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Jul 2, 2014

Disgraced Harris' reputation will never recover

We will never be able to hear Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport without cringing.


Will we ever think of wobble boards the same way again after a London court found Rolf Harris guilty of 12 charges of indecent assault on Monday? What will the Queen do with her 80th birthday portrait, now tainted by association with the entertainer? According to public relations experts, the tunes of Jake the Peg and Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport will forever make us cringe instead of smile.

Sue Cato, head of PR firm Cato Counsel and an expert in crisis management, says the betrayal of trust is so great because of the persona Harris portrayed to the public. “He was everyone’s best mate, a joker. He built a character you can trust and rely on.”

Harris will be sentenced on Friday and has been told to expect a custodial sentence, with each charge carrying a maximum of two years’ jail time. Cato says 84-year-old Harris won’t have the chance to redeem his public image. He has also continuously denied any wrongdoing, which will make any apology more difficult. “It’s a different kind of betrayal. Where it’s political or alcohol-related where you can say sorry — this is a different class.”

Toby Ralph, PR strategist told Crikey: “Can anyone look at one of Hitler’s watercolours without thinking of the atrocities he was responsible for? The greatest hits of Rolf Harris will simply be an aide-memoire to his predatory sex crimes. He’s tied his last kangaroo down and hung up his wobble board for all eternity.”

Throughout the trial the Australian entertainer enlisted the public relations services of Bell Pottinger , a huge international PR firm that Cato describes as “one of the best”.

Harris was in his prime in the 1950s and 1960s, but Cato says the age of his fans won’t make a difference to how they perceive him and his crimes. “I think that it doesn’t matter if someone is 90, 80, 70, 40 or 20, it’s the thought that young people are put in that kind of danger that matters.”

Ralph agrees: “Rolf will be abandoned by his older fans. Nobody wants to be reminded of the indecencies lurking under his artificial avuncularity. Nobody wants to be associated with it.”

Lauren Rosewarne argued this week on The Drum art should not be tarnished by the artist’s misdeeds, but it seems unlikely that we will ever view Harris’ body of work the same way again.

Cato points towards the image of Jake the Peg, with Harris in his overcoat and third prop leg as having a particularly dark aspect in hindsight. “What we’ll think about when we think about his music and art will be uncomfortable and dark memories.”

Art is being stripped from the walls of Edith Cowan University in Harris’ home state of Western Australia, and his honourary titles are also being removed. It unknown what will happen to Harris’ portrait of Queen Elizabeth, as the portrait’s whereabouts are unclear.

Many of the pop culture favourites of Harris’ era are now tainted with convictions of child sex abuse, from Jimmy Savile’s Jim’ll Fix it to Robert Hughes’ appearance in Hey Dad!.

According to Ralph, these crimes will never be forgotten by the public. “Some crimes are excusable by the public. For example, Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street, has made a roadshow out of his exploits. Even O.J. Simpson, who many still assume was guilty, is an A-lister at Hollywood parties. But sexual assault on underage girls is at far end of the taboo scale; Harris will not be forgiven.”

The viewing public has a strange relationship with celebrities and artists who are convicted or accused criminals, with the likes of Roman Polanski continuing to make films from abroad after being found guilty of child sex charges in 1977. Although Woody Allen has been cleared of sexual abuse allegations against his daughter Dylan Farrow, a spectre of unease still hangs around his work. The allegations resurfaced this year, coinciding with the release of Blue Jasmine, yet viewers and awards still came. Director Lars von Trier was banned from the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 after joking that he sympathised with Nazis, but his film Nymphomaniac continued to draw audiences this year.

But some stars are unable to redeem their reputations. Mel Gibson’s career has never recovered from an anti-Semitic rant at a police officer in 2006, as well as homophobic and racist outbursts and accusations of domestic violence.

As Cato says, “redemption will be impossible on this one”.



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18 thoughts on “Disgraced Harris’ reputation will never recover

  1. Ben Jessup

    OJ Simpson is currently serving a 33 year prison term in Las Vegas – not sure how many “Hollywood parties” he’s been attending lately. Who’d have thought a PR strategist would be flexible with facts to backup their message?

  2. mikeb

    “Even O.J. Simpson, ……, is an A-lister at Hollywood parties”. I doubt this somehow. As for the rest of the article – pretty right I’d say.

  3. Yclept

    It’s a pity the public wasn’t as scathing about the multitude of similar crimes committed by the catholic church.

  4. zut alors

    It’s regrettable that Jimmy Savile didn’t suffer such ignominy. Whatever his sentence at least Harris is paying a price.

  5. tonysee

    How ironic? PR people taking 800 words to state the bleeding obvious.

  6. smarttdj

    You won’t find O.J. Simpson at any parties, let alone Hollywood A-list events. He’s been serving time for armed robbery since 2007.

  7. Mike Smith

    The worst is mixed artists children’s songs. The other artists don’t deserve this.

  8. SearchAndRescue

    Those songs already made me cringe. They were horrible. Now we know that he was horrible too.

  9. Mark Drummond

    Woody Allen wasn’t cleared. The charges were dropped. That’s a very different legal outcome.

  10. Paddlefoot

    Off to Spandau Rudolf Harris. Paint your way out of that.

  11. Patrick McMaster

    Absolute GRUBS, Vermin. Desreving of complete contempt.

  12. fractious

    The problem with basing a whole article around what PR “experts” opine is that only encourages them. Is it really too hard to ask actual real people who were actually real children when Harris was in his prime what they think and feel?

  13. Ken Lambert

    It is bleedingly obvious that Harris’s reputation will never recover – he is 84 and will no doubt spend some years in jail!!

    The assault on the under-aged victims is obviously unforgivable and the central point of the trial.

    However comparisons with Saville are really inappropriate.

    Appalling revelations of Saville’s victims in hospitals, disabled, children in vast numbers cannot be compared with Harris’s crimes. If there is a depth of evil here – Saville’s alleged crimes must bottom it by a long way.

    I just watched the Lance Armstrong story and liken it to Harris. An enormous public image created, multiple honours and awards, real affection for Harris and respect for Armstrong…..all shockingly exposed as squalid and hideous lies.

    These perpetrators have sapped our emotional goodwill, stolen from our stock of admiration and betrayed our investment of trust; crimes which impoverish us all.

  14. Allan

    What is a “PR expert”? Where do I apply?

  15. David Kefford

    Who all thought he was a nice guy???
    “Let me abos go loose, Bruce
    Let me abos go loose.
    They’re of no further use, Bruce
    They’re of no further use.”
    And don’t reply with the “different times” excuse. In Primary school, long before the song came out, we would be punished for saying “abos”.
    Also talk to members of TV crews who worked with him. I have. A bully and control freak is a mild version of how they describe him.

  16. Dogs breakfast

    Trust Rolf Harris????????

    Sure can’t.

  17. Venise Alstergren

    I used to cringe long before this present scandal. Wisely, I told my friends that Rolf Harris was no good, so at least I have witnesses.
    For me he managed to come across as androgenous, anodyne and paternalistic. Is this a usual mindset of a paedophile?

  18. Ginger One

    Skippy the bush kangaroo has come forward today after years of silence… She say’s not only did Rolf Harris tie her down but the dirty bastard went on to sing about it !


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