Rolf Harris: Profile
- 30 June 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Veteran entertainer, musician and artist Rolf Harris has been found guilty of 12 charges of indecent assault between the 1960s and '80s.
For six decades, Rolf Harris has had success with novelty pop hits and children's TV and variety shows as well as series about animals and art.
The 84-year-old has been a fixture on screens in Britain and beyond since television took off in the 1950s.
He found fame in 1953 on BBC children's TV, a year after he had arrived in the UK at the age of 21 from his native Australia.
Growing up in Perth, he showed early promise in sport and art. After becoming a national swimming champion at the age of 15, he narrowly missed out on representing Australia at the 1948 London Olympic Games.
And, at the age of 16, he staged the first of four exhibitions of his paintings in his home town.
He then trained as a swimming teacher but after being struck down with a polio-like virus for several months, resolved to become a painter and headed to London, which his parents had told him was "the hub of the universe".
On arriving, he enrolled in an art school, where he met his future wife Alwen Hughes, and performed at cabaret clubs to earn money before auditioning for a slot on children's TV.
He became a regular on both the BBC and commercial TV before executives from Perth persuaded him to return to Australia in 1959 to produce and present his own daily show.
It was there that he first tasted success in the pop charts, going to number one with the single Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.
In 1961, the star returned to the UK and his song Sun Arise, produced by George Martin, reached number three in the hit parade.
Now armed with his famous wobble board and catchphrase "Can you tell what it is yet?", Harris hosted a string of TV shows in the 1960s including Hi There! and Hey Presto It's Rolf!.
His status as a household name was cemented when The Rolf Harris Show launched in 1967, when the star was 37.
In 1968, he received an MBE before scoring his biggest hit single with Two Little Boys - an old music hall number about childhood friends sent to war - which was 1969's Christmas number one.
Back in Australia, Harris performed as part of the opening celebrations for the Sydney Opera House in 1973. The following year, the BBC launched Rolf on Saturday, OK?, a teatime variety show billed by the Radio Times as "half-an-hour of acting, painting and, above all, singing".
His Cartoon Time children's show was a fixture in the BBC One schedules for a decade until 1989, and his Cartoon Club ran on ITV for a further four years.
But when that was cancelled, Harris was diagnosed with clinical depression and he feared his career was at an end.
However, he was again approached by BBC One in 1994, this time not to present a children's show but to host a programme about animal welfare.
Animal Hospital, which followed the workings of a veterinary practice in north London, was a surprise hit with viewers and ran for 19 series over the subsequent 10 years.
Off screen, Harris said he realised, while writing his 2002 autobiography, that his focus on his career had come at the expense of his relationships with his wife and daughter Bindi.
"You examine things a bit closely and think, 'Maybe I could have done it differently'," he said. "I could have spent more time with my family, made an effort to be with them."
His autobiography also detailed financial calamities - such as a dubious decision to build a nightclub in Malta - and ignorance of his own monetary matters until his brother Bruce stepped in to take over his affairs.
The 21st Century saw Harris return both to TV screens and his first love of painting, when he was chosen to host art programmes, notably Star Portraits with Rolf Harris and Rolf on Art.
Rolf on Art culminated with him painting a portrait of The Queen in 2005 to celebrate her 80th birthday. The critics hated it and Lord Bragg accused the BBC of failing to take the arts seriously.
Harris admitted he reacted badly to criticism. "They are entitled to their opinion," he told The Observer. "But some of the attacks I have received over the years have been vicious and personal and they hurt."
Later that year, the entertainer was made a CBE as demand grew for his art, with canvasses changing hands for six-figure sums.
Meanwhile, his quirky cover of Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven, which reached the top 10 in the UK in 1993, afforded him cult status - not to mention big crowds at music festivals.
He went on to appear five times at Glastonbury. "I think they put me on as a joke," he said of his first performance in 1993. "And there were 75,000 people there as far as the eye can see."
He received a Bafta Fellowship, the British TV industry's highest honour, in 2012, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia the same year.
But the entertainer was questioned by police as part of Operation Yewtree in November 2012 before being arrested the following March.
Operation Yewtree was set up to investigate allegations in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, but Harris's arrest was part of the strand looking at complaints against people not connected to the late DJ.
Channel 5 then removed two programmes featuring Harris from its schedule and Ben Fogle replaced him as host of Animal Clinic.
Harris went on trial in May in London and denied 12 counts of indecent assault. He was accused of assaulting four girls, the youngest of whom was seven or eight and the oldest 19, between 1968 and 1986.