Rolf Harris

Rolf Harris

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Rolf Harris

Img_capt =
Img_size =
Landscape =
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name =
Alias =
Born = Birth date and age|1930|3|30|df=yes
Bassendean, Perth, Western Australia
Died =
Origin = Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Instrument = Vocals,
Voice_type =
Genre = Oldies
Occupation = Painter,
Television personality
Years_active = 1950–present
Label = Disky,
EMI Records,
Capitol Records,
Columbia Records,
Queesway Records
Associated_acts =
URL = [ The Official Rolf Harris Web Site]
Current_members =
Past_members =
Notable_instruments =

Rolf Harris CBE, AM (born 30 March 1930), is an Australian musician, singer, composer, painter, and television host.


Named after Rolf Boldrewood, an Australian writer his mother admired, he was born in Bassendean, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia, Australia, to Cromwell ("Crom") Harris and Agnes Margaret Harris (née Robbins) who had emigrated from Cardiff,Wales. He is the nephew of Australian artist Pixie O'Harris, (1903-1991), i.e. Rhona Olive Pratt, née Harris.

As an adolescent and young adult Harris was a champion swimmer being the Australian Junior 110 yards Backstroke Champion in 1946 and Western Australian state champion over a variety of distances and strokes during the period 1948–1952. Harris attended Perth Modern School in Subiaco, and the University of Western Australia. He met his wife, the Welsh sculptress and jeweller Alwen Hughes, while they were both art students, and they married on 1 March 1958. They have one daughter, Bindi Harris (born 10 March, 1964), who studied art at Bristol Polytechnic and is now a painter.

Music and art

Harris had experience in Perth on television in its early years, with his rapid drawing style and flair for amusing entertainment. He moved to England as an art student at City and Guilds Arts School, Kennington, South London at the age of 22, notably illustrating Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" (1956). Harris returned to Perth after art school and was involved in children's television shows. Some years later he returned to the United Kingdom to live. He has regularly returned to Perth over the years for family visits.

Harris has been credited with inventing a simple homemade instrument called the wobble board. This discovery was accidentally made in the course of his work when he attempted to dry a freshly painted hardboard with added heat, from hearing the sound made by the board as he held the board by the short edges to cool off. He suggests the effect can best be obtained through faint bouncing of a tempered hardboard or a thinner MDF board between the palms of one's hands. In 1959 he worked on TVW-7's first locally produced show "Spotlight". During his time at TVW he recorded his hit "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". The song was recorded on a single microphone placed above him in the TV studio. The song was sent to record company EMI in Sydney and it was soon released as a record. Rolf Harris offered four unknown backing musicians 10 percent of the royalties for the song, but they decided to take a recording fee of 28 pounds between them because they thought the song would be a flop [Did you know... page 18 "Westside News", February 20, 2008 — Brisbane, Queensland, Australia] The novelty song was originally titled "Kangalypso" and featured the distinctive sound of the "wobble board" which was played by "wobbling" it back and forth. The original recording of the song issued in Australia was considered controversial by some listeners because of the lyrics: "Let me abos go loose, Lew [This is the version sung by Harris on the 1960 single release. The original lyric is "Let me abos go loose, Bruce".] / Let me abos go loose/ They're of no further use, Lew/ So let me abos go loose". The verse appears to refer to Aboriginal servitude and captivity in a whimsically approving manner. In addition, the word "abo" was beginning to be seen as a term of abuse at the time. Most of the rest of the song refers to animals in captivity. The offending verse did not feature in later versions of the song. In 2006 Harris expressed his regret about the original lyrics. [cite web|url=|title=Rolf's lyrics 'a sign of the times'|author=Renee Switzer|publisher=The Age|date=2006-12-06|accessdate=2007-12-03]

Harris sang "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" (with The Beatles singing backing vocals) in the first edition of the "From Us To You" BBC radio shows, in December, 1963. [ [ Rolf Harris, the 5th Beatle] ] Harris completely customized the original lyrics to a version that was especially written for The Beatles:

:"Cut yer hair once a year boys":"Don't ill-treat me pet dingo, Ringo":"George’s guitar's on the blink, I think":"Prop me up by the wall, Paul":"Keep the hits coming on, John"

Harris went on to use an array of unusual instruments in his music, including the didgeridoo (the sound of which was imitated on "Sun Arise" by four double basses), Jew's harp and, later, the stylophone. Harris has played the didgeridoo on two albums by English pop singer Kate Bush, 1982's "The Dreaming" and 2005's "Aerial". His biggest hit, however, was a gimmick-free rendering of the sentimental song "Two Little Boys" (1969), a departure for him in that he usually recorded either his own compositions or traditional songs. Harris also created one of his most famous roles in the 1960s, Jake the Peg.

He also made several television appearances in which he would paint pictures on large boards in an apparently slapdash manner, with the odd nonsense song thrown in, but with detailed results. This was often accompanied by the phrase "Can you tell what is it yet?" just before the painting became recognisable. These appearances led to a string of TV series based on his artistic ability, notably "Rolf Harris's Cartoon Time" on BBC1 in the 1980s and "Rolf's Cartoon Club" on CITV in the early 1990s. He also hosted a successful variety TV series in Canada, which was a second home to Harris during the 1960s. In 1967 he hosted the BBC's "A Song for Europe" contest and provided UK commentary at that year's "Eurovision Song Contest" in Vienna.

In his appearance on the BBC's Desert Island Discs, on which guests are invited to choose eight pieces of music they would wish to have with them if stranded on a desert island, Harris famously chose eight of his own records, the only artist ever to have done so.

In 2000, Harris, along with Steve Lima released a dance track called "Fine Day" which entered the top 30 in the UK charts at that time. A 'Killie-themed' version was recorded and scheduled for release in March 2007 to coincide with the Scottish football club's appearance in the Scottish League Cup final after the song was adopted by the fans in 2003. [ [ "Fine Day"] ] One of the lyrics referred to the hypothetical situation in which Kilmarnock could be 5-0 down, which ironically was similar to the final score of 5-1.

In November and December 2002, under Charles Saumarez Smith's direction, London's National Gallery exhibited a collection of Harris's art. [cite web|url=|title=National to display Rolf's art|publisher=BBC News|date=2002-10-22|accessdate=2007-12-03] He was also commissioned to paint a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II for her 80th birthday, which was unveiled by Rolf Harris on 19 December 2005 at Buckingham Palace. [cite web|url=|title=Rolf Harris and BBC unveil new official portrait of The Queen|publisher=BBC press office|date=2005-12-19|accessdate=2007-12-03] In his words, it is an impressionistic rather than photographic depiction. Some commentators found it to be offensive and unbecoming of the Queen, but the Queen herself expressed her approval at the painting after her final sitting, particularly with the way in which Harris had painted her smile. The story of the painting featured as a special edition of "Rolf on Art". The special, called "The Queen by Rolf", was broadcast on BBC One on 1 January 2006. In his painting of the portrait of the Queen, Rolf Harris was following a family tradition — Harris' grandfather painted a portrait of the Queen's grandfather, King George V (in which King George V was inspecting the troops). [Information given by Rolf Harris during the television programme "The Queen by Rolf" about his portrait of the Queen]

In 2005, Rolf played the didgeridoo on Kate Bush's album Aerial, contributing vocals to the songs 'An Architect's Dream' and 'The Painter's Link'. He also appears on the video to the lead single King of the Mountain dancing with a white jumpsuit in a reference to Elvis Presley, one of the themes of the song.

1982 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony

Matilda, the winking kangaroo was the mascot for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. When Matilda arrived at the stadium, she 'winked' to the crowd as she went around the stadium track — then her 'pouch' opened and several young children (about 5 years old to 7 years old), dressed as joey kangaroos, rushed out (then ran to — and jumped on — a number of trampolines which had been set up especially for them).

Harris, who was standing, complete with wobble board, at the back of a small truck, then sang a special rendition of his hit song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", which included some lyrics especially written for the Opening Ceremony::"Let me welcome you to the Games, friends",:"Welcome you to the Games": "Look, I don't know all of your names, friends",:"But let me welcome you to the Games".

Following his singing of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", Harris sang "Waltzing Matilda". As well as a video tape recording of the Opening Ceremony being released, the music for the Opening Ceremony was released as an album and an audio tape, with Harris as one of the featured artists.

"Stairway to Heaven"

Harris' career received a boost in 1993 when his cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" became a hit, reaching number 7 of the UK singles chart. Harris originally performed the song, live, during an appearance on the television comedy show "The Money or the Gun". Harris' version of the song recreated the song in the style of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", complete with wobble board and didgeridoo solos. Although he had the sheet music, Harris claims that he had not heard the original version when he recorded his; as such, he disavows any claim that his version was intended to be irreverent or humorous. [As stated at his WOMAD appearance, Reading, 1998] Harris' version was one of 28 versions of the song performed on the show — and his version is one of the 25 versions of the song which was released on the "The Money or the Gun's Stairways to Heaven" videotape and CD (Harris' single comes from the same recording of his version of the song).

Recordings and appearances

Harris also recorded a version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" around this time. He performed The Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" — accompanied only by his wobble board — for Andrew Denton's Musical Challenge on the MMM Breakfast Show (the recording was released on the first Musical Challenge compilation album in 2000). Later that year he made his first appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in what was seen as a novelty act. He played it again in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

Harris has also recorded an Australian Christmas song called "Six White Boomers", about a joey Kangaroo trying to find his mother during Christmas time, and how Santa Claus used six large-size male Kangaroos (Boomers), instead of Reindeer (to put an Australian spin on the traditional story) to pull his sleigh and help the little joey find his "Mummy".

Television career

Harris has had a long career on British television, chiefly on the BBC. He was already a well-known face on television when "The Rolf Harris Show" first appeared in 1967, and throughout the 1970s and early 1980s this series in various formats remained a popular light-entertainment staple, latterly being broadcast on Saturday evenings as "Rolf on Saturday OK?" Between 1988-1992 he presented "Rolf's Cartoon Club", a children's show which combined Harris' love of art with showings of children's cartoons. The show also gave out tips to children on how to draw and create easy animation techniques, like flickbooks.

Harris was also the commentator for the United Kingdom in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest. [cite web | title=The Eurovision Song Contest (1967) (TV) | work=IMDB | url= | accessdate = June 22 | accessyear=2008]

From 1994-2004, he was the host of the reality television programme "Animal Hospital", which chronicled the real-life activity of a British veterinary practice. Rolf then adopted a Border Collie that had been abandoned at the vets, named Rocky.Rolf presented 19 series of "Animal Hospital" for BBC One. It was five times winner in the "Most Popular Factual Entertainment Show" category of The National TV Awards.

More recently, he presented "Rolf on Art", which highlighted the work of some of his favourite artists, including van Gogh, Degas, Monet and Gauguin. "Rolf on Art" which made TV history when it gained the highest TV ratings ever for an Arts programme, is now in its sixth year. On 26 September 2004 Harris fronted a project to recreate John Constable's famous "The Hay Wain" painting on a massive scale, with 150 people contributing to a small section. Each individual canvas was assembled into the full picture live on the BBC, in the show "Rolf on Art: The Big Event". He was named as one of the "Radio Times" list of the top 40 most eccentric TV presenters of all time in July 2004.

The story of Rolf Harris' portrait painting of Queen Elizabeth II featured as a special edition of "Rolf on Art", broadcast on BBC One on 1 January 2006. Harris's portrait of The Queen was voted by readers of the Radio Times the third favourite portrait of Her Majesty. The royal portrait was exhibited at Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and was exhibited on a tour of public galleries in the UK.

On 15 July 2006, Harris appeared on the British TV programme "Richard & Judy" to promote the stopping of the Canadian seal hunt. On the show, he also sang his own song, "Slaughter on the Ice", which he had written after a trip to Canada. [ [ Canada’s Seal Hunt: Cruel and Unnecessary] International Fund for Animal Welfare]

In September 2006 the Royal Australian Mint launched the first of the new 2007 Silver Kangaroo Collector's Coin series. Harris was commissioned to design the first coin in the series.For the third year running, Harris designed and painted the official Children In Need Christmas card. Harris has presented three series of the BBC art programme "Star Portraits with Rolf Harris". In 2007, a documentary "A Lifetime in Paint" about Harris' work as an artist - from the early years in Australia to the present day - was screened on BBC One, followed by a"Rolf On Art" special titled "Rolf on Lowry".

In November 2007 at exhibition of Harris' new paintings was held at Portland Gallery, London. In December 2007 a new DVD titled "Rolf Live!" was released through his website.

"Rolf on Art: Beatrix Potter" was screened on BBC One in December 2007.


Rolf Harris was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) on 17 June 2006, having previously been created a Member (MBE) in 1968 and an Officer (OBE) in 1977.

On 26 January 1989, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) [see [ Rolf Harris's citation] at the Australian Government's "It's an Honour" website]

In 1975 he was appointed "King of Moomba" [Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm, Hilary Eriksen (17 Feb 2006) "Moomba: A festival for the people.": PDF pp 17-22]

On 1 July 2008, Harris was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, he was joined on-stage by The Seekers to perform "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" and his Jake the Peg routine. [cite web |url= |title=ARIA announced all-star cast to induct and perform |format=PDF |publisher=Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) |accessdate=2008-07-02 ] [cite news |url=,21985,23855523-662,00.html |title=Rolf Harris in the ARIA Hall of Fame, sport |publisher="Herald Sun" |last=Zonneveldt |first=Mandi |date=2008-06-13 |accessdate=2008-06-14 ]




External links

* [ The Official Rolf Harris Web Site]
* BFI Database: Rolf Harris
* [ The Rolf Harris Jukebox (Examples of Rolf Harris's music)]
* [ Some examples of Rolf Harris's art]
* [ Rolf Harris video performing "Slaughter On Ice" anti seal hunting song]
* [ Showcasing the range of Rolf Harris Paintings] ----

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