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Thursday 24 July 2014

Rolf Harris became family favourite

Ellen Branagh

Published 30/06/2014|15:25

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Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris at Southwark Crown Court, London, where he denies 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 30, 2014. See PA story COURTS Harris. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Entertainer Rolf Harris arrives with his daughter Bindi (L) and niece Jenny at Southwark Crown Court in London. Harris is charged with 12 counts of indecent assault, and denies all the charges
Entertainer Rolf Harris arrives with his daughter Bindi (L) and niece Jenny at Southwark Crown Court in London. Harris is charged with 12 counts of indecent assault, and denies all the charges
Rolf Harris with wife Alwen outside court yesterday. Getty Images
Rolf Harris with wife Alwen outside court yesterday. Getty Images

When news of Rolf Harris's arrest broke, a collective gasp swept across the nation.

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This was not just a famous face, this was one of the best-loved celebrities of past and present - a true family favourite.

Born in 1930, Harris grew up in Perth suburb Bassendean and went on to carve himself a 60-year career that saw him achieve success as an artist, musician and TV personality, with a list of honours to match.

As a teenager and young adult, he became a champion swimmer, and in 1946 was the Australian Junior 110 yards Backstroke Champion.

Struck down by a mysterious illness that left him paralysed for several weeks, Harris said it was this that prompted him to take the leap and travel to England to pursue a career in art.

"I thought that if I were to continue teaching I would be a weekend painter, which is like a weekend driver, you never get any better than you were the previous weekend," he told jurors at his trial.

That was in 1952, and after a few failed attempts at art school, Harris managed to get himself a slot on a BBC show, despite his first audition being a self-confessed "disaster".

Also a keen musician, he started by entertaining at the Down Under club, a haven for ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders, playing his piano accordion.

His song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, became a hit in Australia, the UK and the United States in the 1960s.

Over the following years, Harris's musical career was to grow and grow, and he became well-known for his use of instruments, from the didgeridoo to his famous "wobble-board".

The entertainer released comedic song Jake the Peg in the 1960s, but his biggest hit was in 1969 with Two Little Boys, originally written in 1902.

The hit became the Christmas Number One in the UK and remained at the top of the charts for six weeks, selling more than a million copies.

Harris went on to perform his own versions of several hit songs, including Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.

He performed at Glastonbury for the first time in 1993, going on to appear a number of times, including a spot on its world-famous Pyramid Stage in 2010.

Despite his musical success, Harris's art career was not forgotten. His work was exhibited in many places, and in 2005 he had the rare privilege of painting a portrait of the Queen to mark her 80th birthday.

One of the best-known names in showbiz, the boy from Bassendean's celebrity extended beyond art and music, as he became a TV personality and all-round household name.

His catchphrases were known worldwide, from "Can you tell what it is yet?" accompanying his painting stints, and his emotional references to "the poor little blighter" as he hosted TV programme Animal Hospital, based at a British veterinary practice.

Harris appeared on This is Your Life on two occasions, and in 1989 featured in a child abuse prevention video called Kids Can Say No.

In November 2011 he appeared in an episode of Piers Morgan's Life Stories, where he described what he called the darkest periods of his life, revealing that he had suffered deeply from depression and describing his regret over missing key events in daughter Bindi's life.

It was this less jovial side of Rolf Harris that his daughter alluded to when she described him during her evidence.

"Dad didn't really take much notice of me or anybody at home," she told jurors.

"I think when he is out in the world he wants to give everyone his time and everyone is new and he can tell new jokes and new everything. But when he's at home he is very much switched off, very quiet, quite often working, making something."

Despite home relationships appearing to be somewhat strained, to the rest of the world Harris has always been a fond favourite.

With an MBE, OBE and CBE under his belt, as well as a fellowship from Bafta, he was loved nationwide.

And in a nod to his standing as a British favourite, the veteran entertainer starred in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace in June 2012.

But just months later, the career he spent years building was thrown into disarray as he became one of the names linked to the now well-known Operation Yewtree.

He denied anything unlawful, with friends and family jumping to the entertainer's defence, insisting there was nothing sinister about the "cuddly" star's behaviour around women.

But the 84-year-old was forced to admit that he had a "darker side" as he confessed to not one, but two affairs - one with one of his daughter's friends - and even admitted to finding the girl attractive when she was just 13.

With the details of his private life laid bare for the world to see, it is clear that no matter what the outcome of his trial was, the nation's view of Rolf Harris would never have been quite the same again.

Press Association

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