01 May 12
Rolf Harris CBE, Australian television personality, musician and artist, was presented with the Fellowship at this year’s Arqiva British Academy Television Awards on Sunday 27 May at the Royal Festival Hall.
Awarded annually, the BAFTA Fellowship is the highest accolade bestowed upon an individual in recognition of their outstanding and exceptional contribution to television. Upon hearing the news Rolf Harris commented; “I’m hugely honoured and very thrilled.”
We talk to the much-loved Australian television personality, musician and artist in light of the news of his Academy Fellowship. Words by Anwar Brett
BAFTA/Richard KendalThe celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee holds a particular poignancy for Rolf Harris, as 2012 also marks 60 years since he first arrived on these shores from his native Perth in Western Australia.
If that journey halfway around the world seems long, then Harris’ success in the years since has carried him further still. He’ll be performing as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations, and remains a much-loved, highly versatile entertainer who translated his earliest ambitions to be an artist into a long television career that now sees him recognised with a BAFTA Fellowship.
The best thing in the world is to be able to do what you love and get paid for doing it.
Honing his skills as an entertainer on the cabaret circuit, Harris was still in his 20s when he made his first steps into television, demonstrating an easy-going charm and one-to-one connection with his audience very early on.
“I was emboldened to write and ask for an audition at BBC television which I managed to score a job from,” he recalls. “Of course I was a rank amateur when I started, but I learnt my trade there. Every two weeks I would have a five minute spot in a one hour show, doing drawings and telling stories.”
Early programmes include Jigsaw (1953) and Whirligig (1954) which demonstrated his ability to engage younger audiences amid the stressful environment of live television. Such was his appeal that he also managed to get a job on the fledgling commercial television.
“It was regarded as a terrible betrayal if you went to commercial television,” he explains, “but they didn’t care about children’s television. So I was doing a programme on ITV every week and a programme on the BBC every two weeks. I was the only one who was on both channels at that time.”
In the 1960s he enjoyed chart topping success with songs like ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’, ‘Sun Arise’ and ‘Two Little Boys’ and as his star rose so the programmes built around his diverse talents flourished. There were variety series like Hi There (1964), Hey Presto It’s Rolf (1964) and The Rolf Harris Show (1967-1974) which gave him full rein to paint – huge landscapes with a decorating brush and buckets of paint – to sing (sometimes accompanied by the wobble board) and entertain audiences of all ages. He even hosted a hugely successful series designed to teach the youth of the nation to swim during the 1970s.
An honorary member of the Royal Society of British Artists, he has consistently returned to art during his career. In the 1980s he was able to focus on his passion for animation with Rolf Harris’s Cartoon Time (1983-1987) for the BBC and Rolf’s Cartoon Club (1989-1993) for ITV, and subsequently presented popular factual programmes such as Rolf On Art (2001-2007) – in one episode of which the Queen sat for a portrait – and Star Portraits With Rolf Harris (2004-2007). In addition he hosted several series of the hugely popular, award winning Animal Hospital (1994-2004).
BAFTA/ Steve ButlerThe warm enthusiasm that’s a trademark of Harris’s presenting style, and the sheer longevity of his career, mean that he has touched many lives during the course of the last six decades.
“People ask me what the best thing in the world is,” he adds, “and it’s to be able to do what you love and get paid for doing it. Everywhere I go somebody will come up and say ‘I’d just like to say thank you because watching you on Rolf’s Cartoon Club got me hooked on animation and now that’s what I do for a living,’ or ‘I became an illustrator because of your programmes.’ You have no idea what a thrill that is.”
Signed by the BBC in 1953, Rolf Harris’ broadcast career has spanned six decades with his television work covering a variety of genres including children’s, factual, arts and factual entertainment. Audiences have grown up watching Rolf’s Cartoon Club, Rolf on Art and Animal Hospital while also being entertained by Rolf the musician, accompanied by his ‘wobble board’. In 2005, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II by the BBC to celebrate her 80th birthday and the accompanying programme, The Queen by Rolf, was watched by an audience of almost seven million. In 2006 he was awarded a CBE.
The official list of winners and nominees for the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards which took...
Stay up-to-date with the latest BAFTA news, events and online content.Join the list