Another nail driven into the coffin of childhood innocence
Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30
The word 'irony' seems grievously inadequate. Among the plethora of sad and bewildering facts that have emerged about Rolf Harris during his trial was the story that he once presented an educational video for Australian schools dealing with the prevention of child sexual abuse. Harris appeared, in 1985, with four children talking about 'yes' and 'no' feelings, and where children might be in danger.
What was he thinking? Few people, it now seems, knew who Rolf Harris truly was; but for more than 50 years he has presented a figure of unimpeachable trust.
A psychologist might interpret the video – made at the height of Harris's offending – as evidence of some sort of battle in his mind between his depraved behaviour and his conscience.
While few people, it now seems, knew who Harris truly was, he never seemed like a stranger. With false intimacy he presented a figure of unimpeachable trust and endearment for over 50 years. The overwhelming response to his conviction has been one of shock. Of all the people who have been brought to book by Operation Yewtree, Harris's conviction is the perhaps the hardest to countenance. That he would be guilty of the worst sort of sexual criminality would surely not have entered anyone's mind.
Harris came from an era when TV hosts were older men, with that came an air of trust and dependability.
Jimmy Savile, of course, belonged to the same era. Savile's capacity to make children's dreams come true on 'Jim'll Fix It', and the largesse he distributed through charity events positioned him as a sort of cheery national benefactor. But even at the height of his TV popularity the smell of something 'not quite right' hung over him like a shroud.
The same cannot be said of Harris. From his earliest appearances in the 1950s, he presented a figure of unalloyed charm and personability – the daft, madcap, uncle, with his woolly beard and gurgling fountain of laughter.
His skill at transforming blobs on a sheet of paper ('have you guessed what it is yet?') into a panorama of Ayers rock seemed like a kind of primitive magic. His corny wobble-board, his excrutiatingly awful, but at the same time mysteriously loveable songs embedded themselves in the consciousness.
He appeared at Glastonbury; he painted the queen. He was honoured with an MBE, an OBE and a CBE. What could possibly go wrong?
But in media circles, he had a reputation for the tasteless remark, the hand lingering a little longer than was strictly appropriate; the exercise of power that might have once passed unremarked but which led one production company to tell him that he would not be welcome back.
Harris destroyed the lives of the children he assaulted. But he betrayed not only their trust, but the trust that anyone who ever watched and enjoyed Rolf Harris had invested in him. Happy childhood memories are sullied and besmirched. Another nail is driven into the coffin of innocence.
If Rolf Harris could not be trusted, who then can be? (© Daily Telegraph, London)