“You can join today!
It’s Rolf’s Car… Toon… Club!” So went the spoken introduction to
the early 80s BBC1 series, in which your man Harris would introduce cartoon
shorts (a mix of Looney Tunes, and obscure shite about singing honey bees)
by illustrating the forthcoming clips with hasty sketches (“And he’s got
that little bit of his tongue poking out there, and a-hoo-a-ha-a-hoo-a-ha!
Ha ha ha! Little bit of white in his eye… splurge! A-ha ha ha!”). We
were supposed to believe he was drawing them from memory, but he was LYING.
Harris was copying them off a screen, or something. Or he’d traced them,
or really, really practiced hard beforehand. Anyway, he never quite got the
No-one has ever been
quite sure what Rolf Harris, MBE, OBE, is. Obviously, he’s a bearded
Australian of some sort, but quite why he’s famous is a mystery. Singer?
Musician? Artist? Presenter? A type of comedy guy? Currently ensconced in
the safety blanket of the BBC’s Animal Hospital, the reborn Rolf has
clawed himself back from the anonymity of the late-80s, when he was little
more than a celeb-for-hire. His current status as celeb-for-hire with a
regular presenting stint on Animal Hospital, finds him crying at dogs with
no fur and broken legs. Splurge indeed. But where did he come from, this
Having just turned 70,
Rolf Harris’s showbusiness career has spanned more than four decades. He
had a number one single in his native Australia in 1960 with Tie Me Kangaroo
Down Sport, later a hit in Britain in 1962 (the song’s verse referring to
Aborigines as “Abos” was removed from subsequent recordings and
performances… as were an additional five verses referring to New
Zealanders as “gay fuckwits”). He had a British number two in 1962 (held
off the top spot by Elvis Presley) with Sun Arise, famous for its use of a
didgeridoo (in reality eight bass fiddles – Rolf was unable to play the
didgeridoo at the time). Rapidly becoming a staple of light entertainment
TV, it was inevitable that Rolf be given his own show.
Hey Presto – It’s
Rolf! was his debut TV series, which he co-hosted alongside koala puppet
Coojeebear. Heavily Antipodean in flavour, Rolf would alternate musical
numbers played on a wobble board, with painting huge murals of the
Australian outback while making his trademark stupid noises. Aside from the
“splurges”, the most common of these noises sounded as if Rolf was
hyper-ventilating or, at worst, having some manner of cardiac arrest. Or
ejaculating in his pants. His paintings, done with household paints and
brushes on giant canvas, would inevitably resemble random splodges of colour
(“Can you tell what it is yet? Ha ha!”) until Rolf applied the very last
stroke (“Splurge!”) and the whole thing came together. But of course, we
already could tell what it was from the off, because he only ever painted
Ayres Rock, a kangaroo, or an aborigine. At sunset.
His hit singles, which by
now included Jake The Peg (about a man with three legs, diddle-iddle-iddle-dum,
no less), and the smash hit Two Little Boys (later covered by artists as
diverse as Michael Jackson, Gary Glitter, and that buck-toothed fuck from
The Bay City Rollers, ha ha…) were a staple part of his shows, often
transformed into huge song and dance numbers wherein Rolf would perform with
crowds of young children (later covered by artists as diverse as Michael
Jackson, Gary Glitter etc. etc…)
The Seventies were a fine
time for Rolf. He fronted light entertainment series after light
entertainment series (The Rolf Harris Show, Rolf’s Walkabout, Rolf On
Saturday OK!). Then there was Rolf’s association with a number of public
service films in which he – unrecognisable without his glasses in a
swimming pool – warned kids that drowning was bad. Then there was
Stylophone. His endorsement of this bizarre electronic musical instrument
– a sort of cross between a miniature synthesiser and one of those wire
buzzer game things that you had to move a hoop along without touching the
metal – extended to both TV adverts, and being featured on the box of the
product, clutching the stylus device that was used to touch the keys. Rolf
helped the Stylophone sell four million units in the UK alone, but by 1980
Dubreq, the company responsible, had moved into other areas (notably
creating the classic Top Trump card game).
The 1980s began
reasonably well for Rolf, with the aforementioned Cartoon Club, but by the
latter half of the decade he was all but washed up, both in the UK and back
home. Things got so bad he even once burst into tears live on TV-AM, because
a rendition by Mike And The Mechanics of their song In The Living Years,
reminded him of his dead father (mind you, we frequently burst into tears
upon hearing Mike And The Mechanics because it’s so upsetting that
they’re still alive).
It took the generation
that grew up being entertained by Rolf to offer him salvation, as he learned
to trade on his kitsch appeal, peddling himself to the University nostalgia
markets with a Top 10, Aussie-sounding cover version of Led Zepplin’s
Stairway To Heaven. It was to prove a rebirth for Harris. In 1995 he began
presenting Animal Hospital with not a paintbrush or didgeridoo in sight.
He’s even appeared at the Glastonbury Festival, and miraculously managed
to avoid the inevitable airborne bottles of piss.
It would seem that
there’s little sign of Rolf slowing up. Heck – there’s even a new
album, featuring a cover version of Robbie Williams’ Angels. What’s
more, he also has his own website now, The Wizard Of Aus, which reads too
close to “The Wizard Of Anus” for our tastes, but maybe that’s just
Whatever - Rolf Harris,
you are an Australian mental.