Frequently Asked Question Rolf Harris
  1. Where was Rolf born?
  2. I thought he was Welsh?
  3. What sport did Rolf become a champion in?
  4. When did Rolf come to England and why?
  5. Does Rolf have any animals?
  6. Can Rolf help me with my pet's illness?
  7. What is Rolf's favourite animal?
  8. Favourite Food?
  9. Favourite book as a child?
  10. How can I make or buy a wobbleboard?
  11. Where can I get the lyrics to Rolf's songs?
  12. What is the name of the song that Rolf sang at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003, with the wooden doll?
  13. Can Rolf paint my Father/Mother/Grandad/pet?
  14. How can I get a signed photo?
  15. How do I contact Rolf?
  16. How can I find an old song of Rolf's?
  17. Is Rolf doing any more live concerts this year?
  18. I sent a letter a few months ago and haven't received a reply - do you think I will?
  19. Why did Animal Hospital have to end?
  20. What is the Story behind 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down?
  21. Can I have a link to my website?
  22. What are the Dance actions to 'Court of King Caractacus?

Q1 → Where was Rolf born?

Rolf was born on 30th March 1930 in Perth, Western Australia.

 Q2 → I thought he was Welsh?

No, Rolf was born in Perth, Western Australia.  His father, Cromwell George Harris was born in Bristol but lived much of his childhood in different areas of Cardiff and his teenage years in Sully, Wales.  In 1911 he and his brother Carl set off to make their fame and fortune in the relatively new and untouched area of Western Australia.  A very short time later the first World War broke out, and Cromwell put his age up from 18 to 21 so that he would be old enough to guarantee that his 16 year old brother was 18.  After their training they were shipped to England and on their first leave, made their way to Cardiff to see the rest of their family again.  Crom, as he was called, met up once again with his childhood sweetheart, Agnes Marjorie Robbins, and the romance blossomed.  At this time Crom's mother, horrified that her young 17 year old was a soldier, contacted the Australian authorities and told them Carl was too young.  He was immediately removed from the ranks of serving soldiers, much to Crom's and Carl's dismay.  As soon as he turned 18, he re-enlisted and was sent off to France, by chance, to the same area where his brother Crom was fighting in the trenches.

Crom was badly wounded, and had to have a steel plate put in his head, and when he came round, he was asking after his brother.  No one knew of a Carl Harris, but Crom found out later that his brother had died in that same hospital two days before.

After the war, Crom returned to Perth, Western Australia, and talked his whole family into emigrating out there from Wales.  His father, portrait painter George F Harris, felt that the West was too small to be able to support a portrait painter's family and soon they moved to Sydney, leaving Crom to stay in Perth.  He sent for Majorie Robbins and she sailed out.  He joined the ship at Perth, sailed with her to Sydney, and they were married there with all the rest of the Harris family in attendance in 1922.

Bruce was born in 1924 and Rolf in 1930.

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 Q3 → What sport did Rolf become a champion in?

Rolf won the Australian Junior Backstroke Championship in Melbourne, Victoria in 1946.  He held the event record of 80 seconds for 110 yards for a year!  Rolf was the West Australian Champion in Backstroke and Freestyle over most distances until 1952.

 Q4 → When did Rolf come to England and why?

Rolf moved to England in 1952 to study art, hoping to become a portrait painter like his Grandfather, George F Harris.  He auditioned for Children's television in 1953 and was on screen regularly from then until he returned to his Hometown of Perth in 1959.  When commercial television had been introduced in England in 1956, Rolf was the only entertainer to appear regularly on both channels, drawing cartoon pictures and telling stories on the BBC Children's TV about a cheeky cockney kid called Willoughby, who was later joined by his painfully shy girlfriend Shy Anne, and on commercial television Children's, drawing and telling stories about the adventures of Oliver Polip the Octopus, and later introducing into the weekly programme, a puppet that he operated himself.  It was a Spanish dogfish, called Perro Caliente.

In 1959 Rolf was recruited to come back to Perth to help with the introduction of television to his home town.  His job would be to programme, produce and star in five, half hours a week of Children's Channel Seven, (as the programme was to be called).

There was also provision for Rolf to try his hand at programmes other than children's, in the comedy and variety fields, but that would be later.

Oliver the Octopus became the mainstay of Rolf's children's shows, because with very little rehearsal, he could do drawings on easily replaceable paper, and simply stop telling the ongoing story whenever time ran out.  Things that required huge amounts of rehearsal were not possible, so Willoughby never made the transition to the screens in Western Australia.

Nature segments were also a mainstay of programming, and Rolf used old friend Harry Butler, as a regular wild life presenter.

A song that Rolf had written in London, was tried out on screen and got a huge response.  It was called 'Tie me kangaroo down, sport'.  As a result of audience interest, Rolf made a trial recording of it in the TV studio and sent this off to EMI in Sydney.  They released this 'demo' recording, and in four weeks it was number one Australia wide.  This was an unexpected and amazing new area in Rolf's career, and soon he was recording more songs and sending them off to Sydney.  None had the impact of that first hit, but still he kept on with this new side of his life.

At the end of his one year contract with TVW, Rolf toured Australia for Dulux Paints, using his ability at painting with a huge brush, and also cashing in on the success of his 'Kangaroo' recording, singing and painting in the windows of many, many hardware stores around Australia.

Then it was across the Pacific for he and his wife Alwen, to Vancouver in Canada, and Rolf had an amazing success there doing cabaret performances at a small venue called the Arctic Club.  He was soon attracting sell-out audiences for two shows a night, and was in fact, held over for a total of 31 weeks in what was originally a one week trial booking.  The only thing that stopped his successful run was a fire which destroyed the Arctic Club on Christmas Eve 1961.

1962 saw Rolf and Alwen returning to London, where he took all his Australian EMI recordings to 'Head Office', as it were, hoping to get them to release these songs in the UK.  EMI in London sent him to see George Martin, who was known as the person who dealt with any artists who could NOT be classified in any particular pigeon-hole.  George obviously saw SOMETHING in this strange, odd-ball, bearded fellow, and very soon he set about re-recording all of Rolf's songs.  Towards the end of 1962, 'Sun Arise', with many alterations suggested by George, and a stunning arrangement by Johnny Spence, reached the number two spot on the hit parade, only to be pipped at the post by Elvis Presley with 'Return to Sender'.

Many novelty records like 'Jake the Peg' and 'Big Dog' followed, aw well as numerous television series, and Rolf and Alwen have been resident in the UK ever since.

 Q5 → Does Rolf have any animals?

Yes! Rolf has one dog, a weimaraner named 'Cadge', and three cats - 'Tiger', a cuddly big moggie, 'Lion Cub', a lovely Devon Rex curly coated cat, and a new Sphinx kitten, a totally hairless little charmer called 'Lizard'. Sadly, Alwen's and Rolf's loved black standard poodle 'Summer', recently died of old age. It was a huge shock, and she is sorely missed.

 Q6 → Can Rolf help me with my pet's illness?

Rolf is not a vet so he cannot field questions or give advice on animals.  We suggest you talk to a vet about your problem or your concern or seek advice from the RSPCA or similar animal charity.

 Q7 → What is Rolf's favourite animal?

The Kangaroo ... what else?!

 Q8 → Favourite Food?

Curry!

 Q9 → Favourite book as a child?

'The Magic Pudding' by legendary Australian artist Norman Lindsay. Rolf was captivated as a youngster by Lindsay's exquisite drawings which illustrated the book throughout, and was thrilled by the irreverence of his story. (Rolf is still able to quote whole passages with gusto, and in fact, wrote and recorded a tribute song, 'The Magic Pudding', which is on the CD 'Now and Then - The New and The Vintage Rolf Harris' available from his shop.

 Q10 → How can I make or buy a wobbleboard?

It isn't possible to buy a wobbleboard now, although they were commercially available in the late sixties and early seventies.  However, they are fairly easy to make.

I accidentally discovered the first 'wobble board' in the late fifties, (see the full story in my autobiography 'Can You Tell What It Is Yet?', available through the shop on this website).  To make your own wobble board, let me suggest the following:

My first wobble board was made out of a material called, at the time, Swedish Hardboard.  The original one was a tenth of an inch thick, (roughly three mil), and was three feet long and two feet wide.  I have since discovered that they can be much smaller than this and still bounce effectively and make that wonderful 'wop wop' sound.

A wobble board is similar to a pendulum insofar as the time of each swing of a pendulum depends on the length of the pendulum string.  A longer string gives you a slower swing.  With a wobble board, a longer board has a slower bounce, while a shorter board gives you a faster bouncing time.  The wobble board I am now using is made of three mil tempered hardboard, and measures 16 inches by 31 inches in length.

To make sure your hands don't slip off the board when you're using it, you really need a slight indentation in the middle of each of the short sides.  Each indentation needs to be the width of your hand and about quarter inch deep.

The wobble board is played, not by gripping it with the thumb and fingers and trying to impose your rhythm on it, but rather by propping it between the palms of your hands and bouncing it.  It has its own speed of bouncing, and once you've got a regular rhythm going, start accenting every sound bounce, and then you are well on the way to becoming a wobble board virtuoso.  (Leaning forward slightly to time with every second bounce, will help you to emphasize that 1 2, 1 2 rhythmic accent).

You need very thin hardboard, because anything thicker than about three mil is just too thick to bounce properly.

Good luck with making your board, and I hope you can get the feel of the rhythm.  I've found that a lot of people just cannot get the hang of it at all.

 Q11 → Where can I get the lyrics to Rolf's songs?

Go to the music page of the website and click on lyrics graphic or link to the pop up by clicking LYRICS. If there is another particular song of his that you'd like the words for, make a request via the contact form, and maybe he'll be able to add those to the lyrics section ...

 Q12 → What is the name of the song that Rolf sang at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003, with the wooden doll?

The song is called 'Seth Davy or Whiskey on a Sunday'  It is available on 'NOW AND THEN - THE NEW AND THE VINTAGE ROLF HARRIS'  This CD is only available as a limited edition though this website.

 Q13 → Can Rolf paint my Father/Mother/Grandad/pet?

I'm afraid not.  Rolf receives a vast number of requests for private commissions but unfortunately he is unable to accept. If you would like to commission a portrait in oils, contact Rolf's Gallery, www.whitewallgalleries.com.

 Q14 → How can I get a signed photo?

If you send in a standard sized stamped self addressed envelope, (8 ½ x 4 ½) we can send you a 4 x 6 photo which Rolf will personally sign.  The address to send it to is BILLY MARSH ASSOCIATES, 76A GROVE END ROAD, LONDON, NW8 9ND. Be sure to write your name in full on your request. There's nothing Rolf hates more than writing, 'To S. Wilson' for example. It is SO impersonal. How much nicer to receive a card with 'to Sue with love from Rolf', written on it ....

 Q15 → How do I contact Rolf?

You can email Rolf by submittnig a form request in the contact section of the site, or write to him at Billy Marsh Associates, 76a Grove End Road, London  NW8 9ND.  Rolf receives hundreds upon hundreds of messages so he cannot always reply personally but we do try to ensure that everyone receives an answer as soon as possible.

 Q16 → How can I find an old song of Rolf's?

You can email your request by submitting the online form where Rolf's assistant will try to help you.  There are a number of CDs available on Rolf's Website Shop and you can also see information on Rolf's songs in the lyrics section.

 Q17 → Is Rolf doing any more live concerts this year?

The News Page of Rolf's website ( the button is at the top ) is updated as soon as we have definite news of an appearance or concert. So it's best to check at least once a month.

 Q18 → I sent a letter a few months ago and haven't received a reply - do you think I will?

Rolf receives hundreds of letters and emails every year.  We try to reply to everyone, however, it can take some time.  If there are questions that we need to ask Rolf, he may be away filming or on a break so this can cause delays.  Every effort is made to reply to all your emails and letters!  Including an SAE with your letters does help us answer a little quicker.  Please always ensure you have put the correct postage on your envelope.

 Q19 → Why did Animal Hospital have to end?

This hugely successful show was not axed.  The viewing figures in the last series gained an extra half million and beat audience figures for any other show screened at the same time on other channels!

However, as Rolf says:

We had ten wonderful years with Animal Hospital and although we would have liked to continue with it forever, we had covered many, many aspects of animal care and welfare in the show, sometimes dealing with the same set of circumstances more than once, and we all felt that the time had come now to move on.  I've still managed to keep an eye on our animal friends and the work of the RSPCA, which has done SO much to highlight animal welfare issues for BBC One's audience over the years.  The weekly show was very demanding, and we all decided it should stop at the end of the last series
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 Q20 → What is the Story behind 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down?

In the mid-1950s Rolf was doing a regular performance once a week at the 'Down Under Club' in Fulham, accompanying himself on piano accordion, and was always looking for interesting songs to sing to his mainly Australian audience, especially songs with a chorus, so that he could get everyone singing with him.  When he went for a meal with his cousin Halcyon, who had just arrived in London from Sydney, he was unaware of what a difference that evening would make to his life.

On the record player was a brand new album of calypso songs by a man named Harry Belafonte, and Rolf was struck by one song, 'Hold 'im Joe'. It jumped out as being perfect for the 'Down Under'.  It had a chorus which went, 'Don't tie me donkey down there, let 'im bray, let 'im bray. Don't tie me donkey down there, let 'im bray, let 'im bray'. Rolf thought it would be a simple matter to change the word 'donkey' to 'kangaroo' and have a song tailor-made for an Aussi audience. Maybe he'd also get rid of the negative sounding word 'don't'.

Sadly, the word ‘kangaroo’ was one syllable more than the word ‘donkey’, and did NOT fit the music of the original Belafonte chorus. 'What a pity', he thought, and dismissed the song from his mind.  But try as he might, he couldn't stop this new chorus from going round and round in his head.  He worked out the new rhythm he would have to use to fit the words, 'Tie me kangaroo down, there, tie me kangaroo down.  Tie me kangaroo down there, tie me kangaroo down.', and, as he has often said, 'It was as if some giant hand reached down to me from somewhere up in the sky, with a brand new tune that fitted that rhythm perfectly.'

It was soon obvious to Rolf that the word 'there' was totally gutless for such a strong beat in the music, so he tried a few alternatives, 'Tie me kangaroo down, mate?...No.  Tie me kangaroo down, Sport? That'll do.'   It took as long as that, and the new chorus, tune, words and all, was complete.

The many different verses were written in the traditional way, on the back of a menu in 'Lyons Corner House Cheese and Grill' at Marble Arch.  Rolf and his then girlfriend, Alwen were waiting for Rolf to meet Alwen's Father for the first time.  Rolf was trying to match up as many funny sounding Australian men's names with as many quirky Australian animals as he could.  By the time Alwen's Father arrived, Rolf had written most of the verses.  He tried out his favourite on Major Hughes.
'What d'you think of this?', he said, chuckling to himself, 'Mind me platypus duck, Bill, mind me platypus duck.  Don’t let him go running amuck Bill, just mind me platypus duck.'  He thought that reversing the position of the words 'duck billed platypus', was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. Alwen's Father didn't see the joke.  'Sounds like a load of old rubbish to me', he said, smoothing his moustache.  Little did he know that this one song would probably be responsible for taking his daughter and his 'soon to be' son in law, around the world at least six times. 

However, the song would never have gone any further, had it not been for one patron of the 'Down Under Club'.  At that time, Rolf had absolutely no confidence in songs he had written himself, and in his usual way with new material, he launched 'Kangaroo' the following Thursday night with these words,  'Here's a song a feller wrote'.  He started singing it and after a couple of verses, was booed off the stage by everybody. There was a sort of cultural cringe with Australians at that time which seemed to dictate that anything Australian that was new was rubbish.  If it was from America, or was one of the old traditional Australian stand-by songs, it was OK.  Rolf immediately ditched the new song and got back to the sure fire oldies like 'Wild Colonial Boy' and 'Waltzing Matilda'.  As far as he was concerned, his composition, tentatively entitled 'Kangalypso', was dead in the water and would never be tried again.  

However, the following week, John Lattimer, a dentist friend of Rolf's, called out from the audience, 'Sing us that mad 'kangaroo' song'.  'Ah nobody liked it,' Rolf said.  'I did', said John, 'it was great.  Sing it again!'  So, Rolf tentatively started singing it and this time, maybe spurred on by John's enthusiasm, everybody joined in with the chorus, seemingly enjoying the fun of it all.  Soon the song, at this time just a series of amusing verses, interspersed by that chorus, became a regular favourite, and was sung every week without fail.

Some months later, Rolf's brother Bruce was sent by his company in Sydney to work at head office in London, and at the earliest opportunity, he came down to the club to see his younger brother working, and in particular, to hear this new song Rolf had been talking about.  By now it was a marathon, with verses like, 'Brush me bunyip's back teeth, Keith, brush me bunyip’s back teeth.  If you don't I'll send for the poleeth, (police) Keith, so brush me bunyip's back teeth'.  One other verse springs to mind all these years later, 'Let me gray dingo go, Dig, let me gray dingo go.  He can't stand all that snow dig, (and at this point Rolf would croak, in another voice), That's not snow.  Poor old coot’s delirious, that's 'is dandruft!' 

'What did you think of the new song?' Rolf asked, as he drove his brother back to his hotel in his Morris traveller.  'Well,' said Bruce, 'I think you need a start and you need a finish. At the moment it's just a collection of funny verses, and goes nowhere. It needs a shape’.  When they got to the hotel, Bruce said, 'It needs something like that old one, ‘A weather worn stockman lay dying, his saddle supporting his head. Around him the blowflies were flying, and these were the last words he said’....., something like that'. 

And that's the way the introduction,‘There's an old Australian stockman, lying, dying’, was born.  That same night, Bruce came up with the idea for the final crowning verse with the macabre ending, which makes the song SO Australian. 
Months later, Rolf created the 'wobble board', which has become the standard accompaniment to the song, but that's another story which will be told in answer to a different question.

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 Q21 → Can I have a link to my website?

I'm afraid not. Due to the over whelming amount of requests we receive, this has become impractical. The only links we now permit are to Rolf's Band Members.

Some unofficial or unrelated sites on the Internet may have Rolf's Web Address however, Rolf Harris Enterprises Ltd bear no responsibility for the content on these sites.

 Q22 → What are the Dance actions to 'Court of King Caractacus?

THE ACTIONS TO THE SONG 'COURT OF KING CARACTACUS’
Ladies = hands on chest,

Harem = touch your head,

Court of King Caractacus = shimmy,

Nose = touch nose,

Face = touch face,

Boys = arm outstretched palm up,

Powder = other arm outstretched and clap hand on top,

Fascinating witches = gesture with hands from top of head to indicate wavy hair (hard to describe!),

Scintillating stitches = large movement with hand to show sewing,

Britches = turn slightly and raise leg and slap hip,

Take pictures = mime taking photo with camera