awards and honours. Following his conviction, many of these were rescinded. Harris was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1968; he was advanced to Officer (OBE) in 1977, then to Commander (CBE) in 2006. In 1989 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), and was advanced to Officer (AO) in the Queen's 2012 Birthday Honours. In 2001 he was awarded the Centenary Medal "for service to entertainment, charity and the community".
Harris has received two honorary doctorates: from the University of East London in 2007 and Liverpool Hope University in 2010. Following his conviction, both universities removed his honorary doctorates.
In 2008 Harris was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. He was joined onstage by the Seekers to perform "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" and his "Jake the Peg" routine. Also in 2008, to coincide with the release of Art: The Definitive Visual Guide, publishers Dorling Kindersley conducted the "What the British really think about art today" survey and placed Harris above notable English artist Damien Hirst. After he was found guilty, the Australian Recording Industry Association removed him from the ARIA Hall of Fame.
In 2011 Harris was awarded the title of "Best Selling Published Artist" by the Fine Art Trade Guild. In 2012 he was made a Fellow of BAFTA the following year, but following his conviction, the Academy announced that his fellowship would be annulled.
In 1986 Harris planted a tree, Cathormion umbellatum, at Kununurra's celebrity tree park. The plaque recording the planting by Harris was stolen in July 2014, a week before a vote by the local council decided to keep the plaque. The council are unlikely to replace the plaque due to vandalism at the park.
- Rolf Harris (1930–1968)
- Rolf Harris, MBE (1968–1977)
- Rolf Harris, OBE (1977–1989)
- Rolf Harris, AM, OBE (1989–2006)
- Rolf Harris, CBE, AM (2006–2012)
- Rolf Harris, AO, CBE (2012–present)
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