Rolf HARRIS MBE (1930-2023)

Rolf Harris This Is Your Life

programme details...

  • Edition No: 311
  • Subject No: 312
  • Broadcast live: Wed 1 Dec 1971
  • Broadcast time: 7.00-7.30pm
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 12
  • Edition: 3

on the guest list...

  • Alwen - wife
  • Bruce - brother
  • Cromwell - father
  • Marge - mother
  • Ray Atkinson
  • Alex Haussmann
  • Clement Freud
  • Robert Harbin
  • Dolly Harbin - in audience
  • Ted Egan
  • David Blanasi
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Bindi - daughter
  • children from Aboriginal Welfare Settlement, La Perouse, near Sydney

production team...

  • names above in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
related pages...

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The Night of 1000 Lives

a celebration of a thousand editions

Life Is What They Make It...

New producer Malcolm Morris reveals more behind-the-scenes secrets

How To Deceive Your Husband

TV Times takes a light-hearted look at keeping a secret

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Screenshots of Rolf Harris This Is Your Life

Rolf Harris' autobiography

Rolf Harris recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Can You See What It Is Yet?...

Throughout the previous seven years, I had continued doing my weekly radio slot on the BBC with Laurie Holloway and the band.

In the early days the show had gone out live, but was now pre-recorded and broadcast a few days later.

Phyl Rounce turned up one afternoon at Aeolian Hall in Bond Street. She had never bothered coming to a session before. She waved at me from the control room and I waved back through the studio window.

Dusty Springfield was the guest artist that week. She was a stunning girl, who seemed quite insecure about her beauty. She used make-up like a mask, plastering it on her face.

We had just finished a take for my final song, which I thought sounded fine.

'We'll try it again' said the producer.

'What was wrong?'

'I think you can do it better.'

'In what way?'

'I just think you can do it better.'

He couldn't give me any reason but I shrugged my shoulders and nodded to the band. They spent a long time getting their instruments together and re-tuning the guitar and bass. The sound levels were checked and re-checked.

'What's wrong with everyone today?' I said.

Finally, we started the song but halfway through had to stop. Someone in the control room had forgotten to start the tape. I was getting really frustrated. We could have all been home by now. We finally recorded the song and I heard it played back in the control room.

'I honestly think the first one was better,' I said. The producer nodded in agreement. Why then had we been faffing around for half an hour?

Phyl and I left together and emerged into the arcade which led out to Bond Street. A book caught my eye in a shop window. Phyl was one pace ahead of me and didn't realise that I'd stopped to look at a lovely big glossy picture book of Egypt. She emerged through the doors into Bond Street and a TV camera started rolling. Eamonn Andrews stepped out.

There was no Rolf!

Phyl dashed back inside and grabbed me by the arm. 'What are you doing?'

'Just looking at this lovely book.'

'OK, but come on.'

'What's the hurry?'

'No hurry.'

She kept hold of my arm this time. We emerged from the doors and Eamonn started again. 'Rolf Harris, star of stage, television and radio ... this is your life!' I looked like a kangaroo caught in the headlights of a road train.

All the delays in the studio had been orchestrated by Phyl and the producer. They knew the camera and crew wouldn't arrive until 5 p.m. and couldn't let me leave early.

It was an amazing evening. Ted Egan and David Blanasi had been flown across to London. But the biggest surprise came when the door opened to reveal Bruce and then Mum and Dad. It was a huge thrill.

Surprise Of Your Life book

Presenter Eamonn Andrews and producer Jack Crawshaw recall this edition of This Is Your Life in their book, Surprise Of Your Life...

As I waited on a corner of New Bond Street on a cold and wintry December night I began totting up the number of miles the guests I had just left had flown around the world to help us surprise Rolf Harris.

In round trips it came to a total of nearly 100,000 miles, nearly everyone of them away from the warm sunshine of an Australian summer. The one exception was Rolf's best man, accountant Alex Haussmann, who had flown in from his home in Zurich. But that was only a gnome's stride away in contrast with the five others who were now waiting for news of my success - or failure - in the comfort of the studio green room.

From the Australian capital of Canberra had come Ted Egan, the pal who introduced Rolf to the hit song "Two Little Boys", which had helped him on to international fame.

Rolf's brother Bruce had joined him on the long leg of the journey from his home in Sydney. In his job as a company executive, Bruce was used to winging his way around the world, but Rolf's father Cromwell Harris certainly wasn't. In fact, Cromwell's "love" for flying had already been well expressed by the fact that when he visited Bruce he went by car — driving across 2,000 miles of desert, mountains and valleys from Perth to Sydney. But for his younger son Rolf he had done what Thelma Sobers did for her son Gary. At the age of 70, he had boarded a plane for the first time in his life to accompany Rolf's mum on the trip to England.

But, without doubt, the most remarkable trip of all was the one taken by that smiling Aborigine David Blanasi. We all knew how much the Aborigines of his native Australia meant to Rolf, but it was his wife Alwen who told us about this special and talented friend.

Rolf would really be knocked out to see David walk on that set, she told us. And it nearly knocked us out trying to find him.

We had been bucked to be given an address for David in Bamyili, south of Darwin, but we were floored when we were told that he had left the settlement on a "walkabout" in search of kangaroo.

A walkabout, you may or may not know, is not exactly a Thomas Cook's tour. They are exactly as they sound: trips on foot, hunting, eating, sleeping and surviving in the bush that, in this case, spanned thousands of square miles in the vast areas of the Northern Territory.

Amazingly, after a manhunt that was organised by his friends and carried out by police touring in jeeps, we found him. But the cable that told us the good news added that, if he was to come to England in what was the depths of winter he would need one or two things - clothes for example.

We cabled the money for him to go shopping and when he arrived at London Airport he looked the perfect English gentleman, wearing a white shirt and tie, blue blazer, grey flannels and black Oxford shoes.

Just before I left the studios to head for Bond Street and my surprise assignment, his newly-arrived friend, David, had politely made his "thank you's" as Kay Bird took him from the green room to a nearby dressing room where she left him to prepare for the show.

Kay returned, as arranged, thirty minutes later and after knocking on the door came face to face with a half-naked warrior wearing an enormous headdress of feathers, a red G-string and a fine bamboo skirt. He asked her if he could have some water. The ever-hospitable Kay asked if he would rather have a gin and tonic. And I only wish I had seen the look on her face when he told her that the water wasn't to drink but to mix with the clay he was going to smear all over his body to complete his traditional costume.

Rolf Harris This Is Your Life

Had we been able to ask Rolf's expert advice on Aboriginal protocol, the confusion would, of course, never have arisen. But, thankfully, Rolf wasn't there. He was, I hoped, at the Aeolian Hall in New Bond Street doing a recording for the BBC.

With him was his agent, an old friend of mine, Phyllis Rounce, who, unknown to Rolf, had been helping "set him up".

I, too, had known Rolf for some years. One of his first TV appearances in Britain was with me on my old children's programme "Crackerjack" when he had astounded us all with his double-quick painting act and a song to go with it. That was shortly after Rolf, a former Australian swimming champion, had quit his job as a teacher to come to England in search of fame and fortune as an artist and entertainer. And he had certainly found both, with appearances in cabaret, on stage and television and with records that sold wherever he travelled around the world.

But as I waited for him to come out of the hall with Phyllis I knew she was a little bit nervous herself, because Rolf, who had just returned from another world tour, had been overdoing the work a little.

She was concerned about the next show he had to do, but she also knew, as I did, that once we got him on the upward wave of the surprise, there would be no looking back. He would be refreshed by the experience and would be a fun guy to work with because he's a great bouncing character who loves a practical joke.

It was a bit agonising - although exciting - to be out there literally on the street and the moment he came out through those doors I went for him. He came out so fast, with Phyl hurrying alongside, that he was almost at the kerb by the time I pushed past the late-night Christmas shoppers with a present none of them had spotted. Everything happened quickly then. It seemed no time had passed before we were speeding up Regent Street to Euston.

Rolf Harris This Is Your Life

Back at the studios, Rolf was true to form, bubbling and bouncing his way through the programme and long-distance surprise after long-distance surprise. he was obviously astounded to hear that Dad had taken for the first time to the old metal bird and very moved to see him when he walked on through those doors.

When David Blanasi came on, carrying that long Aboriginal wind instrument they call the didgeridoo, Rolf was up on his feet and dancing. He may have been crying too.

David gave us a blast on the didgeridoo before Rolf took over. He was still playing when the programme ended. In fact, long after the studio audience had gone home, the two played on in an impromptu jam session at the party afterwards. A long, long way from home. But no one would have guessed it.

Rolf Harris This Is Your Life

Roy Bottomley This Is Your Life book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls this edition of This Is Your Life in his book, This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

The Life of Rolf Harris produced one of our most extraordinary fly-ins. He had a special pal back in Australia, an aborigine called David Blanasi. But when we tried to contact him, somewhere out of Darwin, we were told he had 'gone walkabout'.

That meant he was on a self-survival trip into the bush, and that's a lot of miles of the Northern Territory. It became a search worthy of Crocodile Dundee, as his pals and the police – on our behalf – got on the trail. And found him.

Trouble was, his friends told us, he had no clothes suitable for an English winter. We cabled the money to kit him out and when he flew in he looked as though he might be a member of the Australian touring team. But, having flown ten thousand miles, David wanted to appear on British television in more traditional garb – which turned out to be a huge, feathered head-dress and bamboo skirt. He requested water from one of our young ladies, who politely enquired if he would prefer a gin and tonic. But he wanted the water to mix with the clay which was smeared over his half-naked body to complete the outfit.

Only one thing was needed to complete the ensemble before he walked out on to the set – his didgeridoo, the aboriginal wind instrument Rolf had introduced to us Poms. At the end of the show, Rolf took over the instrument and played us out.

Series 12 subjects

George Best | Alfred Marks | Rolf Harris | Don Whillans | Sacha Distel | Les Dawson | Doris Hare | Keith Michell | David Frost
Barry John | Michael Flanders | Charlie Williams | Ginette Spanier | Hughie Green | Tom Courtenay | Hylda Baker
Gordon Banks | Alan Rudkin | Michael Wood | Graham Kerr | Pauline Collins | Ray Illingworth
Patricia Hayes | Nosher Powell | Richard Briers | Lulu