5 July 2014

Harris

I was going to title this post "Rolf" but "Harris" seems more appropriate now. For a few decades Rolf Harris was Britain's favourite Australian. You might say that people of my generation grew up with him. He was always on our television sets - singing songs like "Two Little Boys" or "The Court of King Caractacus" - and he'd paint huge pictures with the kind of paintbrushes you normally use to emulsion walls or creosote fences. At first you wouldn't know what he was painting but then the scene would emerge like a marvellous optical illusion - often of the Australian bush. Quite brilliant.

He was a funny man who seemed to enjoy being silly. He introduced us to the stylophone and the didgeridoo and his famous wobble board. He was a man of many parts and as a nation  we loved him. He had a hit record with his version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and he appeared at the Glastonbury Festival seven times. Our Rolf. Good old Rolf. He was even commissioned to paint a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen.

From 1994 to 2003 he hosted a popular early evening television programme called "Animal Hospital". He was the perfect presenter - engaging warmly with pet owners and vets and often tearful when animals suffered or died. There seemed to be a genuine, earthy  humanity about the bloke.

And yet...and yet he was a paedophile. He used his fame to facilitate numerous paedophilic activities with  a string of young girls. He left most of them emotionally scarred and even in old age it seems that he had been accessing porn sites containing explicit sexual images or videos of eastern European children. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to pursue that matter having achieved a successful prosecution in relation to his various other crimes against young girls.

So tonight at the age of eighty four, he's  in Wandsworth Jail. They reckon he'll be out in three years if he lives that long. If it were possible, it would tempting to find an excuse for Harris - to explain why he did what he did - not once but over and over as if addicted to his vile habit - taking advantage of young girls. But there can be no excuses. Harris has been found out and he is where he belongs - behind bars and I know I will not be the only one who feels somehow cheated - a fond memory of my youth corrupted forever. What a shame that Jimmy Savile shuffled off his mortal coil before  the law caught up with him and similarly delivered his just deserts.

16 comments:

  1. He was all those things: funny, talented, a big personality and an Australian icon and I never missed watching his television shows. However he is just another standout example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, how people sometimes have a very dark side are not always what they seem to be; how the celebrity world and its promotion leads the public into a way of thinking that often bears little resemblance to reality.
    I suspect the Queen will not be amused. I wouldn't be.

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    1. The thing is we think we are good judges of character. Rolf Harris came across as a talented but also decent human being with a love of life and respect for other people. One feels rather foolish to have so misjudged him.

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  2. It is interesting you write that the UK embraced Rolf Harris, because my memories of him as a child was him turning his back on Australia, and Australia turned their back on him.

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    1. P.S. I thought you might have counted Kylie, Dame Edna or even Germaine Greer amongst your favourite Australians?

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    2. Yes Carol the Australians you mentioned are all in our Top Ten along with Clive James...but until Pandora's Box was opened Rolf Harris was by far our number one.

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  3. Carol has an interesting perspective
    I think the whole thing is sad
    Sad for the victim
    Sad for Harris who probably still thinks he did nothing too bad
    Sad for his family who will be tarnished forever by their loved ones crime
    And sad for a generation like you who saw him as benign through and through

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  4. Yes all round - sad - especially for his victims. I don't agree that Rolf Harris ever "turned his back" on Australia. He was proud of where he came from but he fell in love with an English woman and realised he could make a good life and career here. Things just fell into place and the years went by. He received several honours from his homeland including honorary doctorates and a place in the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame. Though he was far away, Australia was always in his heart - if indeed paedophiles have hearts.

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  5. Oh YP, it seems so short a time since we were having similar conversations over the other monster you've mentioned here. The feelings of childhood securities unravelling, the sense of betrayal, the disbelief that these horrible things were happening in the darkness whilst we concentrated on the colourful show in front of our eyes. It is all so terribly, heart wrenchingly sad...

    The sense of celebrity in today's world is a very different one to the one we perceived then. Today's children know that their idols are tarnished and view every drunken vomit or hotel damage almost as soon as it happens through the electronic equipment they carry with them - though sadly, in some cases that attracts them to them even more and I fear for their skewed perspective. To us, there was a perimeter around 'stars' that distanced them from us and meant we rarely knew the back story. I was made incredibly aware of that on two occasions; the first, I must have been about ten and saw Mike and Bernie Winters shopping in Scarborough. I asked my brother to ask for their autograph as he was much bolder than I, and he very politely did so. The torrent of language and abuse as Mike refused completely shocked me and I was absolutely petrified. The second, with retrospect, had rather more serious implications. Freddie from Freddie and the Dreamers opened Pickering Carnival - he must have been doing the season at Scarborough - when I was about 14/15.I didn't want his autograph, but was stood hovering near the queue of people who did. The press photographer approached him to take a photograph and Freddy must have pointed me out and indicated that he wanted me to be in the picture rather than one of the autograph hunters. I was unwillingly persuaded to go over, then Freddie insisted on standing very close with his arm around me and kissing me as the photographer clicked away. I was so uncomfortable with the whole situation and certainly didn't invite it in any way.That picture was not only in the Gazette and Herald and Mercury but centre stage of the press office shop for weeks. I hated it and it made me more than aware that putting anybody, no matter who they may be, on any kind of pedestal, is an extremely foolish and dangerous thing to do.

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    1. Didn't Freddy sing "How do you do what you do to me?"? Perhaps instead you should have been singing that quite aggressively in his egotistical earhole before kneeing him in the gonads. Your reflection upon the difference between "stars" of the past and the present is I think most astute Elizabeth.

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  6. I was shocked about Rolf Harris as well and really sad that he turned out to be a ghoul like the others because I loved growing up with his TV programmes. I knew when I was very young that Jimmy Savile was creepy and I didn't like the way he spoke to or touched the children on his Jim'll Fix It programme, but never in a million years would I have suspected Rolf Harris to be a child abuser. Anyway, how do you know Jimmy Savile hasn't had his just desserts on the 'other side', so to speak?

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    1. In response to your last question Molly, there is no afterlife, no heaven or hell so Savile has escaped. The song "Jim'll Fix It" has a certain disturbing irony about it now. Who's next I wonder? Surely not Terry Wogan and the Archbishop of Canterbury!

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  7. Such a sad story. To think we were all fooled by his likeable personality. I never felt he turned his back on Australia as he was always almost over- the- top Aussie, he just chose not to live here ( and he reached a wider audience over there ). Do you think the shame needs shared around a bit by those who knew but just shrugged it off ?

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    1. Good point Helen. For example Harris's wife and daughter must have known for many years and what about his agents? Keeping schtum is a form of support.

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    2. This is an appalling indictment in all of these stories; that so many competent confident people knew what was happening - and in some cases had even experienced it - yet did absolutely nothing, whilst the victims without public voices who tried to tell were dumbed down. As you say, YP, in their own failure to act or listen they were endorsing the acts and were culpable in many ways. If nothing else comes of this, it should tell all of us to impart to those we have responsibility for to never ever be afraid to say something when they know an action is wrong, no matter who the perpetrator is, and if they are not listened to the first time to shout it out even louder.

      (And I'm not even sure that I like the way his hand is moving towards Madge in that photo of yours...just saying! )

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    3. Elizabeth...You naughty lady! It's about perspective. He is painting a picture. His hand is not actually approaching Her Majesty's jewels!

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  8. I never liked Jimmy Saville - I, too, found him creepy and revolting and the last straw was the programme series that Louis Theroux did with and about him. Rolf Harris on the other hand appeared to be a dream star to everyone - including me.

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