Portrait by Allan Warren
Frederic Russell Harty
5 September 1934
|Died||8 June 1988 (aged 53)|
|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 degree in English literature.
On leaving university, he became an English and Drama teacher at a school in Giggleswick School in North Yorkshire. "I got a first-class degree, and was a hopeless teacher" Harty later said, however his friend and Oxford contemporary the writer Alan Bennett commented in his 2016 memoir entitled Keeping on, Keeping on: 'Russell Harty got a third-class degree and taught brilliantly". Among his pupils at the Giggleswick School was the journalist and television presenter Richard Whiteley, and the actor Anthony Daniels. In the mid-1960's he spent a year lecturing in English Literature at the City University of New York.
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 "meeting of cultures" saw Harty travelling to Italy in 1974 to engineer an 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 rising of 1745, and its Highland Games.
In 1972 he 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 asked Bolan what he thought he would be doing when he was forty or sixty years old, Bolan replying that he didn't think he would live that long. (Bolan subsequently was killed in a car crash two weeks before his 30th birthday on 16 September 1977).
In 1972 He was given his own series, Russell Harty Plus (later simply titled Russell Harty), conducting lengthy celebrity interviews, on ITV, which placed him against the BBC's Parkinson. Parts of Russell Harty's interview with the Who in 1973 were included in Jeff Stein's 1979 film The Kids Are Alright, providing notable moments, such as Pete Townshend and Keith Moon ripping off each other's shirt sleeves. In 1975, he interviewed French singer Claude François and was one of the first to acknowledge the fact that the Paul Anka song "My Way" was based on a French song of Claude's called "Comme D'Habitude". He would also interview François again in 1977. The show lasted until 1981 and some of his interviews included show business legends Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, David Carradine, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Harty won a Pye Television Award for the Most Outstanding New Personality of the Year in 1973.
He remained with ITV until 1980, at which point his show moved to the BBC. In November 1980 he interviewed the model Grace Jones. Jones was nervous and distracted during the interview before a live studio audience, and Harty found the interview an uneasy one to conduct, and appeared to be intimidated by Jones, commenting nervously to the audience regarding her demeanor on stage as "It's coming to life, it's coming to life!". Joined later on stage by other guests, Harty was compelled by the seating arrangement on stage to turn his back on Jones, who was left sitting there in silence for an extended period, and after several protests she repeatedly slapped him on the shoulder, causing an entertainment event in 1980's British television that Harty's career would be primarily remembered by. Initially shown on BBC2 in a mid-evening slot, Harty's chatshow ran until 1982 before being moved to an early evening BBC1 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.
Harty was a 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.
In mid-1988 Harty became ill with hepatitis B and was admitted to St James's University Hospital, Leeds. The Sun tabloid newspaper began around this time publishing stories about his health and private life, claiming that the disease was "related to an HIV/AIDS" infection, and that Harty was in the habit of using male teenage prostitutes. He died in St. James' University Hospital on 8 June 1988 at the age of 53 from liver failure caused by hepatitis. At his funeral Alan Bennett commented in his eulogy that "the gutter press had finished Harty off". His body was buried in the graveyard of St. Alkelda Church at Giggleswick.
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 403. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- "Russell Harty | British writer and television personality". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
- "Harty appreciation". The Independent. 6 June 1998. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
- Walton, Susana (May 1988). William Walton: Behind the Façade. Oxford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-19-315156-7.
- Interview of Marc Bolan by Russell Harty, BBC (08:55)
- "Russell Harty". www.bigredbook.info.
- Grace Jones - The Russell Harty Show interview, published on Youtube, 25 October 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLLtS50UCBQ
- 'Aids wiped out a generation of brilliant people', 'The Independent.ie', 23 May 2014. https://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/aids-wiped-out-a-generation-of-brilliant-people-30299184.html
- "BFI Screenonline: Harty, Russell (1934–88) Biography". www.screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
- Clews Colin.Gay in the 80s: From Fighting our Rights to Fighting for our Lives, Troubador Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978-1788036740
- Grave of Russell Harty, Find-a-grave website 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/87432122/fredric-russell-harty
- Russell Harty on IMDb
- Interview with Debbie Harry
- Russell Harty's appearance on This Is Your Life
- Russell Harty's partner at the time of his death