In 2006, it was the 50th anniversary of television in Australia. The Australian Museum of Motion Picture Technology (AMMPT) commemorated this occasion with two events. The first was an exhibition in the undercroft of the Perth Town Hall in October 2006, and the second, a reunion for Perth television stations with TVW7, ABW2 and STW9 being represented. Rolf Harris kindly recorded a 15 minute message for replay at this reunion, which was held at the Italian Club in November 2006.
Rolf Harris Celebrates 50 years of TV
The following notes are drawn from Rolf’s address, with additional comments to emphasise the historical relevance to those who were not a part of it.
Rolf explained that John D. Brown came across from the United States to work at TVW in an advisory capacity, where he went through the protocol explaining how it all worked. Everyone referred to John, when they didn’t know what they were doing.
The two cameramen were Gordon McColl and Dick Ashton when we first started. Steve Lumsdaine was on lights, and he went on to marry the lovely Elena Giugliarelli. They’re apart now.
Rolf painted a picture of John D. Brown instructing Ross Cusack on vision switching on the old Studio Two vision mixer. There was a bit of conjecture as to whether it was Gordon McColl or Ross he had depicted, but the consensus view of Brian Williams, Darcy Farrell and Richard Ashton was that the likeness represented Ross, rather than Gordy.
John D. Brown and Rolf wrote the words to “Six White Boomers” together, but sadly Rolf has lost touch with him.
Alex Stewart was TVW’s chief audio operator who trained many of the early audio operators before going on to be the Chief Engineer of BTW3 in Bunbury
Rolf remembers recording “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” with the Rhythm Spinners, who opted for a fee rather than a percentage of the sales, not expecting it to be an outstanding success.
Colin Gorey was the recordist that day, and still has a Rolf autographed 45 rpm copy of the disc among his memorabilia.
Rolf autographed the label, adding the words, “To Col Thanks for a good job done! Rolf.”
Colin was only pondering the other day what to do with it, should anything happen to him.
Rolf also remembers Beverly Gledhill, who directed the opening night program for TVW on Friday October 16, 1959. Penny Hoes was the script assistant. He also gave mention to Jean Hunsley, Coralie Condon, Darcy Farrell, Bill Smeed, Carolyn Noble, Lloyd Lawson and Harry Butler, with whom Rolf presented the popular Australian Broadcasting Corporation television series Rolf’s Walkabout (1970), directed by Alan Bateman.
In his autobiography Rolf Harris recalls the writing of Sun Arise:
Another song from that time was ‘Sun Arise’ which was inspired by the Aboriginal music that Harry Butler had introduced to me. (pp. 159-160)
Harry Butler and I wrote Sun Arise together, trying to capture the magic of Aboriginal music by reproducing the repetition of lyrics and music that make it so mesmerizing.
The lyrics of the song came from a story Harry told me about Aboriginal beliefs. Some tribes see the sun as a goddess. Each time she wakes in the morning, her skirts of light gradually cover more and more of the land, bringing back warmth and light to the air. (p. 161)
- Rolf Harris, Can You Tell Me What It Is Yet? London, Bantam Press, 2001
Rolf also recalled working with the loveable larrikin Frankie Davidson, whose motto is “If you ain’t laughin’ you ain’t liven’”. Frankie was introduced to Perth television by Max Bostock, who he worked with in the mid-fifties, when he was a regular featured vocalist at the Ziegfeld Palais Ball Room in Melbourne.
Vin Walsh was also there as Seven’s first weather man, a retired meteorology officer from the RAAF. He drew up the weatherboards from details supplied from the Bureau of Meteorology, as in those days there were no computer generated graphics.
Phillip Edgley was an early newsreader and host of TVW’s first variety show called Spotlight. He came from the well known Edgley theatrical family, whose young brother Michael took over the business and brought such renowned attractions as London’s Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballet companies, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Marcel Marceau, Torvill and Dean, the Moscow Circus and many more to our shores, and Australian audiences.
Not to forget Brian Williams who directed such early series as ‘Tuesday Date’ and ‘Saturday Showtime’ before creating a number of memorable specials such as ‘Do You Remember’, ‘Songs of the Wars’, ‘Invitation to the Dance’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Baptism of Fire’ and ‘Bradman’ to mention a few of the many shows Brian was responsible for.
Rolf went on to describe his “Oliver Polip the Octopus” character, who featured on Children’s Channel Seven.
After leaving Seven, Rolf went on to achieve much greater things and was recognised many times for his considerable achievements.
- Rolf hosted a successful variety TV series in Canada, which was a second home to Harris during the 1960s. During this period, Rolf also created one of his most famous roles, Jake the Peg.
- As a vocalist his hits have included Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, Sun Arise, Six White Boomers, Two Little Boys and more recently Stairway to Heaven.
- He was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1968 Queen’s Birthday Honours List and the O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1977 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to the performing arts.
- He was awarded the A.M. (Member of the Order of Australia) in the 1989 Queen’s New Years Honours List for his services to the community as an entertainer.
- He 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. These led to a string of TV series based on his artistic ability, notably Rolf Harris’s Cartoon Time in the 1980s and Rolf’s Cartoon Club in the early 1990s, which ran for six series.
- In 1995 Rolf began presenting Animal Hospital on BBC ONE. The show attracts a large audience and won the National Television Awards Most Popular Factual Entertainment Show in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000.
- Spin off series have included Animal Hospital Down Under and Animal Hospital from Oz, screened to coincide with the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- Rolf also presented Rolf’s Amazing World of Animals for BBC ONE.
- In 2000 he received an honorary membership from the Royal Society of British Artists, joining a distinguished list that includes Sir Winston Churchill and James McNeil Whistler.
- He was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal in the 2001 Queen’s New Years Honours List for his services to entertainment, to charity, and to community.
- He was awarded the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to entertainment in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
- He painted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as part of her 80th birthday celebrations. It was documented on BBC 1’s The Queen, by Rolf.
- In July 2008 Rolf was inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Awards) Hall of Fame and in December 2008 he presented the Annual Lecture on Portraiture at the official opening of the new National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. In the same month, he starred in a sell-out season at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse Theatre.