Rolf Harris was born in 1930 in Bassendean, Perth, WA. As a child, aged four he contracted scarlet fever and was quarantined for months. Rolf Harris learned to swim and in 1946 became the Australian junior backstroke champion. When he was 19 he won an amateur talent competition on one of Australia’s national radio stations and became bitten with the entertainment bug. He always wanted to be an artist and funded a UK trip from the proceeds of four art exhibitions in Perth. Rolf Harris came to England in 1952 full of artistic ambitions and attended the City and Guilds Art School Kennington, London. There he met his future wife, Alwen and a by chance Rolf ran across a fellow Perth artist, Bill “Hayward” Veal. Veal, now an established impressionist took on Rolf as his protégé. In 1956, Rolf had his first exhibition of paintings at the Royal Academy of Art in London. Despite wanting to be an artist, Rolf was also attracted to the entertainment industry. Rolf became a regular at the Down Under Club, London entertaining ex pats.
Tie me kangaroo down sport would be not untypical of the antipodean leg pull and illustrated how well he could exploit his Australian background to good effect and incorporated indigenous instruments like the didgeridoo as well as inventing his own, the wobble board. Rolf wrote most of his own material always cleverly combining comedy with music. By the end of the fifties Rolf returned to Australia and started working in children's television. He was a natural comedian, musician and cartoonist and the venture was the first of many well-received television series including Hey Presto and It's Rolf.
In 1966 he repeated the same success with the BBC when he came back to the UK and the Rolf Harris Show was screened at prime time on a Saturday night in the UK. Rolf incorporated light entertainment with dancing (The Young Generation) and each program ended with Rolf painting a giant scene before singing a related song.
Rolf had been a frequent visitor to the hit parade with Tie me kangaroo down sport, Sun Arise, and Jake the Peg. Two Little Boys marked a considerable deviation from his previous Australian oriented songs and gave the entertainer a #1 hit in the UK in 1969.
Always the innovator Rolf looked for unique sounds to use in his recordings. Almost by accident he became a pioneer of techno when he was given a prototype electronic instrument called the Stylophone. Rolf Harris and David Bowie shared the same sound engineer who suggested to David Bowie that the stylophone was just the sound they needed to complete "Space Oddity."
Just as the aging entertainer had thought his pop star days were over, a chance forfeit on The Denton Show (Australia) in 1993 saw Rolf singing Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to heaven,” accompanied by his accordion. The song proved so popular with viewers, Rolf released it as a single and had his last chart success.
Over recent years he made several critically acclaimed series on cartooning, animal hospital, and “real tv” painting. As an artist he was commission to paint of portrait of The Queen.
Rolf Harris was accused of historic sexual abuse on multiple accounts in 2014 and was imprisoned after being found guilty. His conduct was universally condemned and considered so atrocious he was stripped of many of his decorations.
Worth a listen:
Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport (1960)
Six White Boomers (1961)
Sun Arise (1962)
I've Lost My Mummy (1963)
War Canoe (1965)
Jake The Peg (1966)
Fijian Girl (1967)
Two Little Boys (1969)