Revising My Childhood in Light of Rolf Harris’s Guilt

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Rolf Harris

The most recent revelation within Operation Yewtree is the news of Rolf Harris and his conviction of performing a series of sex attacks on young women and children in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, I actually feel as if a small part of my childhood has been completely and utterly destroyed.

On first hearing the news of Rolf Harris and the criminal charges he faced, I was of course, thoroughly shocked. News such as this makes you start to question what was really happening behind the scenes of children’s entertainment, and I am now left genuinely contemplating revising my childhood. To realise that all of the animal-caring, the singing and the didgeridoo playing was all fundamentally a hoax, has eliminated some of the definition of my childhood. Harris and his obscure and unusual musical talents always fascinated me as a child, even just saying the words ‘wobble board’ made me giggle, not to mention actually hearing this unique instrument and its characteristic ‘whoop whoop’ sound. I was in stitches of laughter.

Knowing that these attacks of sexual harassment and abuse date back almost 40 years ago, almost turns my stomach. What saddens me most however in all of this, is Harris had been convicted of assaulting his own daughter’s best friend. He took advantage of his incredibly high social status within the network of media and went as far as harming a family-friend.

Since 2012, Operation Yewtree has investigated sexual abuse allegations against people within the British Media. Other iconic figures who have also been found guilty, are the controversial publicist Max Clifford and the deceased Jimmy Saville. My faith in humanity was never exactly of the highest of standards to begin with, but after this, I am finding myself absolutely mortified, fundamentally feeling let down by the fact something as important as child molestation was thrown into a quiet corner and ignored.

Harris, who may possibly be stripped of his CBE; fifteen years after starting his string of sexual attacks, even created a documentary warning young people of paedophiles, aimed to teach children as young as five the valuable meanings of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. And a poll taken by Reader’s Digest Australia, voted him in the top 100 amongst Australia’s most trusted people. A very surreal sense of uncanniness. Prosecutors even labelled him as a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ type character who took advantage of his fame.

For me, someone who has always found enjoyment within art and a lover of sketching; after this shocking news of one of the most recognised artists of this century coming to light, my passion for drawing has now been somewhat slightly tainted. Rolf’s artistic career hit its peak back in 2005, where he completed an oil-painted portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, in order to mark her 80th birthday. To know that the artwork of a criminal for a period time stayed within Buckingham Palace, the home to the monarchy for just short of 180 years, really does produce a sense of unease for me. How can I now go on continuing to enjoy one of my most favourite hobbies, when the innocence behind artistic creativity has in a sense been fundamentally corrupted?

He agreed in front of the jury that he was ‘pretty good’ at hiding his dark-side. The national treasure of children’s entertainment has now destroyed his reputation as the fun-loving performer, but the reality is, he should have been obliterated from our television screens long ago.

Amy Turner is a student of English at Manchester Metropolitan University. You can find her blog here and also follow her on twitter @amyy_turner 

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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  1. Molly 8th July 2014 at 12:03 pm -  Reply

    I read this recently which was interesting in terms of memory in regards to cases like this. From The Trebus Project – A few weeks ago I had a chance to talk to the a very well-regarded psychologist about the Rolf Harris trial. He often gives expert testimony about issues relating to memory and he told me he doubted the reliability of a lot of the evidence that was being presented. I was about to write something about this myself but Steven Short beat me to it.

    “The summer I was seven, my sisters and I spent a lot of the holidays in Drake Park. Mum would drive us there, dropping us off with a familiar warning, ‘Don’t fall in the water!’ She said this because I was, indeed, forever falling in the park’s streams. She would come and pick us up hours later, increasingly irritated at my wet clothes – I’d be forced to sit in the very back of the car with the dogs so I wouldn’t make the seats wet. One day she’d had enough. ‘If you fall in today you’re not going to the park again,’ she said as she dropped us off.

    Back at the park we had yet another stone fight with a group of horrible local kids we sometimes encountered – we never had hand-to-hand contact but there was lots of throwing of stones and name-calling. I vividly remember running away from one particularly viscous girl when I found myself once more in the stream. I knew my mum would be furious. And she was. However, before she could launch into a tirade my sister explained, ‘one of those horrible kids pulled him in.’ I was suitably outraged – though still forced to travel home with the dogs.

    For years I remembered being pulled into the stream at Drake Park. I remember the coat I wore, that did indeed have a hood that would have been the perfect thing to grab to pull me backwards.

    Years later, one day over supper, for some reason we were talking about summers at Drake Park and I recounted the story of the horrible girl who pulled me in, only to be corrected by my sister: ‘She didn’t really pull you in. You fell, as usual, but if Mum had found out we wouldn’t have been allowed back to the park.’

    For more than 30 years I had believed, and remembered, something that never happened.

    I’ve been thinking about Drake Park as the Rolf Harris story has developed. I like Rolf Harris and have always thought he seems (present tense) like a nice guy. I can’t help but think that there is something not quite right about the way he has been treated by the courts, and now by the media. His accusers are saying that he has ruined their lives. They talk about him touching them on the bum or breast 40 years ago and how their lives have been terrible ever since. Why have they waited so long to tell people? How come, for example, Rolf Harris’s daughter’s friend didn’t write anything in her childhood diary about the apparent abuse she now remembers so well four decades later? How come Rolf Harris’s wife or daughter didn’t notice if something were amiss at the time, or later?

    Without getting into the wrongs or rights of what may or may not have happened I feel almost as if Rolf Harris has become the personification of historic child abuse in Britain. It strikes me that rather than being tried for his own misdemeanors, he’s somehow being burdened with the horror of what we never managed to charge Jimmy Savile for. There are unpaid debts from the Savile case that Harris is paying. We can’t let this one get away, even if his crimes were, in comparison to violating vulnerable people in their hospital beds, fairly minor.

    A hate campaign is now being waged by the media against Harris, much of it driven by the fact that he has shown no remorse during his trial. How terrible if the reason he hasn’t shown remorse is because the crimes that the defendants so vividly remember never happened, or happened in a different way – a misconstrued cuddle, a possibly inappropriate but harmlessly meant touch. It has been proven that memories from our childhood are not the most reliable. There are many cases of people – even groups of people – remembering crimes – even murders – that never happened, horrors that were suggested to them that never occurred.

    If your life isn’t going quite the way you’d hoped it would, might you not be tempted to revisit bits of it and work out where it went wrong. I don’t think the girls accusing Harris are lying or making things up, I’m just wary of such vivid memories of such distant times. Rolf Harris apparently told one of his victims she looked nice in a swimming costume. It had a terrible effect on her. If that’s the worst thing that’s happened to her, I can’t help but thinking she’s had a relatively easy life. Five years and nine months seems like an awfully long time to send someone to prison for inappropriately touching someone. The fact that his friends, family and the people he worked with maintain that it is totally out of character make me more convinced there is something wrong here.

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