Judging by the reaction on Twitter, the conviction of entertainer Rolf Harris on twelve counts of indecent assault has had a major impact on a large number of people. And it seems their reactions have been very different from their feelings about the similar convictions.
Unlike Jimmy Savile, who many people seemed to have thought was weird and creepy (and were therefore unsurprised when he was revealed to be a sex offender) Rolf Harris had a thoroughly wholesome reputation.
A lot of people have tweeted comments along the lines of “that’s ruined my childhood” and I tweeted in response: “Lots of people seem to be saying “that’s my childhood ruined” over Rolf Harris. Let’s keep it in proportion – and think of the real victims”
That said, I have a good deal of sympathy for the sentiment expressed. Like so many people growing up in the seventies and eighties, I grew up watching Rolf Harris on television. I liked his funny songs – and, as I have a brother, the song Two Little Boys always resonated.
About 20 years ago I spent much of a day at Rolf’s house in Berkshire interviewing him for an “At Home” feature for TV Times magazine. Meeting a television icon from your childhood can be risky, as I have written before, but Rolf was very pleasant.
Nothing was too much trouble and he even sat at his piano and sang Two Little Boys. Before I left, he drew a little caricature of me for me to keep. And to be clear, he behaved perfectly professionally. But then I was a young man.
In 2003 he celebrated 50 years in showbusiness and that September BBC staged Rolf At The Royal Albert Hall, which raised money for The Prince’s Trust, and I attended as a guest of the BBC.
We played our little boy a couple of Rolf Harris’ old songs and he liked them so much I bought him a CD of Harris ‘Greatest Hits’ (Music critics: it was only a couple of quid…)
He went on to paint The Queen and was a key part of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Concert. His status as a national – or even international – treasure seemed assured. A multi-talented man who appealed to everyone.
Then, just a year later, came Operation Yewtree and his arrest. Even if he had been found not guilty by the jury today, Harris’ reputation was fatally damaged by the case. His image as a wholesome family man was already in tatters by his own admissions in court.
But the allegations were very serious. This wasn’t a case of famous man simply using his fame to attract women for consensual casual affairs (often seen as a perk of being famous), this was a man who indecently assaulted children as young as seven.
The stereotypical paedophile is the loner, the stranger, the weirdo. We not expect them to be famous family men. The reality of stranger danger – perhaps the biggest fear of all for parents – isn’t as common as the perception of it.
According to Mumsnet, children are more at risk from someone they do know than from a complete stranger (66% of paedophiles are known to children compared to 34% who are strangers). It says statistically children are more at risk of abuse from someone they know.
The case of Rolf Harris perhaps finally puts to rest the myth that sex offenders are usually strangers, or loners. They often lurk closer to home.
And as for our childhoods, now tainted a bit by the revelations that someone we liked and trusted was actually a very dirty old man, we do really need to keep it in proportion.
We need to remember the real victims. We’re experiencing disappointment – and perhaps some anger; they suffered, and may still be suffering, real abuse from someone they had no reason to distrust.
(c) Steve Clark 2014