June 30

Why we’re so angry with Rolf Harris – and the day I spent at his house

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.Rolf

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.

rolf bbcWe 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

Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

Posted June 30, 2014 by Steve in category Rolf Harris

2 thoughts on “Why we’re so angry with Rolf Harris – and the day I spent at his house

  1. Marcus Stead

    To say my childhood has been ‘ruined’ by today’s verdict would be a gross exaggeration, and my thoughts are with his victims, but my own feelings are ones of sadness and disappointment.

    When I was growing up, my late father made no effort to conceal his intense dislike for Jimmy Savile, and he was quick to shout words like ‘weirdo’ and ‘creep’ at the TV whenever he appeared. I first heard second-hand rumours about Savile LONG before I became a journalist, and, before anyone asks, I was also well aware that the police knew about him. Believe me, you haven’t heard the last of what went on there by any means.

    My feelings towards Rolf Harris are very different. I have nothing but happy memories of watching his programmes as a child. When I was very young, I used to look forward to watching Rolf’s Cartoon Club on Children’s ITV after school. I was impressed with his skills as an artist and found him warm and friendly – he had an ability to communicate with children without patronising or talking down to them.

    As I got a bit older, I quickly became a fan of Animal Hospital, which he presented in a way that was both fun and sensitive. He seemed to understand the joy a pet can bring to the lives of a family, and how difficult it can be when they die.

    In 1999, he put on a superb performance at the closing ceremony of the Rugby World Cup here in Cardiff. Much more recently, he was a great host of Have I Got News For You during the expenses scandal.

    Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a huge fan of the CPS and the way they’ve handled Operation Yewtree. To me, it seems as though they’re going for celebrity convictions based on flimsy evidence to make up for the fact they turned a blind eye to Savile for many decades.

    I’m not surprised Steve found Rolf Harris friendly and professional. I’ve heard stories from people who’ve had dealings with him that are entirely positive, and indeed I stood by him in the run-up to the trial, deeply suspicious of the CPS and its motives.

    However, in this instance, the evidence is overwhelming. The jury took their time, and asked for clarity from the judge on several matters. I’m also aware that standards have changed greatly since the 1960s and 70s, when patting female members of staff on the bum and lewd comments towards women was considered par for the course in many workplaces. But let’s be clear – sexually abusing children is not and never has been acceptable.

    I hate the fact that numerous happy memories, especially from my childhood, have been tarnished forever, but I’ll get over it. Those who were abused by Rolf Harris will have to live with what he did for the rest of their lives. They’re the ones we should be thinking of tonight.

  2. Brian

    Harris was ‘a groper’.
    Not nice.
    Not pleasant.
    But by no stretch of the imagination ‘life-ruining’.

    Look at the young men, women and children who are involved in conflicts and who lose parents, siblings, limbs or eyes – not to mention their sanity and personality.

    THAT is life-ruining, not having your bum pinched by ‘a dirty old man’.

    Lets get this into perspective, can we?