Named after Rolf Boldrewood, an Australian writer his mother admired, he was born in Bassendean, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia, Australia, to Cromwell ("Crom") Harris and Agnes Margaret Harris (née Robbins) who had emigrated from Cardiff,Wales. He is the nephew of Australian artist Pixie O'Harris, (1903-1991), i.e. Rhona Olive Pratt, née Harris.
As an adolescent and young adult Harris was a champion swimmer being the Australian Junior 110 yards Backstroke Champion in 1946 and Western Australian state champion over a variety of distances and strokes during the period 1948–1952. Harris attended Perth Modern School in Subiaco, and the University of Western Australia. He met his wife, the Welsh sculptress and jeweller Alwen Hughes, while they were both art students, and they married on 1 March 1958. They have one daughter, Bindi Harris (born 10 March, 1964), who studied art at Bristol Polytechnic and is now a painter.
Harris has been credited with inventing a simple homemade instrument called the wobble board. This discovery was accidentally made in the course of his work when he attempted to dry a freshly painted hardboard with added heat, from hearing the sound made by the board as he held the board by the short edges to cool off. He suggests the effect can best be obtained through faint bouncing of a tempered hardboard or a thinner MDF board between the palms of one's hands.
In 1959 he worked on TVW-7's first locally produced show Spotlight. During his time at TVW he recorded his hit "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". The song was recorded on a single microphone placed above him in the TV studio. The song was sent to record company EMI in Sydney and it was soon released as a record. Rolf Harris offered four unknown backing musicians 10 percent of the royalties for the song, but they decided to take a recording fee of 28 pounds between them because they thought the song would be a flop The novelty song was originally titled "Kangalypso" and featured the distinctive sound of the "wobble board" which was played by "wobbling" it back and forth. The original recording of the song issued in Australia was considered controversial by some listeners because of the lyrics: "Let me abos go loose, Lew/ Let me abos go loose/ They're of no further use, Lew/ So let me abos go loose". The verse appears to refer to Aboriginal servitude and captivity in a whimsically approving manner. In addition, the word "abo" was beginning to be seen as a term of abuse at the time. Most of the rest of the song refers to animals in captivity. The offending verse did not feature in later versions of the song. In 2006 Harris expressed his regret about the original lyrics.
Harris sang "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" (with The Beatles singing backing vocals) in the first edition of the From Us To You BBC radio shows, in December, 1963. Harris completely customized the original lyrics to a version that was especially written for The Beatles:
Harris went on to use an array of unusual instruments in his music, including the didgeridoo (the sound of which was imitated on "Sun Arise" by four double basses), Jew's harp and, later, the stylophone. Harris has played the didgeridoo on two albums by English pop singer Kate Bush, 1982's The Dreaming and 2005's Aerial. His biggest hit, however, was a gimmick-free rendering of the sentimental song "Two Little Boys" (1969), a departure for him in that he usually recorded either his own compositions or traditional songs. Harris also created one of his most famous roles in the 1960s, Jake the Peg.
He also made several television appearances in which he would paint pictures on large boards in an apparently slapdash manner, with the odd nonsense song thrown in, but with detailed results. This was often accompanied by the phrase "Can you tell what is it yet?" just before the painting became recognisable. These appearances led to a string of TV series based on his artistic ability, notably Rolf Harris's Cartoon Time on BBC1 in the 1980s and Rolf's Cartoon Club on CITV in the early 1990s. He also hosted a successful variety TV series in Canada, which was a second home to Harris during the 1960s. In 1967 he hosted the BBC's A Song for Europe contest and provided UK commentary at that year's Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna.
In his appearance on the BBC's Desert Island Discs, on which guests are invited to choose eight pieces of music they would wish to have with them if stranded on a desert island, Harris famously chose eight of his own records, the only artist ever to have done so.
In 2000, Harris, along with Steve Lima released a dance track called "Fine Day" which entered the top 30 in the UK charts at that time. A 'Killie-themed' version was recorded and scheduled for release in March 2007 to coincide with the Scottish football club's appearance in the Scottish League Cup final after the song was adopted by the fans in 2003. One of the lyrics referred to the hypothetical situation in which Kilmarnock could be 5-0 down, which ironically was similar to the final score of 5-1.
In November and December 2002, under Charles Saumarez Smith's direction, London's National Gallery exhibited a collection of Harris's art. He was also commissioned to paint a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II for her 80th birthday, which was unveiled by Rolf Harris on 19 December 2005 at Buckingham Palace. In his words, it is an impressionistic rather than photographic depiction. Some commentators found it to be offensive and unbecoming of the Queen, but the Queen herself expressed her approval at the painting after her final sitting, particularly with the way in which Harris had painted her smile. The story of the painting featured as a special edition of Rolf on Art. The special, called "The Queen by Rolf", was broadcast on BBC One on 1 January 2006. In his painting of the portrait of the Queen, Rolf Harris was following a family tradition — Harris' grandfather painted a portrait of the Queen's grandfather, King George V (in which King George V was inspecting the troops).
In 2005, Rolf played the didgeridoo on Kate Bush's album Aerial, contributing vocals to the songs 'An Architect's Dream' and 'The Painter's Link'. He also appears on the video to the lead single King of the Mountain dancing with a white jumpsuit in a reference to Elvis Presley, one of the themes of the song.
Matilda, the winking kangaroo was the mascot for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. When Matilda arrived at the stadium, she 'winked' to the crowd as she went around the stadium track — then her 'pouch' opened and several young children (about 5 years old to 7 years old), dressed as joey kangaroos, rushed out (then ran to — and jumped on — a number of trampolines which had been set up especially for them).
Harris, who was standing, complete with wobble board, at the back of a small truck, then sang a special rendition of his hit song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", which included some lyrics especially written for the Opening Ceremony:
Following his singing of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", Harris sang "Waltzing Matilda". As well as a video tape recording of the Opening Ceremony being released, the music for the Opening Ceremony was released as an album and an audio tape, with Harris as one of the featured artists.
Harris has also recorded an Australian Christmas song called "Six White Boomers", about a joey Kangaroo trying to find his mother during Christmas time, and how Santa Claus used six large-size male Kangaroos (Boomers), instead of Reindeer (to put an Australian spin on the traditional story) to pull his sleigh and help the little joey find his "Mummy".
From 1994-2004, he was the host of the reality television programme Animal Hospital, which chronicled the real-life activity of a British veterinary practice. Rolf then adopted a Border Collie that had been abandoned at the vets, named Rocky. Rolf presented 19 series of Animal Hospital for BBC One. It was five times winner in the Most Popular Factual Entertainment Show category of The National TV Awards.
More recently, he presented Rolf on Art, which highlighted the work of some of his favourite artists, including van Gogh, Degas, Monet and Gauguin. Rolf on Art which made TV history when it gained the highest TV ratings ever for an Arts programme, is now in its sixth year. On 26 September 2004 Harris fronted a project to recreate John Constable's famous The Hay Wain painting on a massive scale, with 150 people contributing to a small section. Each individual canvas was assembled into the full picture live on the BBC, in the show Rolf on Art: The Big Event. He was named as one of the Radio Times list of the top 40 most eccentric TV presenters of all time in July 2004.
The story of Rolf Harris' portrait painting of Queen Elizabeth II featured as a special edition of Rolf on Art, broadcast on BBC One on 1 January 2006. Harris's portrait of The Queen was voted by readers of the Radio Times the third favourite portrait of Her Majesty. The royal portrait was exhibited at Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and was exhibited on a tour of public galleries in the UK.
On 15 July 2006, Harris appeared on the British TV programme Richard & Judy to promote the stopping of the Canadian seal hunt. On the show, he also sang his own song, "Slaughter on the Ice", which he had written after a trip to Canada.
In September 2006 the Royal Australian Mint launched the first of the new 2007 Silver Kangaroo Collector's Coin series. Harris was commissioned to design the first coin in the series. For the third year running, Harris designed and painted the official Children In Need Christmas card. Harris has presented three series of the BBC art programme Star Portraits with Rolf Harris. In 2007, a documentary A Lifetime in Paint about Harris' work as an artist - from the early years in Australia to the present day - was screened on BBC One, followed by a Rolf On Art special titled Rolf on Lowry.
In November 2007 at exhibition of Harris' new paintings was held at Portland Gallery, London. In December 2007 a new DVD titled Rolf Live! was released through his website.
Rolf on Art: Beatrix Potter was screened on BBC One in December 2007.
In 1975 he was appointed King of Moomba
|Rolf Harris Sings At The Down Under Club||1959||Queensway Records|
|The Original Sun Arise||1963||Epic|
|The Court of King Caractacus||1964||Epic|
|All Together Now||1965||MFP|
|Man With The Microphone||1966||Columbia Records|
|At the Cave, Vancouver (live)||1966||Capitol|
|Shamus O'Sean The Leprechaun||1966||MFP|
|It's A Rolf World||1968||Capitol Records|
|The Rolf Harris Show||1968||Columbia Records|
|Rolf Harris Live! At The Talk Of The Town||1969||Columbia Records|
|Mary's Boy Child||1970||Columbia Records|
|Instant Music||1971||Columbia Records|
|Jake The Peg In Vancouver Town||1971||Capitol Records|
|The Boy From Bassendean||1972||Rolf Harris Enterprises|
|In Many Moods||1973||Columbia Records|
|You Name It||1973||Canadian Release||Capitol Records|
|Mirrored Image||1976||EMI Records|
|Turn On||1976||Canadian Release||Capitol Records|
|Rolf On Saturday OK?||1979||BBC|
|Cartoon Time Favourites||1987||BBC|
|Rolf Rules OK?||1992||Polygram Music / Australian Broadcasting Commission|
|Animal Magic||1996||EMI Records|
|Bootleg||1999||Rolf Harris Enterprises|
|Definitive Rolf Harris||1999||EMI|
|She'll Be Right||1999||Festival Records and EMI Records|
|70/30||2000||Rolf Harris Enterprises|
|The Best Of Rolf Harris||2000||EMI Records|
|Date||Title||UK chart position||Catalogue|
|21 July 1960||"Tie My Kangaroo Down Sport" / "Nick Teen And Al K. Hall"||9||Columbia 45-DB 4483|
|1961||"Tame Eagle" / "Uncomfortable Yogi"||N/A||Columbia 45-DB 4556|
|1961||"Six White Boomers" / "I've Lost My Mummy"||N/A||Columbia 45-DB 4740|
|25 October 1962||"Sun Arise" / "Someone's Pinched My Winkles"||3||Columbia 45-DB 4888|
|28 February 1963||"Johnny Day" / "In The Wet"||44||Columbia 45-DB 4979|
|1963||"I Know A Man" / "Living It Up"||N/A||Columbia DB 7064|
|1964||"Ringo For President" / "Head Hunter"||N/A||Columbia DB 7349|
|1964||"The Court Of King Caractacus" / "The Five Young Apprentices"||N/A||Columbia DB 7450|
|1965||"Iko Iko" / "Sydney Town"||N/A||Columbia DB 7554|
|1965||"War Canoe" / "Linda"||N/A||Columbia DB 7669|
|1965||"Jake The Peg" / "Big Dog"||N/A||Columbia DB 7803|
|1966||"Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?" / "Animals Pop Party"||N/A||Columbia DB 8014|
|1967||"Fijian Girl" / "You Got What It Takes"||N/A||Columbia DB 8168|
|1967||"If I Was A Richman" / "Booralola"||N/A||Columbia DB 8191|
|1967||"I've Never Seen Anything Like It" / "Willy, Willy"||N/A||Columbia DB 8285|
|1967||"Pukka Chicken" / "Here Come The Bees (Love Has Gone)"||N/A||Columbia DB 8314|
|1968||"Hurry Home" / "Paris With You"||N/A||Columbia DB 8349|
|1968||"The Bloke That Invented Beer" / "Have A Beer"||N/A||Columbia DB 8475|
|16 April 1969||"Bluer Than Blue" / "The Monster"||30||Columbia DB 8553|
|22 November1969||"Two Little Boys" / "I Love My Love"||1||Columbia DB 8630|
|1970||"Tennessee Birdwalk" / "Ned Kelly"||N/A||Columbia DB 8700|
|1970||"Mary's Boy Child" / "Christmas Is Here"||N/A||Columbia DB 8730|
|1971||"Take Back The Things (That We Said)" / "Salvation Army Citadel"||N/A||Columbia DB 8762|
|1971||"A Ram Sam Sam" / "Go Back Home"||N/A||Columbia DB 8838|
|1972||"So Earlye In The Evenin'" / "Watch Your Step"||N/A||Columbia DB 8876|
|1972||"She'll Be Right" / "Jindabyne"||N/A||Columbia DB 8961|
|1972||"Tutankamun" / "A Friend Like Me"||N/A||Columbia DB 8905|
|1974||"Papillon" / "Relax With Rolf"||N/A||EMI 2154|
|1974||"Little Pal" / "Lazy Day"||N/A||EMI 2238|
|1974||"Presbyterian Church" / "Black Midnight Swamp"||N/A||EMI 2286|
|1975||"Happy Birthday, Father Christmas" / "MacAdam"||N/A||EMI 2380|
|1978||"Back To W.A." / "Old Man Emu"||N/A||Interfusion K7322|
|1979||"Stuck On The Ice" / "The Gendarmes' Duet" (With Crom Harris)||N/A||Columbia DB 9069|
|1981||"Hey Jimmy Johnson" / "Ginger Tom"||N/A||Rolf Harris Enterprides RHE 1|
|1981||"War Canoe" / "Linda" (Re-Issue)||N/A||EMI 5244|
|1982||"The Dreaming" / "Dreamtime" (Kate Bush, both tracks feature Rolf on didgeridoo)||48||EMI 5296|
|1985||"Tommy (From 88 Pine)" / "Pavlova"||N/A||Tembo Records TML 111|
|1991||"Stylophonia" / "Stylophonia" (Land Of Aus Instru-Mental) (Two Little Boys, featuring sampled Rolf Harris vocal. Rolf performed and promoted the song on T.V.)||N/A||T.A. Scam Recordings MFD 005|
|1991||"Sun Arise" / "Two Little Boys" (Re-Issue)||N/A||EMI EM 210|
|1992||"Stylophonia" ('92 Vocal Re-edit)/ "Stylophonia" (Two Little Boys, featuring sampled Rolf Harris vocal. Rolf performed and promoted the song on T.V.)||N/A||T.A. Scam Recordings MFD 005|
|13 February 1993||"Stairway To Heaven" / "Stairway To Heaven" (By The Australian Doors)||7||Vertigo VER 73|
|12 December 1995||"Ego Sum Pauper" / "Ego Sum Pauper" (Rolfamix) / "Old Shep"||92||Rolf Harris Enterprises CD RHE 9|
|1 June 1996||"Bohemian Rhapsody" / "This Is A Didgeridoo"||50||Living Beat LBECD 41|
|25 October 1997||"Sun Arise" / "Sun Arise" (808 State Remix)||26||EMI CDROO 001|
|14 October2000||"Fine Day" / "Fine Day" (Remix)||24||Tommy Boy TBCD 2155|