Rolf Harris

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Rolf Harris
Harris in 2010
Born(1930-03-30)30 March 1930
Died10 May 2023(2023-05-10) (aged 93)
Alma mater
  • Musician
  • singer-songwriter
  • composer
  • comedian
  • television personality
  • presenter
  • actor
  • broadcaster
  • painter
Years active1953–2013
Criminal chargesIndecent assault
Criminal penalty5 years, 9 months' imprisonment
Criminal statusReleased on licence in 2017
Alwen Hughes (m. 1958)
Rolf Harris sketching a Rolfaroo self-portrait

Rolf Victor Harris[1] (30 March 1930 – 10 May 2023) was an Australian musician, singer-songwriter, composer, painter, actor, former television personality and former swimmer. He was in prison for sexually assaulting girls.

Early and personal life[change | change source]

At 14, he swam the fastest time, swimming from scratch, in the "Swim through Bassendean" handicap race, 27 January 1945.[2]

Harris was born on 30 March 1930 in Bassendean, Perth, Western Australia,[3] to Agnes Margaret (née Robbins) and Cromwell ("Crom") Harris, who had both emigrated from Cardiff, Wales. He grew up in Wembley, Western Australia.[4] He was named after Rolf Boldrewood, the pseudonym of an Australian writer whom his mother admired.[3][5] After his later fame, Harris was often referred to as "the boy from Bassendean" within Australia.[6] As a child he owned a dog called Buster Fleabags, about whom he later wrote a book (for the UK Quick Reads Initiative).[7]

Harris attended Bassendean State School and Perth Modern School in Subiaco, later gaining a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Western Australia and a Diploma of Education from Claremont Teachers' College (now Edith Cowan University).[8][9] While he was just 16, and still a student at Perth Modern School, his self-portrait in oils was one of the 80 works (out of 200 submitted) accepted to be hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales as an entry in the 1947 Archibald Prize.[10] He painted a portrait of the then Lieutenant Governor of Western Australia, Sir James Mitchell, for the 1948 Archibald Prize.[11] He won the 1949 Claude Hotchin prize for oil colours with his landscape "On a May Morning, Guildford".[12]

As an adolescent and young adult Harris was a champion swimmer.[13] In 1946, he was the Australian Junior 110 yards (100 metres) Backstroke Champion.[14] He was also the Western Australian state champion over a variety of distances and strokes during the period from 1948 to 1952.[15]

Career[change | change source]

Harris began his television career on the BBC in 1953. He was best known for his art television shows such as Rolfin bed, Rolf's Cartoon Club and Animal Hospital. In 2005, he painted an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in his bed. His best known songs are "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" (1957) and "Jake the Peg" (1965). He also appeared on children's show The Wiggles on their It's a Wiggly Wiggly World! video in 2000 with his song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" which was also once a major hit in Australia, the UK and the US.

Crimes[change | change source]

In 2013, Harris was arrested under Operation Yewtree, which was set up to investigate complaints of sexual assault by television personality and paedophile Jimmy Savile, who died on 29 October 2011. Harris appeared on advertisements for British Paints which is an Australian brand of paint.

Later that year, Harris was charged with twelve counts of having indecent assaulted girls aged 7 to 19 during the 1960s and 1980s. After his computer was seized by police, he was also charged with four counts of making indecent images of a child during 2012. Harris was interviewed and cautioned by police on November 2012. His trial was due to begin in London on 30 April 2014 but was postponed to 6 May 2014. He said he was innocent. He denied all wrongdoing. He also refused to speak to the media and his defence lawyer said that he would plead not guilty to all of the charges. While awaiting trial on 15 January 2014 when he appeared in a London court with his family, supporters and his security guards, it was decided that Harris would be bailed to stay at his home with his wife until the time when trial starts. He was not allowed to go near anyone under 18 or to contact any of the witnesses. He denied any wrongdoing.[16] Harris' trial began at Southwark Crown Court on 6 May 2014.[17] At the trial it was revealed that Harris was a 'Jekyll and Hyde' character, whose immense talent and public generosity to children and animals hid a darker side - he was sexually attracted to young girls.[18] On 19 June 2014, the jury in the Rolf Harris trial retired to consider its verdict.[19] On 30 June 2014, Harris was found guilty on all 12 counts of indecent assault making him the second person to be convicted under Operation Yewtree after Max Clifford.[20][21] On 4 July 2014, Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison.[22] The sentence was later referred to the Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve after complaints it was too lenient.[23] On 30 July 2014, the new Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, announced that he would not be referring the sentence to the court of appeal for review "as he did not think they would find it to be unduly lenient and increase it. The sentencing judge was bound by the maximum sentence in force at the time of the offending."[24]

Harris was stripped of his BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award after his conviction.[25] Alison Pink (now Steven George since a sex reassignment) who says that he was abused by Jimmy Savile while a woman said that he (then she) once witnessed Rolf Harris visiting Broadmoor Hospital with Savile and they turned up at a woman's ward just as patients were preparing to get undressed in the corridor.[26]

When Harris was convicted his hometown of Bassendean in Perth voted to remove his artwork from their council chambers and to strip him off his status as a Freeman of the town.[27] The Western Australian Department of Education confirmed that Perth Modern School would be removing all artwork by Rolf Harris from display following his criminal conviction.[28]

Harris was taken Bullingdon Prison in Oxfordshire, but was taken later to HM Prison Stafford in Stafford, Staffordshire after he was targeted and spat at by fellow inmates.[29][30]

On 1 August 2014, Harris had applied to appeal against his indecent assault conviction and his lawyers requested permission with the Court of Appeal but on 1 November 2014, Harris lost his first round of permission to appeal.[31][32] On 1 December 2014, Harris dropped his bid to appeal the sentence, meaning that he would spend the next 2 and a half years in prison, and the next half would be a non-custodial.[33]

In 2012, he got an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and on 23 February 2015, it was rescinded by the Governor-General of Australia.[34][35]

In 2006, Harris was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). On 4 March 2015, it was taken away by the Queen.[36]

Harris served his sentence at HM Prison Stafford.[37] He was released on 19 May 2017, after serving three years of his sentence of five years and nine months.[38]

Death[change | change source]

In October 2022, it was reported that Harris was suffering with neck cancer.[39]

Harris died at his home in Bray, in Berkshire, England, on 10 May 2023, aged 93.[40] At his funeral, the pallbearers each sported a third leg in tribute to his song Jake the Peg.[41]

References[change | change source]

  1. "Rolf Harris, popular TV personality convicted of sex assaults, dies at 93". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 23 May 2023. Archived from the original on 23 May 2023. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
  2. On Saturday, 27 January 1945, Harris swam in the main race of the day at a swimming competition held to raise funds for the Bassendean Child Development Centre. He came a close second in the feature race, a handicap race, the "Swim through Bassendean". Swimming from scratch, he swam the fastest time (Swimming Picnic, The West Australian, (Monday, 29 January 1945), p.2.)
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Rolf Harris". State Library of Western Australia. 25 October 2011. Archived from the original on 19 April 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  4. "Birth Notice, The West Australian, (Monday, 31 March 1930), p.1". Retrieved 25 May 2012.
  5. Longridge, Chris (30 June 2014). "How Rolf Harris became famous". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  6. George Negus Tonight – People, Episode 26 "Rolf Harris", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 23 March 2004, retrieved 9 June 2012
  7. Buster Fleabags by Rolf Harris, Quick Reads, archived from the original on 17 March 2011, retrieved 29 January 2012
  8. Hill, Amelia. (1 January 2006). "Wizard of Oz". The Observer; retrieved 19 April 2013.
  9. Phillips, Yasmine. (11 September 2011). "Rolf Harris reveals the secret to his success",; retrieved 19 April 2013.
  10. "26 January 1947: AT HOME IN WATER & OILS". Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  11. "Youth Paints Picture of West Aus. Knight". The Barrier Miner. Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia. 8 September 1947. p. 5. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  12. "Awards to Artists". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 3 December 1949. p. 16. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  13. "SWIM THROUGH PERTH. REVIVAL TOMORROW. Handicaps ..." 10 February 1945. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  14. "04 Feb 1946 – JUNIOR BACKSTROKE CHAMPION". Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  15. "Swim Stars Get "Tuned Up"". 9 December 1949. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  16. "Rolf Harris trial set to start on May 6". Maidenhead Advertiser. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  17. Williams, Philip (15 January 2014). "Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris denies sex charges in UK court". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  18. "Rolf Harris: Court told of darker side". The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 May 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  19. Miller, Nick (19 June 2014). "Rolf Harris trial: Jury retires to consider its verdict". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
  20. "Rolf Harris found guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls by London jury". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 1 July 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  21. Rolf Harris guilty of child sex abuse
  22. Harris sentence
  23. Rolf Harris latest: 'unduly lenient' sentence referred to Attorney General
  24. Rolf Harris: Entertainer's sentence will not be increased despite British attorney-general's complaints
  25. Rolf Harris will be stripped of BAFTA Fellowship Award and could lose CBE from Queen
  26. Rolf Harris 'visited Broadmoor hospital with Jimmy Savile'
  27. "Town of Bassendean councillors vote to remove Rolf Harris' paintings, plaque and his status as a town freeman at closed meeting". Archived from the original on 2014-08-21. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
  28. [1][permanent dead link]
  29. "Paedophile entertainer Rolf Harris loses stone behind bars". Daily Mail. 6 September 2014.
  30. "'Taunted' Rolf Harris moved from HMP Bullingdon to Stafford jail". Archived from the original on 2014-12-13. Retrieved 2015-01-26.
  31. "Rolf Harris moves to appeal against conviction". ABC News. August 2014.
  32. "Rolf Harris loses bid to appeal indecent assault conviction". ABC News. 31 October 2014.
  33. Rolf Harris abandons appeal of conviction for assaulting four girls in Britain
  34. Giselle Wakatama (23 February 2015). "Rolf Harris stripped of OAM by the Governor-General". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  35. "Termination of appointments - Order of Australia". ComLaw. 19 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  36. "Disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris stripped of CBE". BBC. 3 March 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  37. "Rolf Harris now in Stafford Prison".
  38. "Rolf Harris released from Stafford Prison". 19 May 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  39. Tidman, Zoe (5 October 2022). "'Gravely ill' Rolf Harris 'receiving 24-hour care for neck cancer'". The Independent.
  40. "Rolf Harris: Serial abuser and ex-entertainer dies aged 93". BBC News. 23 May 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  41. @Moondani17 on Twitter

Other websites[change | change source]