|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (June 2012)|
Portrait by Allan Warren
|Born||Fredric Russell Harty
5 September 1934
Blackburn, Lancashire, England
|Died||8 June 1988
|Cause of death||Hepatitis|
|Occupation||Talk show host|
Harty was the son of Fred Harty, a fruit and vegetable stallholder on the local market in Blackburn, Lancashire, and Myrtle Rishton. He attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School on West Park Road where he enjoyed appearing in School plays and met, for the first time, the then English teacher Ronald Eyre who directed a number of the productions and thereafter at Exeter College, Oxford, where he obtained a first-class degree in English Literature.
On leaving university, Harty became an English and drama teacher in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. In 1964, he started a year lecturing in English Literature at the City University of New York, and finally began his broadcasting career a few years later, when he became a radio producer for the BBC Third Programme, reviewing arts and literature.
He got his first break in 1970 presenting the arts programme Aquarius, that was intended to be London Weekend Television's response to the BBC's Omnibus. One programme involving a typically offbeat meeting of cultures saw Harty travelling to Italy in 1974 to engineer a first encounter between the entertainer Gracie Fields and the composer William Walton, two fellow Lancastrians now living on the neighbouring islands of Capri and Ischia. A documentary on Salvador Dalí ("Hello Dalí") directed by Bruce Gowers, won an Emmy. Another award winning documentary was "Finnan Games" about a Scottish community - Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to begin the Jacobite rebellion - and its Highland Games. Also directed by Bruce Gowers.
In 1972 Harty interviewed Marc Bolan, who at that time was at the height of his fame as a teen idol and king of glam rock. During the interview, Harty posed the fateful question as to what Bolan thought he would be doing when he was forty or sixty years old. Looking nervous and pensive, Bolan prophetically replied that he didn't think he would live that long. True to his word, Bolan died two weeks before his thirtieth birthday on 16 September 1977.
In 1972 he was given his own series Russell Harty Plus (later simply titled Russell Harty) on ITV which placed him against the BBC's Parkinson, conducting lengthy celebrity interviews. Parts of Russell Harty's interview with the Who in 1973 were included in Jeff Stein's 1979 film The Kids Are Alright, providing some of its most memorable moments, such as Pete Townshend and Keith Moon ripping off each other's shirt sleeves. The show lasted until 1981 and some of his more memorable interviews included show business legends Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, David Carradine, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. One show followed Elton John's "charabang" from London to Los Angeles, where the singer was playing two nights at Dodger Stadium. Harty won a Pye Television Award for the Most Outstanding New Personality of the Year in 1973.
Harty remained on ITV until 1980, at which point his show moved to the BBC. In perhaps the most infamous incident of his career, Harty interviewed the Jamaican-American singer Grace Jones on the show in November 1980. After Harty had interviewed Jones and turned away from her to address another guest, Jones appeared to become offended and started repeatedly hitting him. Initially shown on BBC-2 in a mid-evening slot, Harty's chatshow ran until 1982 before being moved to an early evening BBC-1 slot in 1983 where it was now simply titled Harty. The show ended in late 1984, though Harty would continue to present factual programmes for the BBC for some time afterwards.
Russell Harty was a good friend of the playwright Alan Bennett, who talks about him and his family, in relation with Bennett's own family, in the episode "Written on the Body", taken from his semi-biography Untold Stories.
Harty had strong connections with the village of Giggleswick in North Yorkshire: before beginning his TV career he worked as an English teacher at Giggleswick School, where one of his pupils was Richard Whiteley, the future journalist, TV presenter and host of Countdown. Harty subsequently lived in the heart of Giggleswick village.
Following his death in 1988 from liver failure caused by hepatitis C in St James's University Hospital, Leeds aged 53, he was buried in the churchyard of St Alkelda, Giggleswick. He was survived by his partner of five years, the Irish novelist Jamie O'Neill.
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 403. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Walton, Susana (May 1988). William Walton: Behind the Façade. Oxford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-19-315156-7.
- Big Red Book